MAHFOUZ CENTENNIAL: Imaginary conversation with the man who tried to kill the master of letters

Reuters Arabic, Thursday 8 Dec 2011

The new issue of Al-Thaqafa Al-Jadeeda celebrates Naguib Mahfouz, including an article by Egyptian Writers Union head Mohamed Salmawy, focusing on the attempt on his life 17 years ago

Naguib Mahfouz
Naguib Mahfouz

Amid indicators showing the rise of Islamists to power, gaining the majority of votes in parliamentary elections, the new edition of Al-Thaqafa Al-Jadeeda (New Culture) is out, published by the General Organisation of Cultural Palaces. The new issue is a celebration of Naguib Mahfouz’s centennial.

The article by writer and head of Egyptian Writers Union Mohamed Salmawy imagines a whole new personality for the young man who attempted to kill Mahfouz, or "was honored with the task" by Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya, 17 years ago.

In the imaginary conversation, the young man termed here Mohamed Nagui Mohamed Mostafa, is a technician of electrical appliances, with an intermediate degree and “moved to God four years ago … and read many books about Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya until they finally met with me.” In Salmawy’s conversation, the books are about the leaders of Al-Gamaa, including Omar Abdel-Rahman, now arrested in the US, and Nageh Ibrahim, member of the Supreme Council of Al-Gamaa, and also Aboud El-Zomor, who was released from prison after serving a sentence for the assassination of President Sadat in 1981.

The young man tells Salmawy that he never read anything of Mahfouz, saying he doesn’t need to read these books, adding "Astaghfur Allah (May God Forgive me)."

The young man confesses that he attempted the assassination in obedience to the emir of Al-Gamaa (the leader) after the fatwa (religious order) of Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman. Salmawy told the young man that Mahfouz forgave him, yet it didn't matter since Mahfouz had attacked Islam in his books, and thus his blood could be spilt (he could be killed), considering fulfilling the order of Al-Gamaa to be an honour.

The imaginary young man tells new parts of the story; that he went together with his friend Bassem to Mahfouz’s house the night before, attempting the assassination. They met him while carrying guns and a dagger in their clothes, as well as flowers and sweets. However, Mahfouz’s wife apologised that he wasn’t at home and that they can meet him the next day in his weekly gathering.

“We wanted to stab Mahfouz at his own home, and the gun was only to threaten his family so they wouldn’t scream for help. However, God didn’t allow it, so we decided to do it next day. I did it all myself then ran to my colleagues in Ain Shams (a neighborhood in north Cairo), telling them that I stabbed Mahfouz in his neck, so they hugged and congratulated me,” the young man explained.

Salmawy continues to explain to the young man that Mahfouz felt sorry for him, considering him a victim, wishing he would be a scientist or an athlete, not a killer. Yet the young man didn’t care, even saying, “If I met him today I would attempt it again.” Mahfouz is said to have felt deeply sorry for the young man, and wishing to understand him deeper; such young men devoting their lives to killing instead of serving religion, science or the nation.

The article is one chapter of the book In the Presence of Mahfouz, written by Salmawy and to be published this month by Al-Dar Al-Masreya Al-Lubnaneya for the Mahfouz centennial celebrations this month.

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