Mahfouz, Naguib 1911(?)-2006

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Mahfouz, Naguib 1911(?)-2006
(Nagib Mahfouz, Naguib Abdel Aziz Al-Sabilgi Mahfouz, Najib Mahfouz)


See index for CA sketch: Born December 11, 1911 (some sources say 1912 or 1914), in Cairo, Egypt; died of complications from a head injury suffered in a fall, August 30, 2006, in Cairo, Egypt. Government bureaucrat and author. Mahfouz, the first Arab writer to win a Nobel Prize, was a critically acclaimed author praised for his portrayals of both ancient and modern Egypt. A studious man who graduated from the University of Cairo with a philosophy degree in 1934, he began his career writing short stories and published his first novel, Hams al-junun, in 1939. Though Mahfouz's early fictional tales were set in ancient Egypt, they were actually allegories commenting on politics in twentieth-century Egypt, including the unpopular British rule there. Although his novels and stories found success, Mahfouz could not support his family on an author's income. He therefore found work in various government posts. He worked for the Ministry of Islamic Affairs from 1939 to 1954, and was director of the Department of Art in the late 1950s. Mahfouz was sometimes criticized for this job, because part of his responsibilities involved censoring artists. This was especially the case when he was director of the Foundation for Support of the Cinema for the State Cinema Organization from 1959 to 1969. Later in his career, he became more financially sound and, in addition to fiction, wrote articles and columns for newspapers and magazines. By the 1940s and 1950s, Mahfouz had left historicals behind and was writing about contemporary Egypt. He was highly praised for the descriptions and sensory details he lent to Cairo. Mahfouz's writings often brought controversy, too, especially when he took definitive political and social positions. He criticized President Nasser, who came to power in a 1952 coup, and supported the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty at Camp David. Mahfouz was also frank about the extreme chauvinism in Arabic society, and his novels depict women being brutalized and deprived of freedoms. He was a strong supporter of the Palestinian cause and often gave money to Palestinian charities. Although never imprisoned for his views, Mahfouz was attacked in 1994, and many speculated that the man who stabbed him in the neck was an Islamic terrorist. A prolific author of novels, stories, plays, and screenplays, Mahfouz has been most highly praised for "Cairo Trilogy." Regarded as his masterwork, it includes the translated novels Palace Walk (1990), Palace of Desire (1991), and Sugar Street (1992). Although extremely popular in Egypt and heavily read in translation in European countries, few of Mahfouz's writings have become available in English. He is therefore less well known in the United States. Mahfouz won the Nobel Prize in 1988. He also received the Egyptian State Prize in 1956 and was named to his country's Order of Independence and Order of the Republic. Among his other works that have been translated into English are Midaq Alley (1966), God's World: An Anthology of Short Stories (1973), Autumn Quail (1985), Journey of Ibn Fattouma (1992), and Akhenaten, Dweller in Truth (2000).



Mahfouz, Naguib, Echoes of an Autobiography, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1997.

Reference Guide to World Literature, 3rd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2003.


Chicago Tribune, August 31, 2006, section 3, p. 7.

Los Angeles Times, August 31, 2006, pp. A1, A6-7.

New York Times, August 31, 2006, p. A21.

Times (London, England), August 31, 2006, p. 55.

Washington Post, August 31, 2006, pp. A1, A15.