In the Al-Tableta Alley, which is located at the end of the Al-Azhar Mosque in the Ghouriya district in the heart of Islamic Cairo, stands the Mohamed Bek Abul-Dahab Complex.
The complex includes the Tekkeyet Mohamed Bek Abul-Dahab, which has now been converted into a museum commemorating the life and works of the renowned late Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz, who won the 1988 Nobel Prize for Literature.
On Sunday, the new museum was buzzing with visitors, government officials, diplomats, ambassadors of foreign, Arab and African countries, and renowned writers as the ministers of culture and antiquities jointly inaugurated the museum after many years of waiting.
Inside, blue dominates the columns and interior wooden doors, while the walls of the enclosure remain as they were when they were first put up in 1774.
The museum consists of two floors on an area of 1,600 square metres. The first floor hosts a number of libraries, including a general one displaying 165 books, a literary library with 119 books, Mahfouz’s personal library with 1,091 books on art and literature, and some 266 books on the work of Mahfouz in Arabic and the languages into which it has been translated.
There are studies on his work, and the museum also houses rooms for seminars and a visual and sound library.
A digital library of Mahfouz’s work and other books in PDF format can also be found.
The second floor is divided into several halls, including the Nobel hall dedicated to displaying Mahfouz’s Nobel medallion and certificate along with the other certificates, medallions and awards obtained by the late novelist. The biography hall displays his personal belongings, such as clothing, glasses, pens, papers and letters, together with manuscripts in his handwriting and his desk.
The literature hall displays Mahfouz’s works in old and new editions, along with the writer’s translated works. There is also the alley hall containing an exhibition and film about Mahfouz’s life and the neighbourhood and its impact on him and his writings. A filmography hall contains footage of the most important of his works that have been transformed into films.
Banners bearing the words of the late writer are hung in the empty spaces of the walls of the corridors of both floors.
“Things did not happen haphazardly,” said Culture Minister Ines Abdel-Dayem during the inauguration, explaining that the choice of the museum was made because it was in the area Mahfouz most wrote about and was also close to the house where he was born.
“What has been achieved is a source of pride for all Egyptians, as it embodies the nation’s belief in preserving its ‘soft power’ through commemorating its renowned artists, writers, and others,” Abdel-Dayem told Al-Ahram Weekly, hoping that the museum would become a major tourist attraction.
Naguib Mahfouz, who died in 2004 at the age of 95, was a renowned Egyptian writer who was the first Arab writer to win the Noble Prize for Literature in 1988. He was one of the first writers of modern Arabic literature, along with fellow Egyptian Tawfik Al-Hakim, to explore themes of existentialism. During his 95 years, Mahfouz published 34 novels, over 350 short stories, dozens of film scripts and five plays. Many of his works have been made into Egyptian and foreign films.
The most famous of his works is the Cairo Trilogy of Bein Al-Qasrein (Palace Walk), Qasr Al-Shouq (Palace of Desire) and Al-Sukkariya (Sugar Street). The Trilogy is one of the most important works of his literary career that the Nobel Committee cited as justification for his being awarded the prize. It shows three eras of Cairene socio-political life and a microcosm of early 20th-century Egypt through the life of a wealthy Cairo merchant and his family through three generations.
Mahfouz’s daughter Um Kolthoum, who attended the opening ceremony, expressed her happiness that the dream of establishing the museum had come true after years of waiting. She said that she had worried about losing her father’s personal belongings, especially after the difficult circumstances the country had faced following the 25 January Revolution.
But she said she felt reassured after watching the personal belongings of her father displayed in a dazzling way in the museum. During the opening ceremony, Abdel-Dayem also honoured Um Kolthoum with a ministry award and a certificate of appreciation.
The Tekkeyet Mohamed Bek Abul-Dahab is located in Al-Azhar Street facing the Al-Azhar Mosque and is a building in a complex including a mosque, mausoleum, sabil-kuttab (water fountain and Quranic school), and latrines.
The tekkeya was designed to host Sufi travellers or students as well as be a place for spiritual retreat and character formation.
Abul-Dahab was a prominent Mameluke of leading figure Ali Bek Al-Kabir, and he played a major political role in Egypt in the period from 1772 to 1775. He supported Ali Bek in his attempt to restore the Mameluke Empire but then revolted against him in his own attempt to rule Egypt. In 1775, Abul-Dahab died in a battle against the governor of Acre in Palestine.
Mohamed Abdel-Latif, head of Islamic and Coptic Antiquities at the ministry, said that the Tekkeyet Abul-Dahab had a very distinguished architectural style and more so than the other tekkeya of the time. It includes an open courtyard in its middle with a fountain and a garden. Around the courtyard are scattered a number of halls on three floors and under these is a madiaa (ablution area) with a basin full of water.
The tekkeya underwent restoration for six years within the framework of the Historic Cairo Rehabilitation Project starting in 2000.
Abdel-Latif said that the restoration work had included the consolidation of the building itself, removing all the cracks in the walls, cleaning and installing a new lighting system.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 18 July, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Mahfouz Museum opens