From ‘Children of the Alley: The Story of the Forbidden Novel’

“Chapter Twelve: October 14, 1994” is at the heart of Mohamed Shoair’s acclaimed 2018 popular history, Children of the Alley: The Story of the Forbidden Novel. The book tells of how Egypt’s Nobel literature laureate came to write and publish his most controversial novel, and how it led to the attempt on his life:

By Mohamed Shoair

Translated by Samah Selim

Chapter Twelve: October 14, 1994

“The air was choked with dust” as Naguib Mahfouz wrote in the opening to his 1961 novel The Thief and the Dogs. Sandstorms had slammed into Cairo, causing accidents and property damage of all kinds, and some of the southern governorates were drowned in widespread flooding from violent thunderstorms. Mahfouz was in the habit of leaving his house at 5:30 p.m. on Friday afternoons and heading to his famous weekly literary gathering in Qasr Al-Nil Café, where he regularly met his friends and harafish.[1] On this day, October 14, 1994, Dr. Fathi Hashim waited outside to drive him there. Yet Hashim wasn’t alone. Another young man was waiting outside with a concealed switchblade. He approached the car as Mahfouz settled into the passenger seat and plunged the knife into his neck. “I saw a terrifying monster close in on me and tear at my throat with his teeth,” Mahfouz recalled.[2] A fountain of blood gushed from the wound, and the assailant fled. ‘God help us!’ Egyptians from all walks of life exclaimed in horror when the news started to spread.

A few days later, police released the suspect’s name: Mohammad Naji. The incident was the climax of a violent struggle between the Egyptian state and the jihadists in a wave of terrorist bombings that had claimed the lives of foreign tourists and Coptic Christians and targeted intellectuals and politicians for assassination. The conflict had created a hostile environment for civil liberties and had left many people convinced that “the coming victory of the theocratic state was inevitable,” in the words of Nasr Hamid Abu-Zayd, and that “many were those who would be obliged to reserve a seat at its table.”[3]

A year before the attempt on Mahfouz’s life, the Ministry of Education had removed his 1944 novel The Struggle of Thebes from the secondary school curriculum. The Curriculum Committee’s excuse for this decision was a financial conflict with the publisher over the sum of eight piasters per copy of the book (the publisher was asking for 104 piasters per copy while the Ministry insisted on 96). In an astonishing move, the committee chose The Bold Eagle by Abd al-Salam Zaydan, a little-know author of children’s fiction,to replace Mahfouz’s novel, although the price per copy was 124 piasters—twenty piasters more than the price refused by the Ministry for The Struggle of Thebes. A few days before this decision, the same committee saw fit to lighten the burden placed on Egyptian high school students by removing Mahfouz’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech from the curriculum. In an editorial, the cultural weekly Akhbar al-Adab described the Ministry’s actions as a conspiracy against the Dean of the Egyptian Novel himself.[4]

Meanwhile, Dr. Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd was making the rounds of the courts in a case that had begun just a few months earlier. He had provoked a firestorm when he came up for promotion at Cairo University in March of 1993 with three publications that used new critical methodologies for studying religious texts: The Concept of the Text: a Study of the Quranic Sciences, Imam al-Shafi’i and the Foundation of the Ideology of the Middle Path,and Critique of Religious Discourse. A group of conservative university professors led by Abd al-Sabur Shahin[5] concluded that firing Abu Zayd would represent “a blow to secularism at the university.” Shahin swiftly produced a robust report denying Abu Zayd promotion and accusing him of apostasy. He then began attacking Abu Zayd in his weekly Friday sermons. It was a grim chain of events that eventually culminated in a lawsuit to forcibly divorce Abu Zayd from his wife and colleague Ibtihal Yunis, professor of French literature at Cairo University, on the grounds that the marriage of a Muslim woman to an apostate was legally null and void.[6]

