Thursday, August 31, 2006

Egypt, World Pays Tribute to Naguib Mahfouz (1911-2006)

President pays tribute to Mahfouz

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has paid tribute to writer Naguib Mahfouz, who has died in Cairo at the age of 94.

"Mahfouz was a cultural light... who brought Arab literature to the world," he said of the first Arab to win the Nobel prize for literature.

He said the author expressed "values of enlightenment and tolerance".

The Egyptian writer had spent the last months of his life in hospital after falling during a midnight stroll and injuring his head in July.

His vibrant portrayal of the Egyptian capital in his Cairo Trilogy won the 1988 Nobel Prize for literature.

US President George Bush has also expressed condolences, calling Mahfouz "an extraordinary artist who conveyed the richness of Egyptian history and society to the world".

A White House spokesman said the author's work would "introduce his beloved Egypt to Americans and to readers around the world for generations to come".

International recognition

The writer had suffered health problems since being stabbed in the neck in 1994 by an Islamist extremist, angry at his portrayal of God in one of his novels.

After that incident he was in hospital for seven weeks and suffered nerve damage in his neck, which limited his ability to write and caused his eyesight and hearing to deteriorate.

Mahfouz's Nobel Prize brought international recognition to a man already regarded in the Middle East as one of its best writers and premier intellectuals.

Egyptian writer Ahdaf Souief, who knew Mahfouz well, said the writer was a "massively important influence" on Arabic literature.

"He was our greatest living novelist for a very long time," he said. "Mahfouz was an innovator in the use of the Arabic language.

1911: Born in Cairo
1934: Graduated in philosophy from Cairo University
1959: Al-Azhar, one of the most important Islamic institutions in the world, bans novel because it includes characters representing God and the prophets
1988: First and only Arab to win Nobel Prize for literature
1994: Mahfouz stabbed in the neck by Islamist militant angered by his work

"He also embodied the whole development of the Arabic novel, starting with historical novels in the late 1940s through realism, through experimentalism and so on.

"He single-handedly went through the whole development of the Arabic novel and made innovation possible for generations of writers after him."

The Cairo Trilogy - Palace Walk, Palace of Desire and Sugar Street, all of which appeared in the 1950s - detailed the adventures and misadventures of a Muslim merchant family.

The books introduced a character who became an icon in Egyptian culture: Si-Sayed, the domineering father who holds his family together.

Controversy came in 1959 with the publication of the novel Children of Gebelawi.

First serialised in Egyptian newspapers, it caused an uproar and was banned by Egyptian religious authorities on the grounds it violated Islamic rules by including characters who clearly represented God and the prophets.

Nonetheless, it was published in Lebanon and later translated into English.

Final work

In a career that spanned decades Mahfouz published more than 30 novels, short stories, plays, newspaper columns, essays, travelogues, memoirs and political analyses.

His final published major work - a collection of stories about the afterlife titled The Seventh Heaven - came in 2005.

"I wrote The Seventh Heaven because I want to believe something good will happen to me after death," he told the Associated Press in December 2005.

"Spirituality for me is of high importance and continuously provides inspiration for me."

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2006/08/30 14:20:11 GMT

Mahfouz and his literary 'diwans'

By Penny Spiller
BBC News

Up until a fall in July that put him in hospital, Egyptian laureate Naguib Mahfouz, who has died aged 94, could be found on almost any given night with friends at one his many literary haunts around Cairo.

It was a tradition that began decades ago, when he and his fellow writers and poets would gather in the city's many coffee shops, restaurants and hotels to mull over the issues of the day.

In later years, these gatherings or "diwans" would attract a new crowd - thinkers from a broad spectrum of professions who kept the ageing writer in touch with the changing world.

They would also become an opportunity for fans to spend some time in the company of the only Arabic writer to have been awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, which he won in 1988.

Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif, who knew Mahfouz well, said the meetings allowed people to pay "a kind of homage" to "the grand old man of Egyptian literature".

"People held him in great affection. He was a very big deal. People could be in his presence for a bit," she said.

