School students explore Naguib Mahfouz and Egypt’s revolutionary history

Mary Mourad, Wednesday 28 Dec 2011

Fine Art Bus takes students on a tour of places Mahfouz visited in his daily life, including his favourite writing spot Cafe Riche

Art Bus
Students attending lecture at Riche Cafe

School students from Giza visited places Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz went to on his daily life, ending up at Cafe Riche in downtown Cairo. The students from Al-Fadl Governmental Preparatory School were able to go on this trip through the programme Al-Fann Al-Gameel Bus (The Fine Art Bus) sponsored by the General Organisation for Cultural Palaces. Established five years ago, the programme seeks to support and build the cultural and artistic spirit of young students in Egyptian schools. It does this through inculcating an appreciation of art, and encouraging students to try their own hand at painting and writing stories and poetry. The Bus travels the governorates and students are hosted in Cairo for a number of days visiting key sites such as museums, the Pyramids and the Citadel.

On the Naguib Mahfouz trip the students take part in a workshop in which they are supported in expressing what they saw throughout the visit through drawing or poetry. The responses that are considered to stand out join in festivals, exhibitions and other events.

Following Mahfouz’s footsteps, the students were able to explore parts of Cairo they may never have been. After starting at Gamaleya where Mahfouz grew up, and going to the newsstand where Mahfouz would have bought his newspapers, the students end up at Cafe Riche, one of Cairo’s oldest intellectual centres. Mahfouz used to go to Cafe Riche almost daily often writing down the stories he heard there. The group look at the photographs of writers, artists and musicians who frequented the Cafe, some of whom would have been the acquaintances and friends of Mahfouz.

Mohammed Seif, the cultural leader of the trip, read an article out loud to the students about Mahfouz’s time at Cafe Riche, and talked to them about Mahfouz, his life, achievements, novels, the attempt on his life and the story of his controversial novel, “Children of the Alley.” When given an opportunity to respond through poetry and song, the students exhibited a deep engagement with the 25 January Revolution, as well as some concern over the future.

Mr.Magdi, owner of Cafe Riche, kindly hosted the children, telling them the stories of the cafe, giving them a tour through that is nearly all gone save for Cafe Riche. "Riche had a role to play during the 1919 revolution, the 1952 revolution and also the January 25 revolution," the children are told. Shoukri, a poet and journalist among Riche customers who volunteered to meet the children, told the stories of “The Friday of Anger” when revolutionaries were hiding in the downstairs cellar.

The young students left with an idea of how Naguib Mahfouz was as a person, not just a literary figure in textbooks, as well as an enlivened appreciation for Egypt’s art and culture, interwoven with history.

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