Naguib Mahfouz won the Nobel Prize for literature in , but it might be said that his supreme accolade came in , when Islamic extremists attempted to assassinate him. They recognized in him a mortal enemy to everything they stood for. The stabbing did not kill him, but Mahfouz carried the injury to his death last summer. The difference in title originates in a complex copyright dispute.
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Naguib Mahfouz won the Nobel Prize for literature in , but it might be said that his supreme accolade came in , when Islamic extremists attempted to assassinate him. They recognized in him a mortal enemy to everything they stood for.
The stabbing did not kill him, but Mahfouz carried the injury to his death last summer. The difference in title originates in a complex copyright dispute. The novel is an elaborate parable of the great religions of the Middle East. Gebelawi is a mighty hero, who builds a great mansion and founds a family of many sons.
For this defiance, Gebelawi expels Adham and his children from the mansion. The alley derives its livelihood from an estate. The people of the alley believe that Gebelawi promised Adham that all should share in the income from the estate. But over time, overseers and gangsters have seized the benefit of the estate for themselves alone, condemning people to misery and degradation. First is Gabal: brave, passionately committed to justice.
He belongs to a tiny subset of the people of the alley, a people who have been singled out for special oppression. He leads them in rebellion and destroys their oppressors. He gives them laws rather unpleasantly draconian laws but also encourages them to hold themselves apart from the other people of the alley. Gabal makes it clear that he has little interest in liberating anyone else, but at least he sets an example of power guided by justice. Next comes Rifaat.
At first Rifaat startles and offends the people of the alley with his utter unworldliness. But a small circle of disciples forms around him, attracted by his gentle personal example and his teachings of mercy and love. As the circle grows, the authorities in the alley take alarm. But almost at once they are divided: What exactly did his message mean? Some of his followers argue they should follow his example and abjure all worldly things. But his closest aide and disciple gains the upper hand with a version of the teaching that allows for a more normal life.
Forever after, however, the people of Rifaat remain bitterly and violently divided. Rifaat is succeeded by Qassem, who uses his wealth and influence to build an army and drive out the overseers and gangsters. Qassem establishes true justice.
But even in his lifetime it becomes apparent that this system cannot last. Qassem is strongly attracted to women and soon takes many wives. And although all his followers gladly defer to him, there are hints that he would not be one to tolerate dissent easily should it arise.
The bad old ways reassert themselves as soon as he dies. At which point a strange character arrives, Arafa, a magician of mysterious pedigree. He takes up residence in the section of the alley where the followers of Rifaat live, and soon develops amazing new weapons.
Arafa intends to use his powers to destroy the gangsters once and for all, but instead he succumbs to corruption and ends up cementing the power of the most powerful.
Arafa keenly resents his failure. He decides he needs still more powerful magic to achieve true justice. There is a struggle — and in the shock, Gebalawi dies. Spelled out like this, the parable may seem to run the danger of heavy-handedness. It does not read that way at all.
The pieces read like ancient or timeless myths and legends, dense with allusions both obvious and subtle — and yet also pulsing with independent life.
They are set in a landscape at once familiar and mythic. Characters drink tea and coffee and smoke hashish in coffee houses with walls made of sheet metal, but the only weapons wielded by anyone until Arafa comes along are clubs. When Gabal, Rifaat, or Qassem want to be alone, they step out of the alley into the desert that begins where the street terminates. It is all very strange, and yet it makes perfect sense.
There are whole doctoral dissertations to be written about this book, but let me restrict myself to four observations. The people are used to buying their safety with bribes, and their security with obedience and abasement, and were severely punished for the smallest thing they said or did wrong — or even for thinking something wrong.
This is the mental atmosphere that has formed the modern Middle East: only a region swayed by such random violence that it welcomes tyrants and dictators as an improvement. Especially than Gabal! He combined power and gentleness, wisdom and simplicity, dignity and love, mastery and humility, efficiency and honesty.
In addition, he was witty, friendly and good-looking, kind and companionable. He had good taste, he loved to sing, and he told jokes. Despite these nods to orthodoxy, Children of the Alley was banned in Egypt, as were others of his works from time to time.
But they were all published in the Arabic world and the Arabic press. Mahfouz himself continued untroubled at his civil service job. And it took three decades for the Islamists to take it into their heads to try to kill him. Yet the discouraging truth does seem to be that the writers of the Arab Middle East breathed freer air in than they do today.