She said he had lived long enough to see his legacy come into effect. "There is nobody writing in Arabic today that has not been influenced by him," she said.


But old age and deteriorating hearing and eyesight limited his ability to contribute to the gatherings in later years.

He often had a friend sitting next to him who would shout loudly in his ear about what was going on, which made the meetings surreal at times.

Khalid Kishtainy, an Iraqi journalist and writer based in London who has attended several such gatherings, was asked at one to read out his latest published work.

"I sat next to him and tried to read, but he couldn't hear me - I think he found my Iraqi accent difficult, but also I didn't shout loud enough," he explained.

"In the end, one of his prompters said he would read it out. But Mahfouz showed great appreciation of my work, and laughed at all the funny bits."

Raymond Stock, Mahfouz's American biographer and friend of 14 years, said the writer would often go into what he called his "screen-saver mode".

"He would seem to be asleep, but he was very much aware of what was going on," he said.

"On one occasion, a mosquito landed on his forehead and a friend raised his hand to swat it away. Naguib looked up and said: 'What do you want to hit me for?'"

Naim Sabry, an Egyptian poet and novelist and another long-time friend, says it was his nature to say little. "He was a very good listener. He concentrated," Mr Sabry said.

Progressive thinker

The "diwans" were the brainchild of renowned Egyptian psychologist and long-time friend of Mahfouz, Dr Yehia el-Rakkhawi.

It followed Mahfouz's stabbing by an Islamist extremist in 1994 who had been inspired by a fatwa issued over the writer's portrayal of God in one of his novels decades earlier.

Mahfouz spent several weeks in hospital and suffered damaged nerves that limited his ability to write.

The gatherings "were a way of keeping his spirits up after the stabbing. And it worked. It did have the effect of keeping him in touch with the world," Mr Stock said.

Informal affairs, the "diwans" were attended by a small group of regulars as well as journalists, doctors and engineers among others.

They were held at a different location each night - most often at one of the hotels in downtown Cairo - and each one had a slightly different political emphasis.

"The more pro-Western liberals tended to come on Sundays, while those with more opposing views would attend on Tuesdays and Fridays. Wednesdays were more mixed," Mr Stock said.

Thursdays were invitation-only, for his closest group of friends known as the Harafish ("riff-raff"), while on Saturdays he would receive people at home.

Mr Sabry says there is talk of keeping the gatherings going in memory of their friend. But he thinks it is unlikely they will carry on for very long.

"Naguib was the core of the gatherings and it will be strange without him there," he said.

Mahfouz continued to write, by dictation, up until he fell ill, adding to an output that included more than 30 novels and more than 100 short stories, as well as numerous articles and film scripts.

He became famous for his vivid portrayals of life in his beloved city and Egypt's experience of colonialism and authoritarianism.

He was considered a progressive thinker who was a strong advocate for moderation and religious tolerance, which often pitted him against conservatives in Egypt.

Mr Stock said he detected a shift in the writer's political views in the last few years over US foreign policy, particularly over the "war on terror".

"He was very much against it. He had a simple view that if you remove the injustice, there will be no more trouble," he said.

"But he was wise. On one occasion, someone was attacking the idea of the US proposing democracy in the Middle East, and it was pointed out that Egypt had once had democracy, and people wanted it again.

"'We agree about democracy,' Mahfouz said. 'Sometimes our interests are the same,'" Mr Stock recalled.

Mr Soueif says it will be his literary, rather than political, legacy that will remain.

"He was always a novelist before anything else."

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2006/08/30 19:22:38 GMT

Obituary: Naguib Mahfouz

By Bob Trevelyan
BBC World Service

The Egyptian novelist, Naguib Mahfouz, wrote more than 30 novels, and in 1988 became the first Arab to win the Nobel prize for literature. He died in hospital on 30 August after injuring himself in a fall in July.

Naguib Mahfouz was arguably the greatest Arab novelist of the 20th Century.

He had something of the status of a national treasure in Egypt, where many of his characters became household names.

He was well known too throughout the Arab world, partly because so many of his works were turned into films or television dramas.