Eight months before the assassination attempt on February 10, 1994, the General Assembly of the Egyptian State Council’s Department of Legislation and Fatwas presided over by Judge Tariq al-Bishri issued a fatwa confirming that Al-Azhar University alone reserved the sole right to evaluate the granting of Ministry of Culture licenses for artistic and audiovisual works that touched on the Muslim religion, or that were deemed to conflict with its principles. The fatwa claimed the explicit authority to prohibit printing, registration, and distribution of such works, and stated that, as the sole institution responsible for the integrity of the text of the Blessed Quran, the bureaus of research, publication, and translation of Al-Azhar’s Islamic Research Complex were the exclusive and legitimate oversight bodies for said works. As such, the opinion of Al-Azhar University, as concluded through its relevant organs, was to be binding on the parties entrusted with the decision to publish. Egyptian civil society institutions considered this fatwa to be “the State Council’s attempt to demolish the basis of secular government and to resurrect theocracy,” and Gaber Asfour, then Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Culture, declared that the fatwa would “make a religious institution judge and jury over people’s consciences, and stand in the way of artistic freedom.” [7]

The odd thing was that the state’s censorship bodies had no need of fatwas. They had already begun to flex their muscles when MP Jalal Gharib submitted an official query to the Minister of Culture on the floor of Parliament in January of 1994 in which he protested IbdaaMagazine’s recent reproduction of Austrian artist Gustav Klimt’s painting “Adam and Eve.” Gharib also lodged a protest against the Ministry’s festival for experimental theater, as well as the Cairo Opera orchestra (explaining that there was no need for such things in the country of al-Azhar). On the same day a few hours after this incident, a committee from the Administrative Control Authority[8] presented a list of novels it had compiled to the executive officers of the state-owned General Egyptian Book Organization (GEBO): The Face of Dawn by Yusuf Abu Raya, The J Verse by Hasan Talib, The Rose of Rage by Farid Abu Saada, The Naked Ones by Ibrahim Eissa, I Am the Body’s Beauty by Mohammad Adam, Creatures of Flying Desire by Edwar al-Kharrat, Azbakiyya Gardens by Mohammad Abd al-Salam al-Umri, Ghitani’s Maps and The Zafarani Files by Gamal al-Ghitani, and A Children’s Story by Mukhtar al-Suwayfi. The committee wanted detailed information about the circumstances surrounding their publication and how each title had been chosen. The committee took excerpts from the proscribed books and issued instructions prohibiting their sale or removal from GEBO bookstores and warehouses, then sent the confiscated books to Al-Azhar for its opinion. Around the same time, printers at the GEBO presses launched their own form of censorship by refusing to typeset a short story by the woman writer Ni’mat al-Bihayri in Ibdaa Magazinebecause they judged it to be pornographic. “I’ve got my orders straight from GEBO’s president” one printer later told the magazine’s editor-in-chief Abd al-Mu’ti Hijazi. “If a story smells fishy, I report it.”[9]

Mahfouz expressed his astonishment at the Administrative Control Authority’s actions and, in a statement to Akhbar al-Adab, described the confiscations as a severe threat to artistic freedom.[10] Al-Ahram newspaper had just recently begun to publish his Echoes of an Autobiography, which Mahfouz himself described as “the ravings of an old man,” and as “reflections difficult to categorize in literary terms.”[11] He was uneasy about the experiment, and he refused to have the work published as a book, especially since Al-Ahram hadn’t put much effort into publicizing or distributing the serialization. Mahfouz felt that the newspaper had not done him justice as a prominent author. The installments of Echoes of an Autobiography had been carefully buried in the newspaper’s back pages.

It was in this general environment that a group of intellectuals signed a statement titled “In Defense of Culture” condemning the incident in Parliament: “As intellectuals, authors, and artists, we have observed with anger and astonishment the crude interference in cultural and artistic affairs demonstrated by the uncivilized and inappropriate confrontation between a Member of Parliament and the Minister of Culture. This campaign is part and parcel of the larger terrorist project underway against the Egyptian people. We condemn this feverish campaign, and hereby declare that we stand in unified opposition to it.”[12] Mahfouz was one of the signatories to the statement; a rare and unusual thing for him. The last time he had put his signature to paper was for the 1972 writers’ statement in support of the student movement occupations, and the movement’s demands for democracy and an end to the stalemate with Israel.[13]

