Naguib Mahfouz: A Writer for all Generations and Cultures

nagiub mahfouz

Nagiub Mahfouz

I started reading Naguib Mahfouz a few years ago but not until recently have I realized that he is one of the few really great writers of the modern era. He is the quintessential man for all seasons and he writes with a depth of inner feeling for humanity, not just Egyptians,but all ordinary people, both wealthy and poor, religious and secular. He writes about real people: There are no evil people but no one is an angel either. Good people do brutal things and everyone has a dual nature. Mahfouz, a Nobel prize winner, wrote some 60 novels and many short stories. He was a 100% Egyptian who understood and depicted his people in a way no one has…….. and very few have written about their people anywhere.

Certainly the modern day American writers are second and third rate compared to Mahfouz. Many years ago when I considered myself a bit of an intellectual, I read most of the New York Times recommended types, e,g., John Updike, Bernard Malamud, Philip Roth, Henry Roth, Etc. But I can’t remember a single thing about them. Nothing stuck with me. They all seemed to be about people I never met and all suffered from some sort of neurosis, people who seemed to be totally self absorbed.. I’m not sure I really ever finished one. The only American writer I really enjoyed was and is Flannery O’Conner. She wrote about southerners I knew as a child growing up in the south. They were real to me.


another great book by Mahfouz

I thought it was appropriate to write about Mahfouz not so much because he ranks with Solzhenitsyn as the best of the best in any language; but rather because he is an example of an intellectual totally divorced from the elitist pompous types of today. He wrote sympathetically about his people but he admired the civilization of the West and the literary classics, science, philosophy it produced. He would be totally at odds with the Western elitist, poorly educated university totalitarians deeply steeped in socialist and marxist “third worldism’,” He would as well be uncomfortable with the Eastern (Asian, African Middle Eastern) elite who deprecate the West spouting “occidentalism” and “westofication.” He would find few homes on American campuses today ( except perhaps as a fund raiser).


This brings me to a special topic. The idiocy of the American academic and journalistic Left in their view of political Islam. A mostly hagiographic article in the Washington Post reviewing a book by a former New York Times Cairo correspondent lauds the correspondent’s view that we must change our policy on the Muslim Brotherhood. As the correspondent states we cannot support democracy if we oppose the Muslim Brotherhood. Yes, there is no doubt that in Egypt and across the Muslim world, (except among the Shi’a, Ahmadiya Alawis etc whom they hate) the Muslim Brotherhood has a large and powerful constituency. They are well funded in the Islamic world and in the West, protected and often facilitated by “useful fools”in academia and among the “information class.”

Mahfouz was a devout Muslim but he almost paid with his life when an Islamist assassin tried to kill him in 1994. His sin was using biblical characters in his novel, “Children of the Alley.” His death was ordered by Sheikh Abdul Rahman (” the Blind Sheikh”) living comfortably in Jersey City. This is the future of a world run by Islamists, And as many ( if not most) Egyptians will tell you, that despite their very conservative Islamist views, they do not want an Islamist government.

Because of their more seemingly “moderate” and accommodating views, the Muslim Brotherhood is a more virulent form of the same political Islam that has brought us the ISIS and al Qaeda. They are, like communists and fascists, proponents of a totallitarian state.

Abdul Rahman

The Blind Sheikh. he died in an American Prison in 2017.

One has to wonder why the Left always seems to lean toward totalitarian movements, even if they would be the first to have their heads removed in an Islamist state.? I think it was Paul Johnson the historian, who sees it as the Leftist elite always viewing themselves as the leadership in a totalitarian state where one would not have to reach out to the rabble for votes. They could run things as they see fit without having to throw occasional sops to the hoi polloi.

This book by the NYT correspondent also speaks volumes on how the Left totally misunderstands the essence of democracy. It is not simply a matter of majority rules . For the Islamists it is one man one vote one time. An American ambassador opined that some time ago and it is still true.

R ead the works by Sayyid Qutb and Hasan al Banna ( their spiritual gurus) to get an idea of the world of the Brotherhood.

Mahfouz died this date in 2006 in his beloved homeland.

About Tex

Retired artillery colonel, many years in a number of positions in the Arab world. Graduate of the US Military Academy and the American University of Beirut. MA in Arab studies from the American University in Beirut along with 18 years as Middle East Seminar Director at the JFK Special Warfare Center and School, Served in Vietnam with 1st Inf Division, Assignments in Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, plus service with Trucial Oman Scouts in the Persian Gulf. Traveled to every Arab country on the map including Iraq, Syria, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.
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