Abu Dhabi International Book Fair 2024: Renowned intellectuals analyse interplay of history and society in Naguib Mahfouz’s works
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Abu Dhabi International Book Fair 2024: Renowned intellectuals analyse interplay of history and society in Naguib Mahfouz’s works

May 1, 2024

Mahfouz was selected as the Focus Personality for this year’s edition of the Fair, which featured sessions focusing on the celebrated author and his works.

Abu Dhabi, UAE – 30 April 2024 – The first session of Focus Personality programme at the 33rd Abu Dhabi International Book Fair (ADIBF 2024), titled ‘Naguib Mahfouz: A Mirror of History and Society’, was held on Monday, 29 April, at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC), where the Fair is scheduled to run until Sunday, 5 May.

Held at the Memphis Stage at the Fair, the session brought together Dr. Ahmed Zayed, Director of Bibliotheca Alexandrina; Dr. Muhsin Al-Musawi, Professor of Classical and Modern Arabic Literature at Columbia University – New York; Dr. Mohammed Afify, Professor of Modern and Contemporary History at Cairo University; and Dr. Said Bensaid Al Alaoui, Honorary Professor at Mohamed V University. Author Reem Bassiouney moderated the session.

Dr. Ahmed Zayed discussed Mahfouz’s profound impact on society, saying: “Naguib Mahfouz stands as a universally acclaimed literary giant. His works portray beauty and imagination through a philosophical lens, which is exceptional. This is evident in his depiction of societal images, beginning with the neighbourhood. He delves into the conflicts and yearnings for justice and revolution prevalent within it. Mahfouz’s focus on the middle class serves as a gateway to understanding the broader Arab society, as evident in his trilogy, which elucidates the emergence and evolution of this social class.”

For his part, Dr. Mohammed Afify analysed Mahfouz’s engagement with history, saying: “The historical dimension in Mahfouz’s novels holds significant sway and influence. History was a profound obsession for him and greatly influenced his work. The author continually sought to explore history and its significance, a theme that manifests in his trilogy.”

Dr. Afify highlighted a lesser-known historical novel, ‘Before the Throne’, in which Mahfouz employs his literary prowess to chronicle the leadership of Egypt spanning from the Pharaonic era to Anwar El-Sadat.

On a similar note, Dr. Said Bensaid Al Alaoui explained: “When comparing ‘novel’ and ‘history’, each stands as a distinct genre with unique characteristics, but I hold reservations regarding the term ‘historical novel’. The novel serves as a reflection of both history and society. Through Mahfouz’s novels, we gain deeper insights into both. History is what we discover and create, contributing to the construction of a new society. Mahfouz’s novels spanned three quarters of the 20th century, encapsulating various epochs. Works such as ‘Adrift on the Nile’ serve as a testament to this, as Mahfouz intricately recalls Egypt’s entire historical trajectory.”

Dr. Muhsin Al-Musawi, who has published a study titled ‘The Unravelling of the Sacred Contract: Arabic Fiction after Mahfouz’, remarked that: “Naguib Mahfouz’s novels reflect the transformation experienced by anxious individuals. The author’s emergence was pivotal, drawing significant attention to the realm of Arabic literature, succeeding esteemed figures such as Taha Hussein and Tawfiq Al-Hakim, whose works were translated into numerous languages, but Mahfouz remains the sole Nobel laureate from the Arabic literary sphere.”

“We are deeply engaged and passionate about our Arab reality,” Dr. Al-Musawi continued. “However, many university departments seem to overlook the insights Naguib Mahfouz provided about Arab society in his novels.”

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