Also underway was a campaign against the UN’s controversial International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), held in Cairo over the week of September 5, 1994 and attended by 20,000 delegates from various governments, UN agencies, and NGOs. The ICPD’s working agenda was to be a steering document for the United Nations’ Population Fund, and it covered a variety of population-related issues including: migration, child mortality, birth control and family planning, and women’s education and reproductive health. The Fatwa Committee of Al-Azhar and the Islamic Research Complex had issued a joint statement protesting the ICPD’s working agenda, which they deemed to conflict with Muslim law. Some commentators characterized the conference as an instrument for the promotion of homosexuality and fornication, the sanctioning of abortion, and the moral and physical corruption of the young. Meanwhile, the ruling National Democratic Party held its own conference at which party secretary Yusuf Wali gave a speech confirming Egypt’s Muslim identity, while Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, the Grand Mufti of the Republic, announced that ninety percent of the ICPD agenda was consonant with sound moral principles. As someone who was fiercely jealous of the strictures of his religion and the traditions of his society, Minister of Population Mahir Mahran suggested that the conference’s working agenda was specific to other cultures and therefore not applicable to Egypt.

*****

A month before the assassination attempt, Dr. Ibrahim Kamil asked Mahfouz his opinion about Egypt’s war on terrorism. Mahfouz replied, “The police have won the current battle, but I fear that society as a whole has lost the war. The return to religious foundations has expanded in an unprecedented way. Look at any educated person and the degree to which they talk about religion and make it a cornerstone of their daily lives. Even though contemporary terrorism has no connection to Islam, we’ve all slipped down to their level and engage in the battle according to their conditions. This is the most pressing danger.”[14] Yet in spite of the omens that preceded it, the attempt on Mahfouz’s life had nevertheless come as a surprise to the intelligentsia.  Hadn’t Mahfouz himself refused a personal security detail on the heels of Omar Abd al-Rahman’s notorious fatwa a few years earlier?[15] With his usual sense of irony, Mahfouz commented, “If a bodyguard is assigned to follow me around, he’s the one who’ll end up murdering me. My love of walking will surely torture him. He’ll have to walk with me every day and after a while he’ll get fed up and kill me.”[16] After the attack, Mahfouz was moved to the Police Hospital near his house in Agouza. The knife had torn through the muscles and veins of his neck and permanently damaged the nerves of his right arm. Gamal al-Ghitani reported that, when he finally woke from the lengthy surgery, he turned to the people around him and said, “You’re meant to be afraid, you’re meant to shut up.”[17]

Two days later, the police arrested the members of the cell that had been charged with carrying out the crime. It quickly became clear that they belonged to the military wing of the outlawed Islamic Group. The main witness to the crime—Dr. Fathi Hashim—identified the primary suspect, Muhammad Naji, from a photograph. The investigation revealed that their original plan wasn’t to kill Mahfouz but to kidnap him in a taxi and hold him hostage in their hideout in the neighborhood of Al-Khanka in exchange for the release of a number of their imprisoned leaders. The taxi arrived late, however, which prevented the conspirators from carrying out the kidnapping and forced the accused to strike precipitously. The investigation also revealed that the group was planning to bomb Cinema Heliopolis and the Cairo Book Fair—which was to be held a few months later in January of 1995—as well as to assassinate Nasr Hamid Abu-Zayd in his Giza apartment.[18]

The accused stated that he committed the crime because of Mahfouz’s attack on Islam in Children of the Alley. “We didn’t read the novel, but soon after the Islamic Group’s assassination of Farag Foda, orders came down to kill its author.”  He added that he had no regrets for what he had done, and that if he were released he wouldn’t hesitate to make a second attempt.[19] Mahfouz responded to this statement on the following day: “The charge of apostasy cannot be made in the absence of the accused. Likewise, people with no authority to issue fatwas and who do not properly understand their own religion have no right to pass legal judgment on such matters. I continue to insist that Children of the Alley is simply a literary work and can only be understood in this light, and that it is a novel that affirms the importance of faith in the divine being.[20]

