Until the 1960’s Naguib Mahfouz was considered a talented but uncontroversial author and public servant. He was a member of Egypt’s ruling elite whose initial enthusiasm for Gamal Abdel Nasser’s revolutionary government led to his 1954 appointment as director of censorship in the Egyptian government’s department of art. His reputation as a loyalist was enhanced by his publication of the “Cairo Trilogy”—Palace Walk (1956), Palace of Desire (1957), and Sugar Street (1957). These works (which later brought him a Nobel Prize in Literature) celebrated Egyptian modernization, winning Mahfouz widespread acclaim throughout the Arab world and further promotion in the civil service.
Meanwhile, however, Mahfouz was becoming disillusioned by the failure of Nasser’s government to improve the lives of the common people. In a series of sharply critical works that included The Thief and the Dogs (1961), Conversations on the Nile (1966), and Miramir (1967), he traced the demoralizing effects of authoritarian government and stressed the negative consequences of modernization. In 1967 he overstepped the boundaries of governmental tolerance with Children of Gebelawi, a pessimistic religious allegory satirizing self- proclaimed prophets—and, by implication, Nasser. It was first printed in Lebanon and did not appear in Egypt until 1969, when it was serialized by the Cairo daily newspaper Al...
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