Egypt Literature Overview
From the century X at the end of the eighteenth century Egypt provided numerous poets and storytellers to Arabic literature. An undisputed glory of Egypt is ʽOmar ibn al-Fāriḍ (1182-1235), one of the greatest mystical poets in the Arabic language. Famous as a calligrapher, historian and jurist, an-Nuwayrī (1281-1332) compiled a vast encyclopedia covering the whole field of knowledge. He also dealt with each subject as-Suyūtī (1445-1505), an industrious and cultured polygraph, which enjoys a wide reputation throughout the Arab world. However, specifically Egyptian literature begins only in the nineteenth century with writers such as Luṭfī al-Manfalūṭī Ibrāhīm, ʽAbd al-Qādir al-Māzinī and especially ʽAbbās Maḥmūd al-ʽAqqād (1889-1964). Initiator of modern fiction is Moḥammed Ḥusayn Haykal (1888-1956), author of the novel Zeynab (1914), in which the life of the Egyptian peasants of the Delta is realistically described. Already fully realized is the work of the Taymūr brothers: Muḥammad (1892-1921), who tried to break away from the classical tradition to create a modern, realistic literature; Maḥmūd (1894-1973), who reflected the society of modern Egypt in short stories and novels. In the field of poetry, Ahmad Shawqī emerged at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (1868-1932), still tied to tradition, Ibrāhīm Muhammad Hāfiẓ (1871-1932), more sensitive to the problems of his time, and especially Halīl Muṭrān (1870-1949) who expresses personal feelings and thoughts in a language and style perfect. Among the writers who have found themselves at the head of the struggle for freedom, Ṭāhā Ḥusayn (1889-1973) stands out, the most interesting figure in the cultural landscape of modern Egypt. Next to him is Tawfīq al-Ḥakīm (1898-1987), the best-known Egyptian playwright, author of The People of the Cave (1933). The post-republican literary landscape is characterized by the dispute between two currents, the realistic one, represented by Yūsuf Idrīs (1927-1991), Shukrī ʽAyyād, Salāḥ Ḥāfiẓ, ʽAbd al-Ǧaffār Mākkāwī, ʽAbd ar-Raḥmān as-Šarqāwī and above all by Naǧīb Maḥfūz (1911-2006), who was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1988. The first manifestations of an experimental literature are found in Yūsuf al-Šarūni (n.1924), who is considered its founder, in Edward al-Kharrāt (n.1926), Faṭhī Ġānim (n.1924), ʽAbbās Aḥmad and Badr ad-Dīb, which are affirmed only towards the end of the Sixties, when a new generation has already come forward. Among the most representative writers of this generation, in conflict not only with censorship, but also with older writers who had managed to monopolize cultural power, include Ibrāhīm Aṣlān (b.1939), Yaḥyà at-Tāhir ‘Abdallāh (n. 1942), Muḥammad al-Busātī (b.1937), Ǧamāl al-Ġiṭānī (b.1945), Maǧīd Tūbiyā (b.1938) and Diyā ‘as-Šarpawī (b.1938). An interesting contribution was also provided by writers such as Zaynab Ṣādiq (b.1935), Sakīnah Fu’ād and Nawāl as-Saʽdāwī, whose theme focuses mainly on the condition of women, on their function in Egyptian society, on the contrast between current and previous. In the early nineties, the battle fought by Islamic fundamentalists against the secularism of the Egyptian state could not fail to involve the exponents of the literary world, who have often found themselves in the crosshairs of extremists. These, determined to fight the spread of “corrupt Western culture” by writers and theater and film authors, also accused of putting the country in a bad light with their works, they did not hesitate to kill, in 1992, the writer F. Foda (1945-1992), author of numerous essays and hundreds of articles on the theme of “Islamic danger”, and then hit the Nobel Prize for literature Naǧīb Maḥfūz, wounded with a knife in 1994, whose works had already been previously put on the index by the religious authorities because they were irreverent towards Islam. According to pharmacylib, the Egyptian intellectuals who were not allied with the ruling regime found themselves fighting the authorities, both political and religious, in order to freely express their opinions. Ṣan ‘Allāh Ibrāhīm (b.1937) is one of the protagonists of this dissent and in his novels, including Šaraf (from the name of the protagonist, which also means “honor”, 1997), talks about his own personal experience describing the world of the prison from the inside. Ra’ūf Mus’ad Bastā, born in Sudan in the late 1930s and considered to all intents and purposes an Egyptian writer, is a profound connoisseur of the reality of the country where he has lived since the early 1980s. Journalist by training, Ra’ūf Mus’ad Bastā, for his activity as a militant of a left-wing organization, was in prison for several years and established himself in the Arab literary landscape with the autobiographical novel Bayḍat al-na’âmah (L’uovo di ostruzzo, 1994), in which he retraces the first amorous encounters and subsequent mature experiences of a man free from any social and sexual taboo. In this context, the work of authors such as the writer Nawal as-Sa’dawi (b.1931), who has always been in favor of women’s emancipation, Sulayman Fayyad and Ibrahim Aslam, belonging to the generation that he experienced the defeat of 1967 and the subsequent decay of the Egyptian political and social system, and the playwright Lenin Ramly. In the dramaturgy the names of ‘Ali Salim (b.1936) and Muḥammad al-Salamuni (b.1942) emerge. Egyptian poetry is represented by Aḥmad ‘Abd al-Mu’ṭī Ḥiǧāzī (b. 1935), the author of a poem that was first engaged and then more intimate, who received, in 1998, the sultan al-‘Uways prize for poetry. Wahet al Ghuroub (The twilight oasis, 2007); at the center of his themes is the contrast between East and West and the tormented relationship with power. Another Egyptian writer who has achieved international notoriety is Alaa Al Aswany (b.1957), from whose novel Imārat Yaʿqūbīān (The Yacoubian Building, 2002) was also made into a successful film and television series.