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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 August 2006, 14:20 GMT 15:20 UK
President pays tribute to Mahfouz
Naguib Mahfouz in 2004
Naguib Mahfouz was a much-loved writer in the Middle East
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has paid tribute to writer Naguib Mahfouz, who has died in Cairo at the age of 94.

"Mahfouz was a cultural light... who brought Arab literature to the world," he said of the first Arab to win the Nobel prize for literature.

He said the author expressed "values of enlightenment and tolerance".

The Egyptian writer had spent the last months of his life in hospital after falling during a midnight stroll and injuring his head in July.

His vibrant portrayal of the Egyptian capital in his Cairo Trilogy won the 1988 Nobel Prize for literature.

US President George Bush has also expressed condolences, calling Mahfouz "an extraordinary artist who conveyed the richness of Egyptian history and society to the world".

A White House spokesman said the author's work would "introduce his beloved Egypt to Americans and to readers around the world for generations to come".

International recognition

The writer had suffered health problems since being stabbed in the neck in 1994 by an Islamist extremist, angry at his portrayal of God in one of his novels.

After that incident he was in hospital for seven weeks and suffered nerve damage in his neck, which limited his ability to write and caused his eyesight and hearing to deteriorate.

Mahfouz's Nobel Prize brought international recognition to a man already regarded in the Middle East as one of its best writers and premier intellectuals.

Egyptian writer Ahdaf Souief, who knew Mahfouz well, said the writer was a "massively important influence" on Arabic literature.

"He was our greatest living novelist for a very long time," he said. "Mahfouz was an innovator in the use of the Arabic language.

1911: Born in Cairo
1934: Graduated in philosophy from Cairo University
1959: Al-Azhar, one of the most important Islamic institutions in the world, bans novel because it includes characters representing God and the prophets
1988: First and only Arab to win Nobel Prize for literature
1994: Mahfouz stabbed in the neck by Islamist militant angered by his work

"He also embodied the whole development of the Arabic novel, starting with historical novels in the late 1940s through realism, through experimentalism and so on.

"He single-handedly went through the whole development of the Arabic novel and made innovation possible for generations of writers after him."

The Cairo Trilogy - Palace Walk, Palace of Desire and Sugar Street, all of which appeared in the 1950s - detailed the adventures and misadventures of a Muslim merchant family.

The books introduced a character who became an icon in Egyptian culture: Si-Sayed, the domineering father who holds his family together.

Controversy came in 1959 with the publication of the novel Children of Gebelawi.

First serialised in Egyptian newspapers, it caused an uproar and was banned by Egyptian religious authorities on the grounds it violated Islamic rules by including characters who clearly represented God and the prophets.

Nonetheless, it was published in Lebanon and later translated into English.

Final work

In a career that spanned decades Mahfouz published more than 30 novels, short stories, plays, newspaper columns, essays, travelogues, memoirs and political analyses.

His final published major work - a collection of stories about the afterlife titled The Seventh Heaven - came in 2005.

"I wrote The Seventh Heaven because I want to believe something good will happen to me after death," he told the Associated Press in December 2005.

"Spirituality for me is of high importance and continuously provides inspiration for me."

Obituary: Naguib Mahfouz
30 Aug 06 |  Middle East
Egypt laureate in intensive care
15 Aug 06 |  Middle East

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