Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Naguib Mahfouz (this is the mistransliteration of Western media) died. What can I say. As an avid admirer of classical and modern (up to 1960 with few exceptions) Arabic literature, I was never a huge fan of his works. I certainly will argue that his prominence in Western eyes rose in the Sadat era—when Sadat’s trip to Israel made Egypt an acceptable model of Arab countries, when things Egyptian became less controversial than things Arab or Muslim in general. The respect for Mahfouz was a reward for Sadat. This explains why Chirac, who took time from his busy schedule of meeting daily with rich Arab royals, hailed Mahfouz today as a "man of peace." And do you think that the Nobel Committee or Western literary critics are qualified judges about Arabic literature? And why was Mahfouz not discovered back say in the 1960s? Or during Suez? This also was possible because Mahfouz was never offensive—in Western eyes. He knew what to say, and he certainly does not deserve awards for courage—he was not courageous under King Faruq, or under Nasser, or under Sadat, and certainly not under Mubarak. His criticisms of regimes were most general and least offensive—as in Miramar. Mahfouz would never be considered the best choice to represent Arabic literature in the 20th century. If you look at the 20th century, you can think of so many other more qualified candidates: Mikha’il Nu`aymah for Sab`un (his autobiography), Taha Husayn for several of his works, including Al-Ayyam; Jubran possibly for Al-Mawakib or for his Al-Arwah Al-Mutamarridah; Tawfiq Al-Hakim for his plays or for his work especially `Awdat Ar-Ruh; Tawfiq Yusuf `Awwad for Ar-Raghif; or Jurji Zaydan for his historical novels; and obviously`Abdur-Rahman Munif for many works; even `Abbas Mahmud `Aqqad; or even Yusuf Idriss. I never thought of Mahfouz as an adib (a man of belle lettres); I always viewed him as a successful writer and novelist, only a step ahead of Yusuf Sib`i and Ihsan `Abdul-Quddus. As Faysal Darraj, or was it Edward Kharat, said: he was a traditionalist adherent of the extreme realism school. I enjoyed reading the trilogy and his other works, but still did not think of his books as “literature.” And if you want to give awards for Arabic literature: you think of the poets too: Adonis, Mahmud Darwish, Nazik Al-Mala’ikah, Badr Shakir As-Sayyab, Khalil Hawi, `Abdul-Wahab Al-Bayyati, and others. So o Nobel Committee: please, don’t tell me what is and what is not Arabic literature, ok? Stick to your awards for Sadat and Kissinger and others like that.