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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 August 2006, 07:31 GMT 08:31 UK
Obituary: Naguib Mahfouz
By Bob Trevelyan
BBC World Service

Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz
Mahfouz came to international attention when he won the Nobel Prize in 1988
The Egyptian novelist, Naguib Mahfouz, wrote more than 30 novels, and in 1988 became the first Arab to win the Nobel prize for literature. He died in hospital on 30 August after injuring himself in a fall in July.

Naguib Mahfouz was arguably the greatest Arab novelist of the 20th Century.

He had something of the status of a national treasure in Egypt, where many of his characters became household names.

He was well known too throughout the Arab world, partly because so many of his works were turned into films or television dramas.

International acclaim

Internationally, Mahfouz was best known for winning the Nobel Prize, after which many of his novels were translated into English and other languages.

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 remains the only Arab to have won the prize, and although it brought him great acclaim he never moved out of his modest flat beside the Nile in Cairo, or stopped his regular trips to cafes for literary discussions.

"To tell you the truth, I've never lost touch with the new generation of young writers," Mahfouz said.

"So, for example, in my most recent favourite haunt - the Qasr al-Nil cafe - among the artists, writers and thinkers that used to come to talk to me there, there wasn't a single person who was my age or from my generation, even. They're young but they're all bright."

Most of Mahfouz's novels focused on the lives of ordinary Egyptians in Cairo - his realistic style reaching a peak with the publication in the late 1950s of an immense family saga.

Islamist anger

After that Mahfouz experimented with a more mystical style, sometimes arousing the anger of religious conservatives.

His novel known in English as Children of Gebelawi was banned in Egypt, and he was accused of blasphemy.

In 1994, Mahfouz was attacked outside his home by Muslim extremists said to have been incensed by his treatment of religious themes in the book.

He was stabbed in the neck but survived.

The Nobel foundation described Mahfouz as indefatigable, and, beside his literary achievements, that is how many Egyptians will remember him.

What is your reaction to the death of Naguib Mahfouz?

Your comments:

I first heard of Mr. Naguib Mahfouz in 1988 in the news announcing the 1988 Nobel Prize in Literature. Subsequently I searched for his books and purchased every book I ever came across and read with great interest as I was addicted to his books. I cried after reading many of his books as he so vividly portrayed human sufferings. He became my best friend in university years and continued to keep me enlightened. I found an ocean of wisdom in him.
Nahid Khan, New York, USA

I read Mr. Mahfouz's works which are translated into English. They are simply tremendous. Africa lost one of its greatest leaders in the field of literature. But the undying flames of his works will continue to brighten the path of both African and Arabian literature.
Hizbawi Menghisteab, Asmara, Eritrea

I am very saddened by Naguib Mahfouz's death. It feels like I've lost a family elder whom I took it for granted to always be there. I met him a couple of times and have been doing a postgraduate degree on translation and culture issues using his works as an illustration. I have read his novels and short stories several times. He will always remain Egypt's most magnificent novelist towering over all others. May he rest in peace.
Youssef Taha, London, UK (originally Alexandria, Egypt)

For the attentive reader, or even the half-attentive reader, his work illustrates what is common, what is shared, among the peoples of the world, and the essential falsity of the Islam-versus-everyone notion currently in vogue. He was briefly noticed in the West when he won the Nobel Prize in 1988, but then our literary media returned to its usual focus on in-crowd Booker prize tripe. But before we forget Naguib Mahfouz, it should be said that he was a brave, honest and diamond-clear writer, worthy to be ranked with Solzhenitsyn, Garcia Marquez, Mishima, Gunther Grass -- make your own list -- anyway, the greatest literary names of our age. He opened the door to a world I didn't know and was thrilled to discover, and he greatly enriched my life. I won't forget him.
angus waycott, Tokyo, Japan

It is a tragic and great loss not only to Egypt but to literature in general. Through him a whole generation came to love literature. My condolences go to all his lovers and readers all over the world.
Nagui Abdalla, Cairo - Egypt

Mahfuz was probaly one of the last people believing in liberal humanism even after comprehending its disillusionment in the past century.
Aninda Rahman, Dhaka 1000, Bangladesh

I have only known about the work of Naguib Mahfouz for 2 years. When I began to study Arabic I read Palace Walk. Earlier this year whilst staying in Cairo I saw a very distinguished elderly frail gentleman in a cafe. I knew he was someone special & later on returning home after viewing photograhs realised it was indeed Naguib Mahfouz. I wish I had spoken with him but feel very honoured to have seen him. What wonderful treasures he has given to us.
Christina Farrlley, Manchester UK

