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Naguib Mahfouz's Nobel Prize in Literature

Naguib Mahfouz's Nobel Prize in Literature
His 1959 novel “Children of Gebelawi,” an allegorical retelling of the stories of the three Abrahamic faiths, was banned and, in 1994, he survived a knife attack by a religious extremist. (AFP)
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Updated 04 May 2020

Naguib Mahfouz's Nobel Prize in Literature

Naguib Mahfouz's Nobel Prize in Literature

The author’s most important work was banned by Egypt’s religious authorities

Summary

On Oct. 13, 1988, Egyptian author Naguib Mahfouz became the first Egyptian and the first writer with Arabic as his native tongue to win the Nobel Prize in Literature.

By then, Mahfouz, 76, had produced a rich and complex body of work, including more than 30 novels and 350 short stories, many of which were adapted for film. For many years, he also wrote a weekly column for Egypt’s leading newspaper, Al-Ahram.

The Nobel citation said that, “through works rich in nuance — now clear-sightedly realistic, now evocatively ambiguous” — Mahfouz had created “an Arabian narrative art that applies to all mankind.”

His writing also provoked controversy. His 1959 novel “Children of Gebelawi,” an allegorical retelling of the stories of the three Abrahamic faiths, was banned and, in 1994, he survived a knife attack by a religious extremist.

Upon Mahfouz’s death in 2006, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak praised the author’s “values of enlightenment and tolerance.” He would be remembered as “a cultural light... who brought Arab literature to the world.”

CAIRO: In 1901, the first Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to the French poet Sully Prudhomme. More than 80 years later, on Oct. 13, 1988, the Swedish Academy awarded the prize to Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfouz. It was the first time it had been awarded to an Egyptian, and also the first time the winner’s mother tongue was Arabic. The academy’s statement noted that: “To date, Mahfouz has been writing for about 50 years. He is still indefatigable.”

It went on: “Mahfouz’s great and decisive achievement is as the writer of novels and short stories. His production has meant a powerful upswing for the novel as a genre and for the development of the literary language in Arabic-speaking cultural circles. The range is, however, greater than that. His work speaks to us all.”

Mahfouz’s life is itself worthy of literary fiction. He was born on Dec. 11, 1911, in Cairo’s old city, and was named after the obstetrician who helped deliver him.

At the eastern and western approaches to the Qasr El Nil Bridge, next to Cairo’s Tahrir Square, are four famous large bronze lion statues that enthrall me every time I cross the bridge. I used to make this journey twice a week in the early 1990s, and accompanying me was Mahfouz. At that time, we had agreed to jointly write eight articles for Al-Majalla magazine.

“The self-effacing 76-year-old, a habitue of bazaar coffee shops, has been compared to Charles Dickens for his vivid portrayals of poverty.”

From an AP story on Arab News’ front page, Oct. 14, 1988

I used to pass by his house in Al-Agouza in the morning and we would walk together to Tahrir Square to sit in a small cafe called Ali Baba. We would then define a topic for our next article — he would present his perceptions and points of view about this topic while I took notes. I would then formulate these observations and ideas and present them to him for approval at our next meeting.

The time I spent with him was of special value. It was an opportunity to approach the mind of one of the most important figures in Arabic and international literature. However, I do not claim to have known him deeply; he was by nature very reserved, so I only knew him to a limited extent. I understood why Mahfouz did not want to share his personal life with the public, instead preferring to keep it away from the spotlight. He only got married in the period after he stopped writing following the revolution of 1952. He was able to hide his marriage for 10 years.

Mahfouz was the youngest of seven siblings and, because the difference in age between him and his closest brother was 10 years, he was treated like an only child. He was little more than seven years old when the 1919 revolution took place and this deeply influenced him. He described it in many of his novels, notably in the first part of his “Cairo Trilogy,” “Bayn Al-Qasrayn” (Palace Walk).

Key Dates


  • 1

    Naguib Mahfouz is born in Old Cairo, the seventh and youngest child of Abdul Aziz Ibrahim, a civil servant.


  • 2

    Publishes his first full-length novel, “Mockery of The Fates,” which is translated into English in 2003 as “Khufu’s Wisdom.”


  • 3

    Publishes “Bayn Al-Qasrayn” (Palace Walk), the first book in the “Cairo Trilogy,” his most famous works, which follow the fortunes of a Cairene family over three generations from the time of the 1919 revolution. “Qasr Al-Shawq” (Palace of Desire) and “Al-Sukkariyya” (Sugar Street) follow in 1957.

    Timeline Image 1956


  • 4

    His novel “Children of Gebelawi,” an allegorical retelling of the stories of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, offends religious authorities and is banned in Egypt.

