Egyptian literary critic, scholar, and two-time Minister of Culture Gaber Asfour died on Friday at the age of 77, according to multiple news outlets.
Born in March of 1944 in El-Mahalla El-Kubra, Asfour took his first post as a professor at Cairo University in 1966. He also taught, as a visiting lecturer, at universities in the US, Sweden, and Kuwait.
He became one of the most well-known Arabic literary critics and published a number of works, including Countering Fanaticism, The Times of the Novel, and In Defense of the Enlightenment.
In a statement from the Owais award committee, a prize Asfour won in 1997, the judges wrote: “Dr. Asfour’s works of criticism display great variety and creativity in terms of studying traditional Arab criticism and following up on the novelties of contemporary criticism. His keenness on mastering the tools of both classical and modern critical theories has enriched Arab criticism through several significant additions, especially in the domain of criticizing criticism.”
Asfour held a number of positions in Egypt’s cultural apparatus; in 1992, he took the post of General Secretary of the Supreme Council for Culture, where he was known for supporting literary translation and freedom of publication.
He later said, in a public talk, that the Supreme Council for Culture had “appeared to me at the beginning as a lifeless entity,” but that he worked on reviving it so that it would be open to all world cultures.
In 1994, Asfour spoke out against a fatwa that gave Al-Azhar University the sole right to evaluate the granting of Ministry of Culture licenses for artistic and audiovisual works that touched on Islam. declared that the fatwa would “make a religious institution judge and jury over people’s consciences, and stand in the way of artistic freedom.”
Asfour left the Supreme Council for Culture to create the National Translation Foundation, which he headed up.
Asfour was also briefly Egypt’s culture minister, from Jan 30 to Feb 8, 2011, and then again in 2014-15. He was particularly criticized for taking the post in 2011, and quit after only a short time on the job, citing poor health.
But even after his stint as culture minister, he didn’t abandon his public support for authors. He made a public statement in support of Ahmed Naji, as part of the appeal of Naji’s public-morality conviction for publishing an excerpt from his novel, Using Life. In 2016, he was accused of “insulting the judiciary” for comments he made about Naji’s case, and had to appear in court.
Gaber Asfour, “The Earthquake,” in Arab World Books