During the investigation, Mahfouz once again insisted on his purpose in writing the novel: “Children of the Alley, like the stories in Kalila and Dimna, depicts an imaginary world in order to implicate the real one. Kalila and Dimna is set in a world of forest-dwelling animals, but we know—and the ordinary reader knows—that the intention is to critique human beings, political regimes and the relations of power between people; the wisdom of the wise and the stupidity of the stupid. But so long as we continue to agree that we are in the forest, our protagonists must be animals. We cannot be held accountable for depicting them as animals, because the animal here is a symbol. This was the same logic with which I wrote Children of the Alley, a novel about a group of Egyptians living in an alley and the totality of the oppressive world they inhabit…These men don’t read novels with a literary or humanist eye that seeks to discover the truth and understand the contest between good and evil. The only thing that matters to them is that the work submit to the strict letter of religious law. And even in this they exaggerate because religion itself presents the story of good and evil according to the clearest principles: the story of Satan’s defiance of God for example. I absolutely did not intend to attack religion or to blaspheme against it in the novel and the accusation that I am an atheist or an apostate is nothing but pure slander.”[21] After Mahfouz had given his deposition, the chief prosecutor asked him to sign it but, as he was unable to hold the pen with his injured hand, the assistant prosecutor was forced to take his thumbprint instead.

Ashraf Ashmawi, one of the prosecutors who oversaw the investigation, relates that during the proceedings Mahfouz asked him why he had been attacked. “I gave him the answer I thought would comfort him and said that the perpetrator thought he was doing it for the good of society. He wasn’t satisfied with that: ‘but what was his point of view in this?’ I replied cautiously: ‘they believe that society can only be reformed by killing apostates.’ I apologized for the term and explained that the accused himself had used this expression during his interrogation. Mahfouz gave me a friendly smile and said there was no need to apologize, then surprised me by saying: ‘I know they haven’t read the novel but I’d like to know if they’ve read any of my other books.’”[22] Mahfouz in fact requested permission from the prosecution to present the accused with some of his books. He instructed his wife to bring three novels from his library to the hospital, which was next door to his house. In them he wrote the following dedication: “To those who oppose my point of view, I dedicate these lines of mine to the well-being of a society which can only be reformed through culture.”[23]

*****

            According to novelist Yusuf al-Qa’id, the first thing Mahfouz wrote after the incident, on the morning of Friday October 28 1994, was an authorization granting Al-Ahram the sole right to publish the novel. The purpose of this authorization was to give the newspaper the ability to initiate expedited legal proceedings against a number of other newspapers which had announced they would be serializing Children of the Alley in their pages. Two newspapers in particular began the feverish race to publish: Al-Masaa and Al-Ahali. The former had announced it would begin publishing the novel on Saturday 29 October, with Mahfouz’s authorization – which Mahfouz denied he had given. The paper published six installments of the novel then ceased publication at Mahfouz’s request. This was the second time that Al-Masaa had attempted to publish the novel–the paper had brought out one installment on the heels of Mahfouz’s Nobel Prize in 1988, and back then Tharwat Abaza had intervened in his capacity as President of the Writer’s Union to halt publication. Al-Ahali newspaper –the organ of the Tagammu’ Party—published the novel as a special issue on October 30. This was the first time the complete novel had been published in Egypt, and just two weeks after the assassination attempt at that. According to the editors, the issue immediately sold out. Its front page carried the header “For the first time in Egypt in thirty-five years, the complete text of Naguib Mahfouz’s novel, Children of the Alley, is finally available to the Egyptian people.” The issue included articles by important critics and journalists—Mahmud Amin al-Alim, Shukri Ayyad, Farida al-Naqqash, Gaber Asfour, Salama Ahmad Salama and the actor Adel Imam, accompanied by illustrations by the artists Abd al-Ghani Abu al-Aynayn and Juda Khalifa.

On the heels of the novel’s publication in Al-Ahali, a group of writers and artists issued a statement demanding that the novel not be published in Egypt against the wishes of Mahfouz himself, and declared that Al-Ahali’s publication represented a blatant infringement of the author’s artistic, legal, and financial rights. The statement further insisted that the defense of the freedom of expression was no excuse for this attack on the rights of the author.  Fifteen intellectuals signed the statement including Ahmad Abd al-Mu’ti Hijazi, Ghali Shukri, Gamal al-Ghitani, Yusuf al-Qa’id, Mohamed Salmawy, Al-Sayyid Yasin, Sa’d Ardash, Tahiyya Halim, Sami Khashaba, Abd al-Wahab Mutawi’ and Fathi Al-Ishari. On the other hand, a number of writers and intellectuals announced that they would begin collecting donations to publish an inexpensive edition of the novel. They were responding to a call made by literary critic Mahmud Amin al-Alim at a conference held at Ballun Theater in solidarity with Mahfouz immediately after the assassination attempt. Al-Alim wanted to publish the novel right away as a rejoinder to radical Islamists. The participants rejected the censorship or banning of any work of literature. Some of those present however insisted that the proposed publication of Children of the Alley be made conditional on written authorization from Mahfouz before the campaign for donations began.