Who can imagine a writer like Mahfouz living in Cairo today? But the problem is that this age lasts only so long as Qassem can personally guide it. Remove that all-benevolent leader, and the system collapses into tyranny, and one might even say, the worst tyranny of all: for while the other peoples of the alley can at least look forward in hope to the end of tyranny, the people of Qassem can only look backward in nostalgia.
As Qassem tells them, there will never again arise another prophet like him. And the only force that can make his system work is … another prophet like him. Which means that the best days of the people of Qassem lie irretrievably in the past. Arafa is sensual, opportunistic, cowardly, and blindly destructive. His magic works just as effectively for tyrants as it does for the people of the alley. And yet at the same time, it is clear: He is the only and best hope, a much better hope for example than Qassem.
They rejoiced at the death of the man who had killed their blessed ancestor [Gebawali] and given their tyrannical overseer a terrible weapon with which to humble them forever. The future looked black, or at least blacker than it had looked before all the power had been concentrated in one cruel hand. And yet before Arafa himself perishes, he pledges his magic to the task of reviving Gebawali and indeed of extirpating death altogether.
Gebawali is not exactly a benign character himself: he is harsh, secretive, often arbitrary, and rarely disposed to help his descendents in their time of trial. Is it not sad to have a grandfather that we may never see, and who never sees us? Is it not strange of him to disappear inside the locked mansion, while we live in the dirt? Unlike any of the others, Arafa leaves something enduring behind: a book containing all the secrets of his magic.
His brother Hanash searches for the book — and either finds it or perhaps begins a new one, equally powerful. Either way: this time and for the first time, power becomes available to all. This possibility triggers a new wave of tyranny from the ancient masters of the alley.
Overpowered by fear, the overseer and his men sent their spies everywhere to search homes and shops and impose the cruelest punishment for the slightest offenses. They beat people with sticks for a look, a joke or a laugh, until the alley endured the nightmarish atmosphere of fear, hatred and terrorism.
Yet the people bore the outrages steadfastly, taking refuge in patience. We will see the death of tyranny, and the dawn of light and miracles. And it is on that note of hope that Children of the Alley ends. Children of the Alley Originally published in FrumForum bookshelf. Three grandsons of Gebelawi each in turn seek to redeem the people of the valley. He leaves Gebawali dead, a terrible crime, one for which the people execrate his memory.
Children of Gebelawi
The most intriguing books are perhaps the controversial; the books that society bans for years before realising that nothing can escape the hands of readers. At first, the flow of events is no different from other novelsand nothing out of the ordinary happens. Nothing even seems controversial about the appearance of Cain and Abel at the start of the book, with different names but essentially the same story. The trust fund then becomes an obsession for all the neighbours and Gebelawi is treated as some sort of a role model for everyone, someone more than just an ancestor. Embezzlers, tyrants, and the greedy take all the money by force and the rest of the city is left in poverty, hunger, and misery. When the city inhabitants pray to God, their concept of a deity is never explained and it unravels the mystery of the God they perceive. In one of the recent editions of the book, Islamist thinker and former Secretary General of the International Union for Muslim Scholars Mohammed Salim Al-Awa wrote on the back cover of the book that Mahfouz never explicitly stated that Gebelawi is a figure of God.
‘Children of the Alley’: A controversial masterpiece - Daily News Egypt
It is also known by its Egyptian dialectal transliteration, Awlad Haretna , formal Arabic transliteration, Awlaadu Haaratena and by the alternative translated transliteral Arabic title of Children of Our Alley. It was originally published in Arabic in , in serialised form, in the daily newspaper Al-Ahram. It was met with severe opposition from religious authorities, and publication in the form of a book was banned in Egypt. It was first printed in Lebanon in An English translation by Philip Stewart was published in and is no longer in print; the American University of Cairo had controlled the world rights since and had licensed Heinemann Educational Books to publish Stewart's version, but Heinemann sold back its rights a few weeks before the Nobel Prize. However, Three Continents Press still had license to publish on the American market, and Stewart wanted to continue publishing quietly in America and to avoid a world-wide relaunch of such a controversial book, but when he refused to sell his copyright, American University of Cairo commissioned a new version by Peter Theroux for Doubleday to launch, Theroux's copyright has been backdated to