    Timeline Image 1959


  • 5

    Wins Nobel Prize in Literature.


  • 6

    Stabbed in the neck by a religious extremist offended by his work, sustaining permanent nerve damage that makes writing increasingly difficult.


  • 7

    Publishes his final major work, “The Seventh Heaven,” written because “spirituality for me is of high importance and continuously provides inspiration (and) I want to believe something good will happen to me after death.”

    Timeline Image 2005


  • 8

    Mahfouz dies in Cairo, aged 94.

After graduating in philosophy from Cairo University in 1934, he began preparing a master’s thesis on “Beauty in Islamic Philosophy,” but changed his decision to focus on literature. However, because literature was not a profession that could provide him with a monthly salary, but was rather a hobby, he worked in several government positions.

Mahfouz began writing in the mid-1930s and his short stories were published in Al-Risala magazine. In 1939, his first novel, “Abath Al-Aqdar” (Mockery of the Fates), was published. It presented his concept of historical realism and was followed by “Radubis” (Rhadopis of Nubia) and “Kifah Tibah” (Thebes at War) to complete a historical trilogy set in the time of the pharaohs.

The year 1945 marked the beginning of Mahfouz’s line of realistic writing, which he preserved for most of his literary career, reflected through novels such as “Cairo Modern,” “Khan Al-Khalili,” “Midaq Alley,” and “The Beginning and the End.” During this phase, his style ranged from the impressionistic to the surrealist, using a pattern of evocative vocabulary and imagery to bind the works together. His exclusive use of stream of consciousness also prevailed, such as in “The Beggar” and “Children of Our Alley.” He also excelled in writing novels that covered many generations, such as “The Harafish” and “Arabian Nights and Days.”

He was little more than seven years old when the 1919 revolution took place, and this deeply influenced him

Abdellatif El-Menawy

Many classify “Children of Our Alley,” which was translated into English as “Children of Gebelawi,” as Mahfouz’s most important work. It began to be serialized in Al-Ahram in September 1959, but this was suspended on Dec. 25 the same year due to objections by religious organizations. It was this novel that brought Mahfouz into conflict with Egypt’s religious authorities. After its serialization in Al-Ahram, Cairo’s religious university, Al-Azhar, refused to allow the work to appear in book form. It took another eight years for it to be published in Beirut. Many years later, this book was the motivation for a 1995 attack on the author’s life, in which he was hospitalized with a wound to the neck. This left him partially paralyzed in his right arm.




A page from the Arab News archieve showing the news on Oct. 14, 1988.

Behind the scenes of his Nobel Prize award in 1988, it is said that this novel — as well as some other works — ensured he outdid his peers who were also nominated for the award at the time.

“Ahlam Fatrat Al-Naqaha” (Dreams of the Period of Recovery), published in 2004, was a series of writings dictated to his friends. He passed away on Aug. 30, 2006, after receiving myriad well-deserved honors, awards and accolades. His name was given to a number of squares in Egypt, while a museum was last year opened in the writer’s honor near his home neighborhood.

  • Dr. Abdellatif El-Menawy, a columnist for Arab News, is an Egyptian writer and journalist. He was an acquaintance of Naguib Mahfouz. Twitter: @ALMenawy


Dubai teen-led tennis initiative raises awareness for autism 

Dubai teen-led tennis initiative raises awareness for autism 
Updated 21 min 48 sec ago

Dubai teen-led tennis initiative raises awareness for autism 

Dubai teen-led tennis initiative raises awareness for autism 
  • Two-week tournament saw a 32-draw men’s competition and a unisex under-14’s doubles contest
  • The initiative, called ACE FOR GOOD, was set up by high school student Hussein Nada

DUBAI: A tennis initiative set up by a Dubai teen has garnered support for Autism Awareness Month.

The initiative, called ACE FOR GOOD, was set up by high school student Hussein Nada in order to bring together tennis lovers to play in support of a good cause.

The initiative comprised of a tournament organized by Rackets Academy and 17-year-old Hussein.

“I decided to create ACE FOR GOOD’which will allow tennis players to give back to the community through supporting a charitable cause,” she told Arab News. “ACE FOR GOOD’s 2021 Dubai tournament perfectly (suited) Autism Awareness Month, (as did) the willingness of the tennis community to support and … make a difference.”

The two-week tournament saw a 32-draw men’s competition and a unisex under-14’s doubles contest.

It was backed by several sponsors including Brand for Less (BFL) Group, Daoud Group, Loca restaurants, Head, Marina Pharmacy Group and the Flower Co.