Meanwhile, the government mood was pro-publication, which became clear when Safwat al-Sharif (then Minister of Information who had been previously opposed to publication) visited Mahfouz at the Police Hospital where he was being treated. Mahfouz’s wife asked him about the ban on the novel, and he replied to her and to the journalists present: “There is no ban on any cultural production in Egypt today.” This statement was immediately understood as a new official position regarding Children of the Alley. After all, Al-Ahali’s publication announcement had been advertised –with no opposition from the authorities—on state TV. Moreover, Nabil Abaza, editor in chief of Kitab al-Youm, a popular monthly book imprint published by the government-owned Akhbar al-Youm Institute, announced yet another edition. Abaza contacted a number of prominent critics for introductions to the novel, and told them that the Grand Mufti of the Republic himself, Shaykh Muhammad Sayyid al-Tantawi, had also promised to write one. Both the novel and the essays about it were to be published in the December 1994 issue of the monthly. The Story of Children of the Alley included articles by critic Mahmud Amin al-Alim, GEBO President Samir Sarhan, and Shaykh Abd al-Jalil Shalabi, the former secretary general of the Islamic Research Complex. Shalabi had attacked Children of the Alley when Mahfouz won the Nobel Prize in 1988. He had described the novel then as “the true progenitor of Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses,” and went on to explain that “Mahfouz’s novel has been translated into many foreign languages such as English, French, and Hebrew, and it won’t have been difficult for Rushdie to have read it and woven his own novel after its pattern.”[24] Shalabi didn’t repeat this claim in his article about the novel however. There, he described the novel as “an indication of the repression and destitution that people suffered in those days. When their property was confiscated in the wave of Nasser-era nationalizations, they didn’t dare complain. The novel tells them that the prophets themselves were persecuted because of the message they preached, and that they must follow the example of the prophets and hope that one day the night will end and the day will come.” Even though Shalabi’s analysis of the novel did contain some intelligent criticism, he seemed most interested in the “alcohol, drunkenness, and drugs that saturate the novel”: “Mahfouz’s reformist prophets in Children of the Alley are no strangers to taverns and opium dens. But this is typical of Naguib, as most of his novels contain scenes of this sort. Most likely his immersion in the everyday life of the masses caused him to take note of this popular cultural phenomenon, which is still common in Egypt in spite of widespread religious devotion and the strict penalties for breaking these kinds of prohibitions.”[25] The Shaykh revealed that he’d met Mahfouz to discuss the novel, and that he told him that State Security was responsible for passing it on to Al-Azhar and requesting that it be banned. “That’s because the shaykhs of Al-Azhar don’t read this type of literature,” Mahfouz replied.[26] In the end, the book was published minus the novel itself. Only the introductions that had been written for the novel were included, and the Grand Mufti’s piece never materialized.

Mahfouz had been less than enthusiastic about these attempts to publish the novel. When he found out about them from his hospital bed, he said to Gamal al-Ghitani and Yusuf al-Qa’id: “Isn’t what I’m going through right now enough? It’s a lot to handle.”[27] In a statement to Al-Ahram, Mahouz said that because of the way in which the novel had been misinterpreted, he feared that “the reader won’t be able to approach it objectively, but will only read it to hunt for proof of the charges leveled against it. And since the novel is an allegory, he won’t find it hard to give it whatever meaning he fancies.”[28] Mahfouz explained his refusal to publish by pointing out that the real issue now was the attempted assassination of an author. Publishing the novel now would mean it had become a party to the conflict, and that the whole story would then become about the novel’s attitude towards religion: “The novel would only be read from a scriptural and theological point of view in this context, when it should be read as literature proper. If this were to happen, all literary fiction could become the province of religious readings. What’s needed now is a struggle to analyze and explain in order to acquit the novel of the charge of blasphemy and the author of the charge of apostasy. We can publish it later.”[29]

