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‘Life Would be a Meaningless Game and a Bad Joke’ Without Freedom: Naguib Mahfouz as an Oppositional Writer

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Mahfouz is generally known as a master ‘storyteller’ of Cairo. However, he can also be read as a great resistance writer, if we depend on Edward Said’s idea of the oppositional intellectual as a humanist writer who uncompromisingly unmasks the workings of power in society. I argue that a remarkable humanism works at the heart of Mahfouz’s adversarial project by reading The Cairo Trilogy as a counter-hegemonic piece, rather than only as a familial tale that mirrors early twentieth-century Egypt. Since Mahfouz remains obsessed with the presence of power in human life, his central struggle is to demystify the hegemonies related to race, gender, class, religion and success in order to de-effectuate them from a deeply humane perspective and assert his intellectual freedom through the process. We need the Saidian framework to comprehend the well-established analyses of Mahfouz’s works in a new light and realize that his writing is no mere rumination on Egypt’s sociopolitical situation. Rather, it is his primary means of obstructing power through revealing its ways in his society.

Affiliations: 1: Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK, Email:


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