Celebrations of Naguib Mahfouz’s centenary have not been confined to public institutions; the urge to pay tribute to the Nobel laureate and Egypt’s foremost novelist has spread wider, including to Kotob Khan Bookshop in Maadi.
Starting at the beginning of 2011 and continuing until the end of the year, Karam Youssef, owner and manager of Kotob Khan, decided to celebrate Mahfouz by bringing in people to discuss Mahfouz under the slogan "Let’s make it a year for celebrating Naguib Mahfouz".
Kotob Khan first opened in Maadi in 2006. The concept, according to Karam, was not only to sell books, but to engage with their readers as well. Book-signing events and book discussions are held in the bookstore throughout the year. Kotob Khan is also a publishing house with 10 literary titles to its name — some of them the outcome of writing workshops.
The Mahfouz celebration has featured lectures by the critic Samir Mundy, who is writing a PhD on the author’s work. The first lecture, in January, was entitled “Dialogue of Science and Religion in Naguib Mahfouz’s Works”. The lectures were temporarily halted because of the January 25 Revolution, starting again in March.
The second topic for discussion was “Good and Evil in Naguib Mahfouz’s Literature” — this went on through May, followed by two other topics: "Naguib Mahfouz and the 1952 Revolution", and "The Morality of Narrative in Mahfouz’s Literature".
The lectures, which stopped again in November, will continue as of 13 December; the last topic will be “Women in Naguib Mahfouz’s Literature”.
Samir Mundy told Ahram Online that “Mahfouz’s literature is important from various perspectives. It explores Egyptian identity and shows the social and political dimensions of Egyptian society throughout a whole century. The ideas discussed by Mahfouz can not be summarised in one book.”
Mundy said Naguib Mahfouz provided Islam with a great service, expressing his dismay with the comments of the Salafist parliamentary candidate Abdel Moneim El-Shahat, who said Mahfouz's literature promoted drug use and prostitution.
“El-Shahat confuses the role of the writer with that of the preacher.”
In addition to the lectures, there have been readings of Naguib Mahfouz’s books by young writers such as Mansura Ezz-El-Din, Mohamed Abdul Nabi, Tahir El-Sharkawi and Tareq Imam.
Youssef said that while she already believed Mahfouz to be one of the most important Egyptian writers, the lectures showed her that Mahfouz’s importance to world literature rivals that of Shakespeare and Dickens.
She added that this celebration is the minimum tribute that can be made to such a figure, suggesting that the Ministry of Culture should establish a museum for Mahfouz.