Shaykh Muhammad al-Ghazali, then under-secretary of the Ministry of Religious Endowments, had written the first report demanding the ban on Children of the Alley back in 1959. Al-Ghazali had served as a witness for the defense in the 1993 Farag Foda assassination trial where he famously asserted that anyone refusing implementation of the shar’ia was an apostate, and that the killing of an apostate was therefore lawful. He was among those who paid Mahfouz a visit after the assassination attempt. It was his way of letting it be known that he condemned the incident. Yusuf al-Qa’id reported the details of the meeting. According to al-Qa’id, al-Ghazali commented on the various attempts to publish the novel in Egypt as follows: “Poison has a way of spreading surreptitiously and people are always keen to get their hands on it.” He declared that he was firmly against publication of the novel, but that he abhorred the attempt on Mahfouz’s life “which is in no way tolerated by religion or religious law.” On the inflammatory books written about the novel –including Shaykh Abd al-Hamid Kishk’s notorious Our Response to Children of the Alley, al-Ghazali merely commented that Kishk was “an ignorant man.”[30] Mahfouz ended the discussion by affirming that he respected Ghazali’s position on the novel: “any and all opinions are welcome, but the problem arises from positions that are not opinions; the problem is those who kill.”[31]

Mahfouz had no objections to an opinion no matter how extreme. He wasn’t angry with Children of the Alley’s critics so much as at the fatwa calling for his murder by Omar Abd al-Rahman. Abd al-Rahman was a student of Sayyid Qutb, the godfather of religious extremism. Qutb’s 1964 book, Signposts, was the standard reference for all the jihadist movements founded on violence. The book gave their operations the cover of legitimacy. The knife plunged into Mahfouz’s neck appeared to have been wielded by the hand of an old friend. But how did Qutb meet Mahfouz and how did they part ways? It’s likely that, during his long hospital confinement, Mahfouz spent a lot of time brooding over this curious relationship.

_

Mohamed Shoair is a cultural critic, writer and journalist from Egypt; he is presently editor of the journal Akhbar al-Adab. Born in 1974, he earned a university diploma in English literature, and has since published articles, reviews in several Arabic-language journals and newspapers. Between 2015 and 2016, he was the editor of ‘Alam al-Kitab. To cite a few of his books: Awlad Haratina: Sirat al-Riwaya al-Muharramah (Children of the Alleyi: The Story of the Forbidden Novel);Kitabat Nubat al-Hirasah: Rasa’el Abdel-Hakim Qasem; Muthakkarat al-Anisah Um Kalthum (The Memoirs of Um Kalthum); Edward Said: al-Mufakker al-Kawni (Edward Said: Universal Thinker); and his forthcoming book is titled: Makhtutat Naguib Mahfouz (The Manuscripts of Naguib Mahfouz). Of late, Mohamed Shoair has been publishing a series of articles on visiting the libraries of seminal writers, poets and playwrights in Egypt.

Samah Selim is a scholar and translator at Rutgers University. She has also taught at Columbia, Princeton and Aix-en-Provence universities.Selim is the author of The Novel and the Rural Imaginary in Egypt, 1880-1985 (2004). She won the 2009 Banipal Prize for her translation of Yahya Taher Abdullah‘s The Collar and the Bracelet.

_

[1]Mahfouz used this term –meaning outcasts or tramps- to refer to his circle of friends. He later used it as the title of his 1977 novel, The Harafish.

[2]From the police deposition of Mahfouz following the assassination attempt, October 1994.

[3]Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd, Al-Qawl al-mufid fi qadiyyat Abu Zayd, Maktabat Madbuli, 1996.

[4]Akhbar al-adab, August 29, 1993.

[5]Professor at the faculty of Dar al-‘Ulum, Imam of the Mosque of Amr ibn al-As and rapporteur on religious thought for the ruling National Party. Shahin was a consultant for one of the many dubious Islamic investment companies of the 1990s. Abu Zayd had criticized these companies in his writing, which led some observers to conclude that this was why he had been denied promotion. Shahin published the promotion committee’s reports in a book titled The Story of Abu Zayd and the Regression of Secularism at the University. His 1998 book My Father Adam, in which he refuted Adam’s status as a prophet, provoked a furious reaction from Al-Azhar, and the same charge of apostasy was in turn leveled against the man who had led the attack on Abu Zayd.