Naguib Mahfouz was an incredible character and a beautiful writer. His books could transport you effortlessly to another time and place. A real loss, but I for one will always enjoy reading and re-reading his books!
Julie, Reading, Uk

I have never met the man in my life, but I read some of his great works, and they stuck with me and in a way that defined how my generation looks at older generations in Egypt. He portrayed everything in Egypt from the 1930s till the 1960S from a common mans' perspective. He stood firm in an era of much turmoil and change, and his talent was unmatched in Egypt for 70 years. In a way I feel that his death is a personal loss.
Antoine Atef , Alexandria, Egypt

I am and deeply saddened by the passing of a great African writer, who happens to be an Arab. He was a truely wise man, who reflected on the human condition in his novels. Like his characters he will live for ever, I am grateful,to have read with relish, The Cairo Trilogy, The Harafish, The Journey of Ibn Fattouma, Midaq Alley and many more. These books tell us that we have lost a great man of wisdom. Rest in peace Naguib, who fought a great fight
Daniel Osei-Kissi, London-(UK, Ghana)

Not always did every one of his compatriots agree with his politics, but Mahfouz, who in a sense is a father and grandfather of a nation, summed up, in his own life, the struggles of a wider region, and the complex and heart-rending interplay of aspirations and traditions. Undoubtedly, as anyone can attest who has ever read him, he was a master of the written word, or the transcribed voice. It is difficult to imagine a peer in any language. It is a sad, sad loss, but is also a moment of renewal for the Arab world. The paths he opened in his books were wide. Let others now follow and fire the arrow even further.
Ian Douglas, Cairo, Egypt

A great loss - unique in his world, Mahfouz' writings opened up for us the completely unknown world of Egyptian family and political life in the early 20th century. Of course I never met him, but if I had! how many things I would have liked to discuss with him!
Catherine Hackney, Islandmagee, Northern Ireland

To respond to Alan's question, I think that no Arabic writers have won the prize after Naguib because most writers have been subconsciously silenced by their fears of violence that may be ignited against their work..
Omar Houssainy , Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Almost alone, he humanised modern Egypt. After reading "Sugar Street", the stereotypes go straight out the window and humanity flies in. My sympathy goes to the readers of Egypt.
Nic Smith, Windsor, UK

I first read translations of Mahfouz's books while I was travelling through Egypt as a student in the spring of 1998. Besides appreciating his tremendous humanism and compassion for the plight of all creatures on this earth, his words were also a great inspiration to me as a young writer - in another language and culture - proving once more that great art transcends not just time and space, but boundaries of the soul too. May the universe bless Mr Naguib in his new life.
Zaheer Nooruddin, Bombay, India

Indeed, Mahfouz was one of the greatest writers of Africa. It is very saddening he is being denoted as an Arab novelist for the mere reason that he was writing in Arabic. I consider him an African and became an internationally acclaimed writer for his novels and other works written about Africans. I received the news of his death with great sorrow and sadness.
Y. Eteffa, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

A calm, wise, secluded, original and creative talent who has lived in his own world, untouched by the chaos Egypt has - and still is - going through. He will be much missed by a nation that is being brainwashed by centuries of invasions, colonialism, and thievery. Mahfouz will live forever, just like a 21st century pyramid of Egypt.
Tamim Abaza, Dubai, UAE

A great man has left us. It got me wondering - how come more Arabic writers have not won the Nobel Prize for Literature?
Alan Houston, Belfast, Northern Ireland

I had the great pleasure of meeting Naguib Mahfouz a few years ago, a man of great humility and a talent that should not be underestimated. He will be sadly missed
John Wreford, Damascus

Very saddened by the news of his passing. He was and will remain a giant of enlightenment and free thinking. God bless.
Lubna Hadid, London, UK

I met Mr. Neguib Mahfouz in Cairo during 1984 and was immensely impressed by his meticulous behaviour. Though he was a little hard of hearing he listened to my question with patience and replied in a very firm and authoritative voice. He told me that he has not travelled abroad because when he wanted to go, circumstances prevented him and now when he can go, his health could not permit him. He was a marvellous writer but equally great human being.
Ahmed M Ibrahim, Bangalore 560046/India

Egypt Nobel winner Mahfouz dies
30 Aug 06 |  Middle East
Egyptian author 'out of danger'
12 Jan 03 |  Middle East

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