Friday, January 12, 2007

MAHFOUZ'S BOOK IS A BESTSELLER FOUR MONTHS AFTER HIS DEATH

"Children of the Alley" first appeared as a serial in Egypt's leading daily newspaper Al-Ahram in 1959-1960. It tells the story of a family patriarch and his sons, who represent religious figures. The patriarchal father represents God and his sons are various Islamic prophets, such as Moses, Jesus and Muhammad.

As the state-run newspaper ran the excerpts, a representative of President Gamal Abdel Nasser contacted Mahfouz and advised not to publish the work as a book because it might infuriate Al-Azhar, the Cairo institute that is the highest theological college in the Muslim Sunni world
.

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The controversy emerged anew after the Nobel Committee issued a press release upon awarding Mahfouz the 1988 prize for literature. “Children of Gebelaawi” was one of five works the committee cited. At that time, according to Stewart’s introduction, President Hosni Mubarak let it be known that he would have liked to see the book published in Egypt, but with renewed opposition from Al-Azhar, the novelist himself “indicated that for the sake of peace he would not support publication.”

A more threatening twist developed just after Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini issued his fatwa against Salman Rushdie in February 1989. In an interview published in the Kuwaiti newspaper Al Qabas, Egyptian Sheikh Omar Abdurrahman (now serving life imprisonment in the U.S.) was quoted as saying that if Mahfouz had been punished for his novel, Rushdie would not have dared to publish “The Satanic Verses.”

Undaunted, Mahfouz refused police protection and continued to go about his life as usual, remaining unscathed until one Friday night in 1994, when he was stabbed on a Cairo street. Thirteen men confessed under interrogation that they were trying to execute Sheikh Omar’s fatwa and were found guilty for the attack.

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