[6]The university denied Abu Zayd promotion in March of 1993. The forcible divorce lawsuit dragged on for some years until Abu Zayd chose exile in the Netherlands by accepting a position at Leiden University in 1995. He remained there for fifteen years until his death in 2010.

[7]Akhbar al-adab, March 30, 1994.

[8]Founded in 1964 as an independent state organ reporting to the President of the Council of Ministers, the Administrative Control Authority is responsible for investigating financial and administrative corruption in government bodies and enforcing compliance with all relevant state regulations.

[9]Akhbar al-adab, July 17, 1994

[10]Akhbar al-adab, January 30, 1994.

[11]Al-Hayat Newspaper, March 7, 1994.

[12]Akhbar al-adab, January 2, 1994

[13]Popularly known as “the state of not-war-and-not-peace” that followed the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. For more on the 1972 student movement see Ahmed Abdalla, The Student Movement and National Politics in Egypt, Cairo: AUC Press, 2008 and Arwa Salih, The Stillborn: Notebooks of a Woman from the Student Movement in Egypt, Calcutta: Seagull Books, 2018.

[14]Al-Musawwir, October 21, 1994.

[15]Considered the founder of the Islamic Group, Abd al-Rahman was jailed in Egypt from 1981-1983. Upon his release he traveled to Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Sudan, then on to the United States, where he was tried and sentenced to life imprisonment for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. In April of 1989, Abd al-Rahman gave an interview to the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Anba’about the ongoing Rushdie affair which his followers considered to be a fatwa: “From the Muslim point of view Salman Rushdie and likewise Naguib Mahfouz are apostates. Anyone who speaks ill of Islam is an apostate. The shari’a requires that they repent and if they do not repent they must be sentenced to death.”

[16]Raja’ al-Naqqash, Naguib Mahfouz: Pages from his Memoirs and a New Perspective on his Life and Work. Cairo: Al-Ahram Center for Translation and Publishing, 1989.

[17]Akhbar al-adab, October 21, 1994.

[18]Mahmud Salah, Children of Our Street: the Naguib Mahfouz Assassination Files, Cairo: Akhbar al-yum, 1997.

[19]Al-Ahram, October 26, 1994.

[20]Al-Ahram, October 27, 1994.

[21]Mahmud Salah, Children of Our Street: the Naguib Mahfouz Assassination Files.

[22]Al-Yawm al-sabi’, August 30, 2015.

[23]Raja’ al-Naqqash, Naguib Mahfouz: Pages from his Memoirs and a New Perspective on his Life and Work.

[24]Muhammad Wahdan, Mayo Magazine, n.d.

[25]Abd al-Jalil Shalabi, “The Symbolism of Children of the Alley” in The Story of Children of the Alley, ed. Nabil Abaza, Cairo: Akhbar al-Yawm Institute, December 1994.

[26]Ibid.

[27]Al-Wasat, November 7, 1994.

[28]Al-Ahram, October 27, 1994.

[29]Al-Musawwir, December 3, 1994.

[30]A popular and influential takfiri preacher known as the charismatic “knight of the pulpit” thanks to his vigorous vocal chords, Kishk was the author of over two thousand recorded sermons during his forty-year career. In the mid-1950s Kishk spent time in prison as part of Nasser’s wave of arrests of communists and Muslim Brothers, and again in 1981, in Sadat’s mass arrests of the opposition in the wake of the Camp David Peace Accords. In Our Response to Children of the Alley, Kishk attacked the novel for violating Muslim sacred belief and accused Mahfouz of supplanting monotheism with communism and scientific materialism.

[31]Al-Musawwir, December 3, 1994

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6 comments

  1. Another excellent post! Historiography has always been an integral part of the Arabic literary tradition. Shukran to Samah for translating the work. One article that I find very relevant to such work is “The Novelist and the Sheikh,” by Mary Anne Weaver (New Yorker, 1995).

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  2. […] Mahfouz referred to this autobiography in 1962, Shoair writes, as “literary training.” In later years, he said that he had lost the manuscript due to a “family robbery,” when a relative pilfered papers from his old house and sold them off. The memoirs, Shoair says, traveled through several countries before finally taking up residence in the Gulf, where he was able to get hold of them as he did research for his book Children of the Alley: The Story of the Forbidden Novel. […]

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