International acclaim

Internationally, Mahfouz was best known for winning the Nobel Prize, after which many of his novels were translated into English and other languages.

He remains the only Arab to have won the prize, and although it brought him great acclaim he never moved out of his modest flat beside the Nile in Cairo, or stopped his regular trips to cafes for literary discussions.

"To tell you the truth, I've never lost touch with the new generation of young writers," Mahfouz said.

"So, for example, in my most recent favourite haunt - the Qasr al-Nil cafe - among the artists, writers and thinkers that used to come to talk to me there, there wasn't a single person who was my age or from my generation, even. They're young but they're all bright."

Most of Mahfouz's novels focused on the lives of ordinary Egyptians in Cairo - his realistic style reaching a peak with the publication in the late 1950s of an immense family saga.

Islamist anger

After that Mahfouz experimented with a more mystical style, sometimes arousing the anger of religious conservatives.

His novel known in English as Children of Gebelawi was banned in Egypt, and he was accused of blasphemy.

In 1994, Mahfouz was attacked outside his home by Muslim extremists said to have been incensed by his treatment of religious themes in the book.

He was stabbed in the neck but survived.

The Nobel foundation described Mahfouz as indefatigable, and, beside his literary achievements, that is how many Egyptians will remember him.


I first heard of Mr. Naguib Mahfouz in 1988 in the news announcing the 1988 Nobel Prize in Literature. Subsequently I searched for his books and purchased every book I ever came across and read with great interest as I was addicted to his books. I cried after reading many of his books as he so vividly portrayed human sufferings. He became my best friend in university years and continued to keep me enlightened. I found an ocean of wisdom in him.
Nahid Khan, New York, USA

I read Mr. Mahfouz's works which are translated into English. They are simply tremendous. Africa lost one of its greatest leaders in the field of literature. But the undying flames of his works will continue to brighten the path of both African and Arabian literature.
Hizbawi Menghisteab, Asmara, Eritrea

I am very saddened by Naguib Mahfouz's death. It feels like I've lost a family elder whom I took it for granted to always be there. I met him a couple of times and have been doing a postgraduate degree on translation and culture issues using his works as an illustration. I have read his novels and short stories several times. He will always remain Egypt's most magnificent novelist towering over all others. May he rest in peace.
Youssef Taha, London, UK (originally Alexandria, Egypt)

For the attentive reader, or even the half-attentive reader, his work illustrates what is common, what is shared, among the peoples of the world, and the essential falsity of the Islam-versus-everyone notion currently in vogue. He was briefly noticed in the West when he won the Nobel Prize in 1988, but then our literary media returned to its usual focus on in-crowd Booker prize tripe. But before we forget Naguib Mahfouz, it should be said that he was a brave, honest and diamond-clear writer, worthy to be ranked with Solzhenitsyn, Garcia Marquez, Mishima, Gunther Grass -- make your own list -- anyway, the greatest literary names of our age. He opened the door to a world I didn't know and was thrilled to discover, and he greatly enriched my life. I won't forget him.
angus waycott, Tokyo, Japan

It is a tragic and great loss not only to Egypt but to literature in general. Through him a whole generation came to love literature. My condolences go to all his lovers and readers all over the world.
Nagui Abdalla, Cairo - Egypt

Mahfuz was probaly one of the last people believing in liberal humanism even after comprehending its disillusionment in the past century.
Aninda Rahman, Dhaka 1000, Bangladesh

I have only known about the work of Naguib Mahfouz for 2 years. When I began to study Arabic I read Palace Walk. Earlier this year whilst staying in Cairo I saw a very distinguished elderly frail gentleman in a cafe. I knew he was someone special & later on returning home after viewing photograhs realised it was indeed Naguib Mahfouz. I wish I had spoken with him but feel very honoured to have seen him. What wonderful treasures he has given to us.
Christina Farrlley, Manchester UK

Naguib Mahfouz was an incredible character and a beautiful writer. His books could transport you effortlessly to another time and place. A real loss, but I for one will always enjoy reading and re-reading his books!
Julie, Reading, Uk

