The first novel written in the ironic mode in Arabic literature, Respected Sir demonstrates how an individual’s character and family background may determine his or her achievements. The first chapter introduces the protagonist, Othman Bayyumi, as well as the key topics. Othman is among a group of new employees who are taken to meet the director general in his office. The only words that the director utters announce changes in the educational system, a major concern in the novel. He says that students currently receive diplomas, rather than primary and secondary certificates, so he is surprised to see that Othman has a certificate. Hired for the lowest position because of his lack of education, Othman is overwhelmed by this experience. He describes the office in flowery religious diction. Othman’s reverence for an ordinary office highlights the novel’s irony and warns the reader to keep an intellectual distance from Othman, who yearns to become director general.

Othman’s father wanted him to work rather than go to school. He considered his son educated once Othman knew prayers and passages from the Koran. The father, however, followed his sheikh’s advice and sent Othman to school. The best student in the neighborhood, Othman could not complete secondary school because both parents died, and he had to work. Three siblings, who link this novel to previous works, also died. One brother was killed in a demonstration, another died in prison,...

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