CAIRO, Oct. 14, Reuter: Writers throughout the Arab world celebrated the award of the 1988 Nobel Prize for literature to Egyptian Novelist Naguib Mahfouz, saying it would give an unexpected boost to Arab literature.

Egypt’s leaders sent messages congratulating Mahfouz, 77, while ordinary Egyptians welcomed the prize as a national honor, with one Law student suggesting it made up for the country’s failure to win a medal in the Seoul Olympic Games.

“The award will push Arabic literature ahead…no one would differ with the view that he is the Godfather of the modern Arabic novel,” novelist Gamal AlGhitani wrote in the mass circulation daily Al-Akhbar.

Lebanese poet and playwright Mansour Rahabani was equally enthusiastic. “It fills me with pride…it is more important than all the political and military accomplishments deemed important by the Arab nations,” he said.

Samir Sarhan, a playwright who heads the Egyptian Government body responsible for the book industry,; “the prize is an honor to every Egyptian and the Arabs…

“It crowns Arabic contemporary literature and culture and ‘comes as an International recognition of the highly artistic standard the Egyptian novel has reached at the hands of Mahfouz.”

Another writer, SaadedDin Wahbah, commented: “We used to think that the prize was out of reach for us because the Arabic language has limited readership, but Mahfouz has gone beyond the borders and many of his novels were translated into French, English and Russian.”

Ghitani expected some controversy in the Arab world because Mahfouz supported Egypt’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel.

“I know some voices will rise in the Arab world that he won the prize because he backed the peace accords. But I tell these shortsighted people in advance “Don’t spoil the significance of a leading Arab author winning the prize,” he said.

Hosni Fareez, head of Jordan’s league of writers, sounded a dissenting note from Amman. “All the characters he drew in his novels were delinquent and plagued with sex and drugs,” he said.

His was a minority view.

“Thanks to Mahfouz because he added this victory to the October festivals,” said writer Yousef Gohar, referring to celebrations of the anniversary of the 1973 war with Israel.


Over the years, Egypt has put forward the names of several of its writers for the award. These include playwright Tawfik AlHakim, who died last year, and novelist Youssef Idris.

“At last we have something to be proud of after the catastrophic defeat at the Seoul Olympics,” said Mahmoud Mohsen a student of Law. More than 60 Egyptians took part in 13 events at the Seoul games last month but failed to win a medal.

Film Director Hani Lashin said he was proud his four features films were based on novels by Mahfouz. Lashin made his debut in 1983 with Mahfouz’s “Ayoub” starring Egyptian born Actor Omar Sharif,

Article extracted from this publication >> October 21, 1988