Legendary Nobel writer Naguib Mahfouz, who was born on December 11, 1911 – Egypt Today
CAIRO – 11 December 2017: December 11, 1911 marks the birthday of legendary Nobel Prize-winning author Naguib Mahfouz. Mahfouz passed away in 2006 at the age of 94, but he lives on in our hearts and minds through the words he wrote. Egypt Today remembers the many achievements of Naguib Mahfouz.
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 every day throughout his 70-year career, while he also smoked three cigarettes per day and walked by the Nile every morning.
He met weekly with new a generation of writers, artists and readers through an informal seminar, which was a habit he developed in the 1950s.
At the age of 82, Mahfouz was stabbed in the neck in 1994 by an Islamic extremist, in an assassination attempt after a huge wave of hatred that followed the “fatwah” (religious edict) made by Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran against Arab-English author Salman Rushdie over the famous book “The Satanic Verses”.
Khomeini decreed that Salman Rushdie should be killed for writing that novel. Naguib Mahfouz, in spite of considering the novel disrespectful to Islam, took a position against inciting violence towards Rushdie.
This incident, however, drew attention to Mahfouz’s controversial novel “Awlad Haretna” (The Chidren of Gebelawi). It was deemed one of the most famous novels in the history of Arabic literature. The novel spoke about God and the prophets, and it creatively explained the philosophy of religion.
The controversy came from his design of the character of Gebelawi – a wealthy landowner and rough father who is neglects his descendants, leaving them in poverty and misery. With Gebelawi appointing his dark son Adham to run the business instead of his eldest son Idris, Mahfouz relates the story of Adam and Satan, then a quarrel between Satan and God, and later the story of Cain and Abel, where he kills his brother and the grandfather does not interfere; no punishment comes to the killer or is even discussed.
The stories of the world’s main prophets – Moses, Jesus and Mohamed – continue. He changes their names brilliantly, but clearly hints at which religious personality he is discussing in each new chapter. He avoids the miracles and humanizes the struggles in an effort to make the story about justice and 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 was “Khufu’s Wisdom”. He then wrote 35 novels afterwards and fifteen collections of short stories, alongside the “Echoes of an Autobiography” in 1994, according to an article by AUC press.
The iconic literary author was not only satisfied by writing short stories and novels, but also took the initiative to work on 25 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 1971, including “Naguib Mahfouz at Sidi Gaber: Reflections of a Nobel Laureate 1994–2001”.
Mahfouz was honored by the government, receiving the Egyptian State Prize for his writing twice. Promoting great collections of Arabic narratives locally and internationally, Mahfouz received countless honors, including an American University in Cairo honorary doctorate in 1995, and he 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. 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. There are around 600 editions in 40 languages for his works displayed at AUC Press.