Late author Ahmed Khaled Tawfik - photo courtesy of Cairo Opera House media office
CAIRO – 3 April 2018: Well-known Egyptian author Ahmed Khaled Tawfik passed away on Monday April 2, at 55 years old, in Egypt’s Gharbiya governorate, leaving behind a legacy of science fiction and horror thrillers. He was a pioneer of horror and science fiction writing in Egypt and the Arab world.
He specialized in fantasy, and his works included illustrated books, short stories and novels. Tawfik wrote more than 500 titles - up to 22 books a year - all the while holding down a full-time job at Tanta University.
His unique writing style gathered a wide and diverse readership; many young Egyptians grew up reading his books, often finishing his novels in one sitting.
His dedicated readers - I as one of them - are steeped in deep pain, feeling the bitterness of losing not only their favorite writer, but a father and a mentor who influenced unforgettable years of their childhood.
Today we are saying goodbye to a beloved author, who ingrained fiction into the minds of many young Egyptians; an immortal guide who still lives inside us with his thoughts and words with an ingenuity that will never die. Although most Egyptians have never met Tawfik in person, they all mourned their loyal “childhood friend” on Monday.
The beginning of the journey
Tawfik was born in Tanta in 1962. He was a physician, before he turned to writing, but he never left medicine. He considered writing as a hobby; a compliment to his role as a professor of tropical diseases at Egypt’s Tanta University.
His path into the genre of horror was not easy, as publishing houses at the time did not believe that the horror genre had a readership in Egypt. When Tawfik presented the draft of his first book, “The Legend of the Vampire,” in 1992 to a publishing house, it was rejected, and he was told to write an action and police fiction instead. Tawfik kept fighting until the publishing house formed another committee to review his work, and finally it was approved for print.
Tawfik knew that the horror genre wasn’t favored by Arab readers at that time, but he decided to follow his passion and pay the bill of such a passion regardless of how much it could cost him. "The Arab readers, in general, don’t like horror. They prefer social commentary, romance, drama, politics and books that combine romance, drama and politics," Tawfik previously stated.
Following on from Tawfik’s point of view, novels that depend on science or technology are not seen as texts or information books in the Arab world, as they don’t provide the desired escapism. The Arab readers’ imagination was not yet ready to accept science fiction, horror, fantasy, or a plot that is weighted in gloom.
One of the reasons, as recounted by Tawfik, that older readers tend to prefer facts or truths rather than imagination is because this is part of the Arab culture.
But on the other hand, Tawfik believed that the Arab youth were ready for these types of books, so he targeted them and devoted his imagination and creativity solely to young people. They never rejected him, and from this moment he begin to take a place in their minds and enter their hearts.
“The older generation is too concerned with their own problems; they want to read books that mirror their economic and historical problems. Young people, however, appreciate the connections between art, imagination and technology."
"They can grasp a sci-fi theme,” recounted Tawfik in an interview with The National. But, the times are changing, many Arab adults started to be interested in science-fiction novels, particularly as they came to see how strongly their children became attached to them.
The influence of his books and the character, Refaat Ismail
Tawfik was best known for his pocket series, “Ma Wara Al-Tabia” (Supernatural), which gathered Egypt’s youth and became an essential part of their life. Through “Ma Wara Al-Tabia,” young Arab people got to know the protagonist, Dr. Refaat Ismail. Refaat Ismail became a star, and many young people were longing to read his adventures every month. Many began to refer to Tawfik as “Refaat Ismail,” in honor of the great character he created.
In 2008, he released his acclaimed dystopian novel “Utopia”. “Utopia” was a huge hit, and a continuation of the booming success of his “Ma Wara Al-Tabia” series. Set in Egypt in 2023, "Utopia" presents the two sides of the world: one where the rich live in compounds, and the other where the poor are overwhelmed by their poverty.
He wrote other series such as “Fantasia” and “Safari.” Tawfik wrote many adult novels beside “Utopia,” such as “Like Icarus,” and “In the Rat Path.” Tawfik was the Arab world’s best-selling author of horror and fantasy genres. He wrote to satisfy himself first, and that is why he managed to satisfy his readers.
“I’m writing for the child inside me; he’s my main reader,” he was known to often say.
His books have inspired a younger generation of writers to follow his footsteps, such as acclaimed Egyptian writer, Ahmed Mourad.