Naguib Mahfouz (Photo: Courtesy of AUC Press)
CAIRO – 30 August 2017: Egypt lost one of the iconic legendary writers and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature Naguib Bek, known as Naguib Mahfouz, who passed away at age of 94 in 2006. Egypt Today tracks down the renowned achievements Mahfouz has given to Egyptian literature.
Author of 34 novels, over 350 short stories, five plays and dozens of movie scripts, Mahfouz was by all means the most disciplined writer ever. He wrote for one hour daily over throughout his seventy years career as he smoked three cigarettes per day and walked by the Nile every morning.
He met weekly with new generation of writers, artists, and readers through an informal seminar which is a habit he developed in the 1950’s.
Mahfouz at the age of 82 was stabbed in the neck in 1994 by an Islamic extremist in an assassination attempt following a huge wave of hatred that followed the ‘Fatwah’ (Religious statement) made by Ayat Allah Khomeini of Iran against the Arab/ English author Salman Rushdi over the famous book “Satanic Verses”.
Khomeini decreed that Salman Rushy should be killed for writing that novel. Naguib Mahfouz, in spite of considering the novel disrespectful to Islam, he took a position against inciting violence towards Rushdy.
This incident however has directed attention to Mahfouz’s controversial novel “Awlad Haretna” (The Chidren of Gebelawi”).It was deemed as one of the most famous novels in the history of Arabic literature. The novel spoke about God, the prophets and creatively explained the philosophy of religion.
The controversy came from his design to the character of Gebelawi, a wealthy landowner, a rough father, who is negligent to his descendants, leaving them in poverty and misery, appointing the dark son Adham to run the business instead of Idris the eldest son, relating to the story of Adam and Satan, then the quarrel between Satan and God, and later mentioning story of Kane and Abel where he kills his brother and the Grandfather does not interfere, no punishment reached the killer or even discussed.
The stories of the prophets continue, the main religions, Moses, Jesus and Mohamed. He changes the names brilliantly with clear hints on which religious personality he is handling in each new chapter. He avoids the miracles, humanizes the struggles in efforts to make the story about justice fighting for the rights of the poor who are all sons of Gebelawi and have equal rights in the wealth.
Naguib Mahfouz was blunt in expressing his ideas, he included, politics, history and philosophy in his novels. He covered a lot of subjects such as socialism, homosexuality and God; his novels were informative and showed the development of Egypt in the twentieth century.
Mahfouz’s first novel is Khufu’s Wisodm and he also wrote 35 novels afterwards and fifteen collections of short stories alongside with Echoes of an Autobiography in 1994, according to an article by AUC press.
The iconic literary author didn’t only abide by writing short stories and novels, but also took the initiative on working on twenty-five film screenplays that featured specific writing techniques such as flashback. Egyptian cinema has witnessed over thirty Egyptian films that were based on Mahfouz’s novels and literary works.
He also wrote weekly columns in state-owned newspaper Al-Ahram and Al-Ahram Weekly in 1971including “Naguib Mahfouz at Sidi Gaber: Reflections of a Nobel Laureate 1994- 2001”.
Mahfouz was honored by the government as he received Egyptian State Prize twice for his writings. Promoting great collections of Arabic narratives locally and internationally, Mahfouz has received in other countless other honoring including the American University in Cairo and honorary doctorate in 1995 and was chosen as an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Institute of Arts.
Following his death, Mahfouz’s works further resonated in the Egyptian literary scene where the AUC press has become his main English language publisher and agent of all translation rights. The agreement was signed with Mahfouz prior to his death and there are around 600 editions in 40 languages for his works displayed at AUC Press.