Egyptian Dramatist, Poet, and the ‘Sheikh of Arab Translators’ Mohamed Enani Dies at the Cusp of 84

By Ibrahim Sayed Fawzy

Cairo University Professor Mohamed Enani, also known as the “Sheikh of Arab translators,” passed away on Tuesday January 3, 2023 — just one day ahead of his 84th birthday. Enani, who was born in Beheira governorate in Egypt in 1939, is best-known for translating Shakespeare’s classic dramatic texts into rhymed Arabic, John Milton’s Paradise Lost for which he was awarded the State Award for translation in 1982, and Edward Said’s Orientalism. Enani’s translations into English are lesser-known, yet he rendered texts by Salah AbulSabour, Salah Jaheen, Farouk Guwaida, Farouk Shusha, and others into English for the series of contemporary Arabic literature in translation issued by the General Egyptian Books Organization (GEBO).  Moreover, he produced three translations by Taha Hussein, Dean of Arabic Literature: The Fulfilled Promise, The Shaykh’s Marriage Proposal, and Marginalia on the Prophet’s Biography. These appeared in the “Arabic Literature and Thought” series published by Cairo University in 2021. In his introduction to The Shaykh’s Marriage Proposal, Enani writes about his experience with translating Taha Hussein’s The Fulfilled Promise:

As a couple of years ago I embarked on translating [Hussein’s] brief historical narrative, The Fulfilled Promise, I had a mixed vision of hard work and pleasure in doing justice to the style of the great man. It was in fact more delightful than difficult as I went through the narrative, which had the rare advantage of having a sustained mood — that is a tone neither strident nor flagging, which is the sign of a classical style according to the classics specialist F.L. Lucas.

Enani received his BA in English Language and Literature from Cairo University in 1959, an MA from the University of London in 1970, and a PhD from the University of Reading in 1975. He has been lecturing at Cairo University since 1975, and was the head of the English Department at the Faculty of Arts between 1993 and 1999.

Acclaimed writer and translator Mohamed Enani left behind a great legacy of around 130 titles both in Arabic and English — translations, creative works, and academic books. His creative works include AlBarr AlGharbi (The Western Bank of the Nile), Meet HalawahThe Prisoner and the JailorAlMagazib (The Idiots), AlGhirban (The Crows), and A Spy in the Sultan’s Palace.  His scholarly works on translation and literary criticism include Stylistic TranslationAnalytical Criticism, and Literary Translation: Theory and Practice.

Enani championed Arabic language and literature. In an interview with al-Ahram, Enani stated: “Arabic Language is a blessing of Allah. Woe unto anyone who doesn’t know Arabic. I usually fell for the Holy Qur’an and AlMutanabbi.”

Back in 2019, Mona ElNamoury wrote of Enani’s theory of literary translation:

Enani’s particular theory of literary translation highlights the translators’ realization of the source text’s “perlocutionary effect,” and the attempt to cause the same effect in translation. For this, a translator needs to adjust the target text to the acceptable norms of the target culture, depending on the usual linguistic collocations, traditional imagery, and — when it comes to translating poetry — deeply ingrained meter and rhyme. To Enani, a poem cannot be translated into prose, because it loses its “poetic meaning.” The “poetic meaning”, for Enani, is more than the theme or the ideas in a poem; it is the particular meter used, the internal music, the imagery and the place of a certain poem among the poetic tradition of its country.

Thousands of his colleagues, students and intellectuals in Egypt and all around the Maghreb and Mashreq were deeply saddened by his death. Dr. Neveen AlKilany, Egypt’s minister of culture, declared: “Sheikh and Dean of translators departed this life leaving behind a great legacy for the Arabic library.” Also, Dr. Karma Sami, Head of the National Center for Translation in Egypt, mentioned that “emerging translators owe a great deal to Enani’s Fann AlTarjama (The Art of Translation) because it targeted young translators, taking their very first steps in translation.” Dr. Nabila Marzouk, Professor of English Literature at Fayoum University, wrote: “I remember that, one day, I came across a title by my dearest professor Dr. Enani being sold at a very low price; this struck me as odd. Then, I asked him, but he humbly replied: ‘Should I write books that people are unable to buy so my books are read by none? My books should be within everybody’s reach to spread knowledge.’ And translator Salma Harland wrote on twitter: “[Enani] always struck me with his charming humility in a place where tenured professors are often condescending and socially inaccessible.”  

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Ibrahim Fawzy is an Assistant Lecturer at the Faculty of Arts, Fayoum University, Egypt. He earned his MA in Comparative Literature (2021) from Fayoum University, Egypt. He has participated in many translation workshops organized by Modern Poetry in Translation (MPT) and Poetry Translation Center (PTC), and he volunteered at ALTA’s 44th annual conference, 2021. His translations have appeared in Merit Cultural Magazine, ArabLit Quarterly, and elsewhere.

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