“BFL Group is so proud of this sponsorship, as we always strive to work for philanthropic causes, since this reflects our values. Nevertheless, sports and fitness-related activities always get our support as we believe in their key role in maintaining our mental health and wellbeing,” Yasser Beydoun, co-founder and managing partner of BFL Group, said.

“We salute Hussein for his initiative and efforts, which made us so excited to take this sponsorship opportunity and support him in achieving this great cause. He showed us that age is never a barrier for doing good; we can all do something good for the community as long as we believe in the cause and in our abilities,” Beydoun added.

As a result of the positive feedback received from players, sponsors, and the tennis community, ACE FOR GOOD is now set to become an annual event in Dubai, with plans also in the works to take it abroad, with a tournament set to take place in Egypt in August.


Khair for All — Saudi charity celebrate another successful Ramadan

Khair for All — Saudi charity celebrate another successful Ramadan
Updated 28 min 30 sec ago

Khair for All — Saudi charity celebrate another successful Ramadan

Khair for All — Saudi charity celebrate another successful Ramadan
  • Khair, the Arabic term for good, well-being, blessings and benevolence, was the operative word founder Abdulmajeed Hashem chose for his charity

 

 

JEDDAH: With Ramadan drawing to a close, a family and friends charity celebrated the success of their ninth consecutive year in operation ahead of Eid festivities.

Abdulmajeed Hashem, the 25-year-old founder of Jeddah-based charity Khair for All, told Arab News about how his family and friends played their part in giving and lending a helping hand this holy month.

Whilst endeavoring to get involved in the spirit of Ramadan aged 16, the Jeddah-born Hashem discovered that local charities in his area had too many volunteers. However, he knew that there was no cap on good that can be done — so he founded his own charity.

Khair, the Arabic term for good, well-being, blessings and benevolence, was the operative word founder Hashem chose for Khair for All.

“We started in about 2012 with a small group of my cousins and friends. We decided to start by giving out meals for Iftar Sayim,” Hashem told Arab News.

Iftar Sayim is the charitable act of providing ready meals, usually dates, water, laban and a sambosa, to Muslims in Ramadan for them to break their fasts with.

One month worth of essential food items laid out in batches ahead of packaging and distributing. (Zeina Sweidan)

“That simple beginning turned into something that grew in size, in number of volunteers, in effort — we just kind of started from there and it naturally grew.”

Hashem and his team purchased Iftar Sayim meals using their own money and began distributing them in the suburbs of Jeddah — soon they found themselves in a daily routine they could not do without.

“Meeting here everyday, setting up the packs and distributing them ourselves has really been a bonding experience with our group,” he said. “We really enjoy this activity — it’s become a part of our Ramadan that’s very important to us.”

A less fortunate suburb in Jeddah receiving Khair for All monthly packages. (Hussain Abedi)

The global health crisis did not stand in the way of the charity’s vision for 2021, and while adjustments had to be made and precautions taken, they swiftly adapted and made the necessary changes for another successful Ramadan.

Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 has played a role in getting the youth moving, according to the Khair for All founder. “I feel like with the new direction a lot more of my friends have been more willing to volunteer,” he said. “More people are ready to go and take on these projects.

“I’ve definitely noticed an increase in enthusiasm and energy in the past few years, and I think it’s very much linked to the direction of the country.”

Khair for All sets no limits on where and how it can be of service, and so ventured into more sustainable projects in which their effects will be seen in the years to come.

While Iftar Sayim is the basis for why Khair for All began, in 2014 Hashem and his team discovered that there were more ways to help the community than to simply help break their fasts.

Khair for All volunteer stuffing monthly packs of essential food items into the back of his car just before the Maghreb prayer — the time in which Muslims break their fasts. (AN/Zaid Khashogji)

“We later shifted to giving monthly packs,” the Khair for All founder said. “We kind of understood that families needed something more stable, something that would make them not have to worry about where their food was coming in for the next month.”

Since then, packaging monthly supplies consisting of basic goods and necessities has become the primary activity of the charity — and they soon found themselves working with local schools.

“We like to have more of a lasting impact in the places we’re helping out, rather than just providing a meal and then going back home,” Hashem said. “We want to provide something to the communities that we can see grow ourselves, so we’re really focusing a lot on education.”

Hashem and the team began pooling money together each year to improve the state of impoverished schools in Jeddah.

“Vision 2030 emphasizes a lot of the power the youth can have,” he said. “We believe any way we can make the schools a better learning environment for the kids would be a way of having a more lasting impact.

“We do a lot of work getting new chairs, painting and providing internet — and I hope we can continue to do more things like that in the future.”

Hashem believes that more direct communication with people in the community is necessary to address the real underlying issues, rather than just basing measures on assumptions.

“Basically, put our energy into what they tell us they need,” he said. “Talk to everyone there, and get to know them really well — that way, it’s addressing actual problems.”


