Midaq Alley. Small, dead-end street in the ancient Gamaliyya section of Cairo. The ancient stone-surfaced alley leads to historic Santadiquiya Street in the heavily populated urban quarters of Cairo. Among the odoriferous shops and houses lining the alley’s three isolating walls, the sociopolitical ills of Egyptian society, familiar to Mahfouz from his boyhood homes in the Egyptian districts of al-Jamaliya and al-Abbasiya, are revealed through this intimate look into the lives of Uncle Kamil, Sheikh Darwish, and the other residents of the alley.
Within the alley, Egypt’s past and present mingle like the aromas from Kirsha’s café, with its crumbling multicolored arabesques, and permeate the voices of the residents as they go about their daily activities. Midaq Alley is a place of contrasts, a place where the recitations of an old poet who has frequented the café for twenty years are now met with protests from the owner who reminds the poet that things have changed. His customers want to listen to a radio, not to a poet. As the story opens, workers busily install the voice of the modern world into the otherwise isolated alley.
One side of the alley houses a shop and a bakery; on the other side sits a second shop and an office, while two adjoining three-story houses, filled with luckless tenants—including the marriage broker Umm Hamida and her scheming foster daughter—constitute the alley’s literal and...
(The entire section is 600 words.)