Dr. Fidel Fajardo-Acosta's

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Naguib Mahfouz (1911- )

Biographical Information

Main Works

Featured Works: "Zaabalawi"


Selected Quotations


Biographical Information

  • Socially committed Egyptian novelist, essayist, and short story writer who explored the problems of traditional and modern Egyptian society; author of thirty-two novels, thirteen collections of short stories, screen plays, and several stage plays; awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988.

  • 1911, born to a middle-class Muslim family in Cairo, the city which is the setting for most of his novels.

  • Against his father's will, Mahfouz rejected medicine and chose to study philosophy; interest in rediscovering and redefining the truths which in the past he had found in religion.

  • 1930, published article, "The Dying of Old Beliefs and the Birth of New Beliefs"

  • 1936, decided that literature would be his field and abandoned his study of philosophy.

  • 1939, published his first novel, The Mockery of Fate (Abath al-Aqdar); Mahfouz entered the government bureaucracy, where he was employed for the next 35 years.

  • 1939-54, civil servant at the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, then worked as a director of the Foundation for Support of the Cinema.

  • 1956-57, publication of Al-Thulathiyya (The Cairo Trilogy), which is his most famous novel and made him a leading figure in modern Arabic literature.

  • 1969-71, consultant for cinema affairs in the Ministry of Culture.

  • 1988, awarded the Nobel Prize in literature.

  • 1994, 82-year old Mahfouz survived a terrorist attack (stabbed several times in the neck) by Islamic religious fanatics who have targeted him for his criticisms of their fundamentalist ideologies.

Main Works

The Mockery of Fate (Abath al-Aqdar) (1939), Radubis (1943), and Thebes' Struggle (Kifah Tiba) (1944); historical novels modeled after the works of Sir Walter Scott and part of a plan to deal with the whole history of Egypt; eventually Mahfouz gave up that project and shifted his attention to contemporary Egypt.

The Cairo Trilogy (Al-Thulathiyya) (1956-57); the work that established Mahfouz as the foremost Egyptian novelist. The trilogy is set in the parts of Cairo where Mahfouz grew up. The character of Kamal comes very close to being the author's alter ego. The individual novels are titled with street names Palace Walk (Bayn al-Qasrayn), Palace of Desire (Qasr al-Shawq), and Sugar Street (Al-Sukkariyya). Mahfouz depicts the life of three generations in Cairo from World War I to the 1950s, when King Farouk I was overthrown. While exploring the nature and effects of different historical forces, Mahfouz also studies the characters from psychological, intellectual, and social perspectives. The trilogy connects Mahfouz with a line of authors such as Balzac, Dickens, and Tolstoy.

The Children of Gebelawi (Awlad Haratina) (1959), a work which was serialized in the magazine, Al-Ahram; it portrayed average Egyptians living the lives of Cain and Abel, Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed; prophets and religious figures are presented as human and as social reformers. Mahfouz was accused of blasphemy by orthodox religious believers and the work was banned throughout the Arab world, except in Lebanon. Mahfouz further developed the themes of the book in his existentialist novels of the 1960's.

The Thief and the Dogs (Al-Liss wa al-Kilab) (1961), considered one of Mahfouz's most successful works, the novel features a thief who is hounded by the police with their dogs and is ultimately murdered in a cemetery. Ostensibly a psychological crime story, the work has social-political overtones and engages in subtle discussion of the Islamic religion.

Beneath the Shelter (Tahta al-Mazalla) (1967). A group of people waiting for a bus witness a series of violent events reminiscent of Middle Eastern reality as seen from an Egyptian point of view. The onlookers however make no attempt to intervene. When they finally seek an explanation from a policeman, he shoots them all. The story deals with the fear of involvement that is one of Mahfouz's central concerns.

Love in the Rain (Al-Hubb tahta al-Matar) (1973) deals with the problem of a despondent and demoralized nation, a situation stemming from Egypt's defeat in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

Respected Sir (Hadratu al-Muhtaram) (1975), a satirical examination of the false values and mentality of the Egyptian bureaucracy of which Mahfouz was part for many years.

Before the Throne (Amama al 'Arsh) (1983) features, in a series of repetitively worded chapters, the appearance of Egypt's dead leaders at a court of Ancient Egyptian gods who are conducting pre-trial hearings before their final judgment in the afterlife.


  • Egypt controlled by Ottoman Turks since 1517.

  • Napoleon's invasion of Egypt in 1798. Influence on Egyptians of the doctrines of the French Revolution and the rhetoric of revolutionary liberation; beginning of Westernization and shaking of the foundations of Ottoman rule.

  • British occupation of Egypt since 1883 and establishment of a British protectorate in 1914. A popular uprising in 1919 challenged British rule. Nominal independence was granted to Egypt in 1922 and a constitutional monarchy was established. Mahfouz witnessed bloody confrontations between the British and Egyptian nationalists demanding independence. In Thebes' Struggle, he describes the heroic struggle of the ancient Egyptians and their patriotic Pharaohs to expel the Hyksos from their country. The novel evidently alludes, indirectly, to modern Egyptian sociopolitical reality and the British as a ruling aristocracy of foreign stock.

  • The Free Officers Revolution of 1952. A movement of military conspirators, the Free Officers, led by Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918-1970) toppled the monarchy in a coup in July 1952 and established Nasser as the first native Egyptian to rule the country in over 2,000 years. Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal, attempted to unite the Arab countries, and waged war with Israel in 1956 and 1967. Nasser's rule brought about progress at home and enhanced Egypt's standing abroad as an island of stability in a turbulent Middle East. Mahfouz stopped writing novels for about five years after the revolution: "When the old social order disappeared, I lost my desire to criticize it" (Mahfouz, 1963).

  • Nasser was succeeded by Anwar el-Sadat (president of Egypt from 1970 to 1981) who also had to deal with a war with Israel (1973). Sadat was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1978 and was assassinated in 1981 by Muslim fundamentalists.

  • Arabic Literary Renaissance. 19th and 20th century movement toward a modern Arabic literature, inspired by contacts with the West and a renewed interest in classical literature; Egypt became the center of the movement; abandoning of traditional, ornate styles of the past and adoption of a simpler and more direct kind of writing aimed at the general reading public; receptive to new styles and ideas; the movement quickly spread to other Arab countries.

  • Islam. A major world religion first preached by Muhammad (Mohammed) in 7th-century Arabia. The Arabic term islam (literally meaning "surrender") refers to the idea that the believer (called "Muslim") must completely submit to the will of Allah (God). Allah is considered the sole God, creator and supporter of the world. The will of Allah is revealed through sacred scripture, the Qur'an (Koran), which Allah revealed to Muhammad. In Islam, Muhammad is seen as the last of a series of prophets (including Adam, Noah, Jesus, and others), and his message simultaneously fulfills and supersedes the revelations of earlier prophets and other religions. The "five pillars of Islam" are: faith, prayer, concern for the needy, self-purification, and the pilgrimage to Mecca.

  • Darwin's theory of evolution deeply influenced Mahfouz's thinking and made him abandon traditional beliefs. The concept of evolution became the center of his understanding of history, society, and civilization. Mahfouz's reaction to Darwin is represented in the Cairo Trilogy in the experiences and thoughts of the young Kamal.

Selected Quotations

  • to come


  • to come


Dr. Fajardo-Acosta gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Jung-Joon Ihm in the creation of this page


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