Young whale stranded in London’s Thames is put down

Young whale stranded in London’s Thames is put down
Updated 1 min 5 sec ago

Young whale stranded in London’s Thames is put down

Young whale stranded in London’s Thames is put down
  • The whale, measuring three to four meters (10-13 feet), was first spotted in southwest London on Sunday
  • Rescue efforts by the British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) service and firefighters failed when the whale slipped its leash and then swam upriver

LONDON: A juvenile minke whale that became stranded in London’s River Thames has been put down after its condition deteriorated and vets decided it could not survive in the open water.
The whale, measuring three to four meters (10-13 feet), was first spotted in southwest London on Sunday and was washed ashore at a set of gates controlling water flow.
Rescue efforts by the British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) service and firefighters failed when the whale slipped its leash and then swam upriver, instead of toward the sea.
“The last 45 minutes we were with the whale its condition was deteriorating, its breathing wasn’t right and it wouldn’t have survived much longer,” BDMLR national coordinator Julia Cable said late Monday.
She said vets from London Zoo injected a “large” anaesthetic dose into the malnourished whale. It is thought the whale got separated from its mother and was unable to fend for itself.
“It’s always sad, but we now know that putting it back out into the open sea would have been sending it to starve out there,” Cable said.
Minke whales are the smallest of the world’s great whales and typically grow to a length of 10 meters in adulthood.
They can usually be found throughout the northern Atlantic and Pacific oceans but have been spotted as far north as the Arctic and as far south as the Equator.
In January 2006, a northern bottlenose whale became stuck in the Thames, sparking huge media interest. It died as it was being ferried back out to sea.


Arab world renewables growth slows in 2020

Arab world renewables growth slows in 2020
Updated 11 May 2021

Arab world renewables growth slows in 2020

Arab world renewables growth slows in 2020
  • Total renewables capacity stood at 24,224 MW last year

DUBAI: The Middle East saw a 5 percent increase in its renewable energy capacity in 2020, as the region’s push to go greener stalled.
Total renewables capacity stood at 24,224 MW last year, according to a report by the Abu Dhabi-based International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).
Growth in the sector slowed from the 13 percent increase in renewables capacity achieved between 2018 and 2019, as the COVID-19 pandemic took a toll on projects in the pipeline.
Still, the targets set by countries in the region could translate into a combined 80 GW of renewable capacity by 2030, IRENA said.
The global agency said the regional renewables push goes hand-in-hand with the Middle East’s ambition to diversify its economy, with projects typically bringing other economic benefits.
“The region recognizes the socio-economic benefits of renewable energy deployment, which is perceived as an opportunity for industrial diversification, new value-chain activities and technology transfer,” IRENA said.
The UAE has grown its renewable energy capacity from just 13MW in 2011 to 2,540 MW capacity in 2020. Saudi Arabia’s capacity also grew significantly over nine years – starting at only 3MW and increasing to 413 MW last year.


Indian oil refiners cut output, imports as pandemic hits demand

Indian oil refiners cut output, imports as pandemic hits demand
Updated 11 May 2021

Indian oil refiners cut output, imports as pandemic hits demand

Indian oil refiners cut output, imports as pandemic hits demand
  • IOC’s refineries at 95 percent of their capacity in late April
  • Several Indian states remain under lockdown

NEW DELHI: India’s top oil refiners are reducing processing runs and crude imports as the surging COVID-19 pandemic has cut fuel consumption, leading to higher product stockpiles at the plants, company officials told Reuters on Tuesday.
Indian Oil Corp, the country’s biggest refiner, has reduced runs to an average of between 85 percent and 88 percent of processing capacity, a company official said, adding runs could be cut further as some plants are facing problems storing refined oil products.
IOC’s refineries were operating at about 95 percent of their capacity in late April.
“We do not anticipate that our crude processing would be reduced to last year’s level of 65 percent-70 percent as inter-state vehicle movement is still there ... (the) economy is functioning,” he said.
Several states across India are under lockdown as the coronavirus crisis showed scant sign of easing on Tuesday, with a seven-day average of new cases at a record high, although the government of India, the world’s third largest oil importer and consumer, has not implemented a full lockdown.
State-run Bharat Petroleum Corp. has cut its crude imports by 1 million barrels in May and will reduce purchases by 2 million barrels in June, a company official said.
M.K. Surana, chairman of Hindustan Petroleum Corp, expects India’s fuel consumption in May to fall by 5 percent from April as the impact on driving and industrial production is not as severe as last year.
“This time it is not a full lockdown like last time,” he said.
“Sales in April was about 90 percent of March and we expect May could be about 5 percent lower than April.”