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Essays of the Sadat Era 1974-1981

Essays of the Sadat Era 1974-1981


The Non-fiction writing of Naguib Mahfouz Volume II

by Naguib Mahfouz

translated by Russell Harris & Aran Byrne

introduction by Rasheed El-Enany

Format: Hardback
Published: June 2017
Pages: 320
ISBN: 9781909942806

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Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature
When Mahfouz retired from his job as a civil servant in 1971 he took up an appointment as a member of the editorial staff at Egypt’s Al-Ahram newspaper. Many of his novels were serialised in Al-Ahram; less well known, however, are the essays he also published through the newspaper. This fascinating volume brings together Mafouz’s non-fiction writings penned during the era of Sadat, whose presidency comprised some of the most dramatic events in Egyptian history: from Sadat’s “Corrective Revolution” to the Yom Kippur War with Israel and the eventual peace accord between the two countries, as well as his eventual assassination by Islamic extremists in 1981. In this collection Mahfouz deals with diverse political topics, such as socio-economic class, democracy and dictatorship, Islam and extremism – topics which still seem highly pertinent in relation to the situation in Egypt today. While Mahfouz’s opinions are often considered to be obscured in his fiction writing, here we gain an extraordinarily clear insight into his personal views – views which helped shape his novels. Essays of the Sadat Era is the second of four volumes that will see Mahfouz’s non-fiction work translated into English for the first time.

Naguib Mahfouz (1911–2006) was the most important Arabic writer of his generation. He is the author of over thirty novels, including The Cairo Trilogy and Children of the Alley. In 1988 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.


Introduction by Rasheed El-Enany

Religion and School

The Issue of Platforms

Virtual Unemployment

The Scarecrow

Millions and Pennies

The Accusations against Nasser and Freedom of the Press

Imported Ideas

Arabs and Civilisation

Poor and Noble

Killing Your Brother Whether He is a Criminal or a Victim

Thoughts and Things

Islam and the Battle of Ideologies

O god!

A Platform Without a Distinguishing Characteristic

The Battle of Worries and Pacts

Wasted Potentials

Times of Salvation

A Battle and Men

Doctrine and Example

Important Matters

A Murderer and a Murderess

The Philosophy of the State Radio and Television

Cultural Aspirations

From Top-Down to Bottom-Pp

Complaints as a Prelude to Administrative Reform

A Word on Sedition

Arabs and Arabism

Genies and the Intellect


Oversight and Administration, Accountability and Reward

Universities and the Responsibility of Criticism

Islamic Experiments

Until They Change What is in Themselves

The Long-awaited Revolution

The Emptiness of Slogans

The Voice That Must be Heard

Negative Aspects of Society and Things That Shouldn’t be Done!

From the Multitude to the Society

Culture and the Broadcast Media

The Muslims between Muhammad (Peace be upon him) and Abu Lahab

A Decision of the Majority Party

Between Opinion and Action

A basic Principle in the Case of Graduates

Our Fate Lies in the Hands of the Labour Force

The giants Series

Deeds and Men

Diagnosing Calamity

People Deserving Pity

A Difficult Transitional Period

The Meaning of Science and Faith

What Do We Want from the Shura Council?

A New Phenomenon Called Child Disappearance

When Will the Eradication of Illiteracy be Completed?

The University and intellectual Leadership

Freedom of Thought

National University

Our Language in the Media

The Path to a Real Rebirth

Art, Politics and Internationalism

Our Role in Constructing Civilisation

A bright Light on a Dark Night

The Trinity of Intellect, Freedom and Conscience

The Goal, the Action, and the Example

A Voice That Should be Heard

Towards a Free Society

Treasure Waiting to be Discovered

Egypt and Japan

A Secret Trial is Needed

The Meaning of Civilisation

We are Born Egyptian

Creative Intelligence

Thought Between the Predecessor and the Successor

Peace between Action and Thought

To You, the Real Accused

The Golden age of the Magazine

Sedition and Corruption

Unity between Preparation and Construction

Towards the Paradise of National Unity

The Work Revolution

Eras and Leaders

The Meaning of Stability

Young People and the Message of Religion

The only Remedy for aberration is Civilisation

O god, Protect our Press for us!

Do the Youth have a Problem?

A Complete Reconsideration


Religion and School

Religion is taught as a scientific subject in schools. Their doorways display verses from the Qur’an, sayings of the prophet, articles of faith, and devotions as a matter of course. Pupils memorise these and are tested on them, then they are forgotten, just as others have forgotten what they learned about those subjects which are outside the sphere of their specialisation. Pupils absorb very little of these writings as they stumble between the stylistic eloquence and exact meaning of the words – they endure it because they have to.

Religion is neither a science nor a branch of knowledge; rather, it is a spiritual teaching whose essence becomes manifest through social intercourse, behaviour, and vision. it is often the case that a student who possesses outstanding intelligence will also possess a bad character; he will achieve the highest grade in religion and the baseness of his character may be dismissed! Thus, the student emerges believing that there is no connection between religion and daily living, and how to act in accordance with it.

Because of this, I propose that religious lessons should provide spiritual education. They should provide guidance and be given in an atmosphere of affection and love. Such an approach would mark a significant departure away from the toils of memorising and reciting, along with the fear of lapsing. The idea here is that religion is not something to be memorised, but that it pertains to one’s conduct and behaviour, which are the foundations of human decency.

Furthermore, I view the biography of Prophet Muhammad as being the first pillar of this education insofar as it provides a sublime example of living, conduct, and vision. The biography of Muhammad should be taught to pupils in their first year of primary school through to their second year in high school. When they enter into their first year they would be exposed to a shortened, simplified version; subsequently, with each year, this would gradually become more advanced and incorporate greater detail, with verses from the Qur’an being incorporated according to the need and the level of the pupils. Verses pertaining to salat would be introduced at a specified age,1 as well as those pertaining to the fast during Ramadan. There would be a focus on verses dealing with humanitarian values, morals and goals. furthermore, the pupils could be assessed in these lessons in light of their behaviour toward their peers, how they interact with their teachers, their attitude toward learning, their opinions with regard to racial and social justice, as well as religious tolerance – there should be no bigotry – and according to their sense of national unity.

With regard to the third year in secondary school, pupils should study from a text book which includes selected passages on the thought of leading Muslim thinkers – as well as other intellectuals who belong to other religions – with regard to islam, its humanitarian values, and its message in the modern era.

I am of the view that the degree of success that students attain in the subject of ‘behaviour’ is the measure of success with regard to their religious education overall.

8 June 1974



‘As a citizen Naguib Mahfouz sees civility and the continuity of a transnational, abiding, Egyptian personality in his work as perhaps surviving the debilitating processes of conflict and historical degeneration which he, more than anyone else I have read, has so powerfully depicted.’

– Edward Said

‘One of the greatest creative talents in the realm of the novel in the world.’

– Nadine Gordimer

‘He is not only a Hugo and a Dickens, but also a Galsworthy, a Mann, a Zola, and a Jules Romain.’

– London Review of Books

‘Mahfouz embodied the essence of what makes the bruising, raucous, chaotic
human anthill of Cairo possible.’

– The Economist