Naguib Mahfouz was born on September 11, 1911.
Naguib Mahfouz was 8 years old when the Egyptian people rose up in their first real nation-wide uprising in their modern history in 1919, and the young boy saw the protests and the bloody clashes between the Egyptians and the English from the balcony of his house in Beit Al-Kady Square in Al-Jamalya neighborhood, which Badr Al-Jamaly built –one of the Fatimid leaders. He also saw the protests of the local women in draping Abayas.
And eight years before this revolution, which deeply affected the personality and literature of Naguib Mahfouz, and specifically on the eve of September 11, 1911, Abdul-Aziz Ibrahim Ahmed Al-Basha’s wife was suffering a difficult delivery, and the midwife could do nothing but ask for the husband’s help, whose friend hurriedly called Dr. Naguib Mahfouz –who became one of the most renowned obstetricians and gynecologists- and the father insisted on naming his newborn after the famous Coptic physician.
Naguib Mahfouz was the youngest son, but he lived with his parents as an only child because the age gap between his youngest sibling and him was no less than ten years. They were all married men and women who left the family home except the youngest, who joined the military then was deployed to Sudan immediately after his graduation. Therefore, he had a tight relationship with his mother, and it affected him profoundly; unlike with his father, who was always away from home working. He was taciturn and reticent at home. Naguib describes his mother saying, “She’s illiterate lady, who doesn’t read or write; despite so, she was … of folklore/ local culture/ folk culture. She loved Saidna Al-Hussain and visited him constantly; meanwhile, strangely, my mother also frequented the Egyptian Museum, loved spending most of the time in the mummies’ quarters, and just as enthusiastically, she visited the Coptic monuments, especially the Monastery and church of St. George. When I asked her about her love of both Al-Hussain and St. George at the same time, she says, “they are all blessings”, and she considers them “one ancestry”. Truthfully, I was touched by this beautiful display of tolerance because the Egyptian people did not know fanaticism, and this is the true spirit of Islam.”
As for his father, he has a clerk who was not too fond of reading, and the only he read other than the Holy Qur’an is “Words of Isa-bin- Hisham” because its author, Al-Moweilhy, was his friend. And when he retired, he worked at a copper factory owned by one of his friends.
Naguib Mahfouz enrolled in the “country school”(Kuttab) at a very young age so that his family could take a break from his naughtiness. Surprisingly, when he was in grade school, his father did not need to tell him to study because he was already a hard worker and always a top student. However, the first turning event in his life was acquiring the baccalaureate (high school) degree, which qualified him to apply to university. His father believed that the most two important job positions in Egypt were the prosecutor and the doctor; therefore, he insisted on enrolling his son in medical school or law school. His friends agreed, too, for Naguib Mahfouz aced scientific subjects and barely passed literary ones, as in geography, history, and both English and French. The only literary subject he aced was Arabic. He graduated the baccalaureate in 1930 with a grade of 60% and rank of the 20th of his school. This grade secured him a spot in Law school tuition-free, but he chose for himself philosophy major in faculty of arts.
After his graduation in 1934, he joined the public sector, working as a parliament secretary in the ministry of Awqaf from 1938 to 1945. Then he worked in Al. Ghoury Library; then, as a manager in the foundation of “ the good loan” in the ministry of Awqaf until 1954, an office chief of the minister of Counseling, a chief of inspection of art works, in 1960, a general manager of the foundation of cinema support, and then a consultant for the public foundation of cinema, radio, and television. And from 1966 to 1971, the year of his retirement, he was head of the board of the public foundation of cinema, and later he worked as a writer in Al-Ahram foundation.
Initiation to Literature
His interest in literature began to grow through his reading of Al- Akkad, Taha Hussain, Salama Mousa, Tawfiq Al-Hakim, and Al-Sheikh Moustafa Abdul-Razik books; the latter whom he studied under, Islamic philosophy in the faculty of arts, and whom he thought was Coptic. Also, it grew through reading for Sir Rider Haggard, Charles Jarvis, James Baikie, Thomas Mann, Jean-Paul Sartre, Hasan Kami, Samuel Beckett, Marcel Proust, Anatole France, Herbert Read –who wrote in the field of fine arts, John Galsworthy, andTolstoy, in addition to his acquaintance with Greek Literature. After his graduation in 1034, Naguib Mahfouz was nominated for a scholarship to study philosophy in France, but he was deprived from it because his Coptic name gave out his allegiance to Al-Wafd political party. And the war against Al-Ward party was at its climax at the time, which resolved a major internal conflict that Naguib Mahfouz battled between literature and philosophy. He ended up dedicated fully to Literature.
He started writing articles since he was 19 and published his first short story “The double price” in the new weekly journal on August 3, 1034. But in the spirit of the 1919 revolution onward, he planned out his major literary project, which is writing a fiction version of the Pharaonic history, and he actually wrote 3 novels in this field: “The game of Destiny” (Abath Al-Akdar), “Radobis”, and “The strife of Tiba” (Kifah Tiba). But he halted soon after to revise his project.