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Volume 57, Number 6November/December 2006

In This Issue

In Memoriam: Naguib Mahfouz 1911–2006

“Many have noted how Mr. Mahfouz helped Western readers understand the Arab world. But perhaps even more important, he helped the Arab world understand itself. Before Mr. Mahfouz, the novel as literature — literature as map to understanding— was not part ofArab culture.”
—Tahar Ben Jalloun, The New York Times, September 3, 2006

In 1988, Naguib Mahfouz received the Nobel Prize for Literature, and on December 8 of that year, his Nobel Lecture was delivered for him, in Arabic, by Muhammad Salmawi of Egypt’s Ministry of Culture. The excerpt that follows was published in Aramco World, March/April 1989, and we found its message both prescient and relevant: Prescient because the “literary writers of my nation” to whom he refers have dramatically risen in international stature over the past decade and a half; relevant because the most decisive moments of history are always the present ones.


My talk…comes in a language unknown to many of you but [that language] is the real winner of the prize. It is, therefore, appropriate that its melodies should float for the first time into your oasis of culture and civilization. I have great hopes that this will not be the last time, either, and that literary writers of my nation will have the pleasure of sitting with full merit among your international writers, who have spread the fragrance of joy and wisdom in this grief-ridden world of ours.

“I was told by a foreign correspondent in Cairo that the moment my name was mentioned in connection with the prize, silence fell, and many wondered who I was. Permit me, then, to present myself in as objective a manner as is humanly possible. I am the son of two civilizations that at a certain age in history formed a happy marriage. The first of these, 7000 years old, is the pharaonic civilization; the second, 1400 years old, is the Islamic one…. As for Islamic civilization, I will not talk about its call for the establishment of a union of all humankind under the guardianship of the Creator, based on freedom, equality and forgiveness….

I will, instead, introduce that civilization in a moving, dramatic situation summarizing one of its most conspicuous traits. In one victorious battle against Byzantium it gave back its prisoners of war in return for a number of books of the ancient Greek heritage in philosophy, medicine and mathematics. This is a testimony of value for the human spirit in its demand for knowledge, even though the demander was a believer in God and what was demanded was the fruit of a pagan civilization.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, you may be wondering: This man coming from the Third World, how did he find the peace of mind to write stories? … Fortunately, art is generous and sympathetic. In the same way that it dwells with the happy ones it does not desert the wretched. It offers both alike the convenient means for expressing what swells up in their bosom.

“In this decisive moment in the history of civilization it is inconceivable and unacceptable that the moans of Mankind should die out in the void. There is no doubt that Mankind has at last come of age, and our era carries the expectations of entente…. The human mind now assumes the task of eliminating all causes of destruction and annihilation. And just as scientists exert themselves to cleanse the environment of industrial pollution, intellectuals ought to exert themselves to cleanse humanity of moral pollution. It is both our right and our duty to demand of the great leaders in the civilized countries, as well as of their economists, to effect a real leap that would place them in the focus of the age.

“In the olden times every leader worked for the good of his own nation alone. The others were considered adversaries, or subjects of exploitation…. Today, this view needs to be changed from its very source. Today the greatness of a civilized leader ought to be measured by the universality of his vision and his sense of responsibility toward all humankind. The developed world and the Third World are but one family. Each human being bears responsibility toward it to the degree that he has obtained knowledge, wisdom and civilization. I would not be exceeding the limits of my duty if I told [the leaders] in the name of the Third World: Be not spectators to our miseries…. We have had enough of words. Now is the time for action.”

Midaq Alley, 1966.

God’s World: An Anthology of Short Stories, 1973.

Mirrors: A Novel, 1977.

Miramar, 1978.

Children of Gebelawi, 1981.

The Thief and the Dogs, 1984.

Wedding Song, 1984.

Autumn Quail, 1985.

The Beginning and the End, 1985.

The Beggar, 1986.

Respected Sir, 1987.

The Search, 1987.

Fountain and Tomb, 1988.

The Day the Leader Was Killed: A Novel, 1989.

Palace Walk, 1989.

Palace of Desire, 1991.

The Time and the Place and Other Stories, 1991.

The Journey of Ibn Fattouma, 1992.

Sugar Street, 1992.

Adrift on the Nile, 1993.

The Harafish, 1994.

Arabian Nights and Days, 1995.

Akhenaten, Dweller in Truth, 2000.

The Cairo Trilogy [Palace Walk / Palace of Desire / Sugar Street], 2001.

Naguib Mahfouz at Sidi Gaber: Reflections of a Nobel Laureate, 1994–2001, from Conversations With Mohamed Salmawy, 2001. Khufu’s Wisdom, 2003.

Rhadopis of Nubia, 2003.

Thebes at War, 2003.

Voices from the Other World: Ancient Egyptian Tales, 2003.

The Dreams, 2004.



This article appeared on pages 2-3 of the November/December 2006 print edition of Saudi Aramco World.


Check the Public Affairs Digital Image Archive for November/December 2006 images.