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Naguib Mahfouz..From Localism to Nobel


Naguib Mahfouz

He was that Nobel Prize winner Egyptian writer (1911-2006) who never left Egypt and the majority of his novels revolved around the theme of local and real Egypt. He wrote about whatever is Egyptian from his novels with the Pharaonic theme (Mockery of Fates) till Egyptian allies (old Cairo) and many Egyptian social and political themes. Likewise, he was inspired by his own passion, the place of his birth and childhood; Al- Gamaleya, though he lived there only eight years, but those few years entrenched the theme that formed his unique creativity that added a lot to the Arabic literature. You find the majority of his works are related to Al Gamaleya in a specific period called Time of Futuwat. Futuwat is the plural of Futuwa who is that vigorous man who protected his neighborhood’s people especially those weak ones and got back their rights. This pattern of men emerged as a result of the collapse of the state at the end of Mamluki’s age. Criminal gangs started to take over and threatened the general security, so groups of vigorous men started to resist it and eventually every neighborhood had his Futuwa.

This social regime disappeared with the Egyptian revolution against the kingdom regime in 1952.


His Stunning Unique Production

Naguib Mahfouz illustrated that significant role of the futuwa either positively or negatively in the woven dramatic creative pieces that get you to go back with all your senses to that age and live in it as if you were one of its people. He reflected every type of them whether righteous or evil, justice and injustice, and the pros and cons of that age especially in the magnificent epic of Al- Harafeesh which represented the generation succession drama as well as in He rocked out in the Morning and Evening Talk.


Al Gamaleya


You find yourself melted in those novels involuntarily for their unbelievable realism as if you were grown up and living there with the characters for years. His artistic tailoring to the famous weird character El Sayed Ahmed Abdel Gawad in the renowned trilogy (Palace Walk) Bein El Kasrein, (palace of Desire) Kasr Al Shok and (Street of Sugar) Al Sukkaria. They are simply names of known neighborhoods in old Cairo, but he didn't use those names only because the events took place in those neighborhoods, rather because the names expressed the events themes and the plots. Not only he transmits you to the life in those neighborhoods and the personality traits whether positive or negative of the novel characters, but also he refers to the political transitional situation in that time and refers to it by the novel name (Palace Walk).

I assume that his passion for his hometown pushed him to reflect it and its similar places in almost all his novels. However, he was balanced enough to show all types of people living there, the cruelty of real life at that time and the destiny of whole districts and alleys that were in Futuwat’s hands no matter how good and responsible they were.

Apart from the Egyptian alley he spotlit on, he wrote other varieties of genius novels that represent different realistic social and political issues like (The beginning and the end), (Love above pyramids), (Rise and Set), (Cairo 1930).


Al Moez Street


Usual Course

He always used to use symbols in his novels even in his novels’ characters’ names used to be symbolic and refer to the character traits and its situation in the novel. And in addition, he used to write his novels in the very local Egyptian style coffee shop.

A bit of Controversy

With his outstanding talent and extraordinary literary production, some of his novels provoked a wide controversy with the religious authorities like Awlad Haretna (Children of Gebelawi) for using symbolic characters to prophets and criticizing their philosophy through the characters’ beliefs and course. He defended his intentions in several interviews and justified his point of view denying any depreciating gesture to prophets or to any sacred figure. Mockery of Fates also produced some controversy for its name inadequate to the Islamic beliefs.


Part of Our Egyptian Legacy

What we all know that Naguib Mahfouz was and will always be that genius and creative writer whose as said in the Egyptian press, indulgence in localism drove him to globalism. Rest in Peace great Writer. Your legacy will last forever.



Rania Heikal (author) from Egypt on December 22, 2020:

James, if you read any of his phenomenal translated works you will really get highly impressed. I love all of them but the epic of Al- Harafeesh is the most stunning and interesting in my opinion and also the trilogy of the place walk. You will enjoy indeed. Thank you for your comment.

James C Moore from Joliet, IL on December 22, 2020:

I hadn't heard of Naguib Mahfouz before reading your article. It seems like he did what the best writers do and wrote what he knew. I will look him up.

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