I have never met the man in my life, but I read some of his great works, and they stuck with me and in a way that defined how my generation looks at older generations in Egypt. He portrayed everything in Egypt from the 1930s till the 1960S from a common mans' perspective. He stood firm in an era of much turmoil and change, and his talent was unmatched in Egypt for 70 years. In a way I feel that his death is a personal loss.
Antoine Atef , Alexandria, Egypt

I am and deeply saddened by the passing of a great African writer, who happens to be an Arab. He was a truely wise man, who reflected on the human condition in his novels. Like his characters he will live for ever, I am grateful,to have read with relish, The Cairo Trilogy, The Harafish, The Journey of Ibn Fattouma, Midaq Alley and many more. These books tell us that we have lost a great man of wisdom. Rest in peace Naguib, who fought a great fight
Daniel Osei-Kissi, London-(UK, Ghana)

Not always did every one of his compatriots agree with his politics, but Mahfouz, who in a sense is a father and grandfather of a nation, summed up, in his own life, the struggles of a wider region, and the complex and heart-rending interplay of aspirations and traditions. Undoubtedly, as anyone can attest who has ever read him, he was a master of the written word, or the transcribed voice. It is difficult to imagine a peer in any language. It is a sad, sad loss, but is also a moment of renewal for the Arab world. The paths he opened in his books were wide. Let others now follow and fire the arrow even further.
Ian Douglas, Cairo, Egypt

A great loss - unique in his world, Mahfouz' writings opened up for us the completely unknown world of Egyptian family and political life in the early 20th century. Of course I never met him, but if I had! how many things I would have liked to discuss with him!
Catherine Hackney, Islandmagee, Northern Ireland

To respond to Alan's question, I think that no Arabic writers have won the prize after Naguib because most writers have been subconsciously silenced by their fears of violence that may be ignited against their work..
Omar Houssainy , Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Almost alone, he humanised modern Egypt. After reading "Sugar Street", the stereotypes go straight out the window and humanity flies in. My sympathy goes to the readers of Egypt.
Nic Smith, Windsor, UK

I first read translations of Mahfouz's books while I was travelling through Egypt as a student in the spring of 1998. Besides appreciating his tremendous humanism and compassion for the plight of all creatures on this earth, his words were also a great inspiration to me as a young writer - in another language and culture - proving once more that great art transcends not just time and space, but boundaries of the soul too. May the universe bless Mr Naguib in his new life.
Zaheer Nooruddin, Bombay, India

Indeed, Mahfouz was one of the greatest writers of Africa. It is very saddening he is being denoted as an Arab novelist for the mere reason that he was writing in Arabic. I consider him an African and became an internationally acclaimed writer for his novels and other works written about Africans. I received the news of his death with great sorrow and sadness.
Y. Eteffa, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

A calm, wise, secluded, original and creative talent who has lived in his own world, untouched by the chaos Egypt has - and still is - going through. He will be much missed by a nation that is being brainwashed by centuries of invasions, colonialism, and thievery. Mahfouz will live forever, just like a 21st century pyramid of Egypt.
Tamim Abaza, Dubai, UAE

A great man has left us. It got me wondering - how come more Arabic writers have not won the Nobel Prize for Literature?
Alan Houston, Belfast, Northern Ireland

I had the great pleasure of meeting Naguib Mahfouz a few years ago, a man of great humility and a talent that should not be underestimated. He will be sadly missed
John Wreford, Damascus

Very saddened by the news of his passing. He was and will remain a giant of enlightenment and free thinking. God bless.
Lubna Hadid, London, UK

I met Mr. Neguib Mahfouz in Cairo during 1984 and was immensely impressed by his meticulous behaviour. Though he was a little hard of hearing he listened to my question with patience and replied in a very firm and authoritative voice. He told me that he has not travelled abroad because when he wanted to go, circumstances prevented him and now when he can go, his health could not permit him. He was a marvellous writer but equally great human being.
Ahmed M Ibrahim, Bangalore 560046/India

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2006/08/30 07:31:01 GMT

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