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Reading Naguib Mahfouz to Honor the People of Egypt

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My thoughts are with the people of Egypt today. To honor them in their struggle for dignity, I will be rereading one of their greatest - and their world's greatest -- voices for dignity, the writer Naguib Mahfouz. The desire for freedom -- of action, of thought, of self-determination -- runs throughout his marvelous winding novels, including Midaq Alley, The Thief and the Dogs, Miramar, and the three novels that make up the Cairo Trilogy, Palace of Desire, Sugar Street, and my all-time favorite Mahfouz novel, Palace Walk.

Mahfouz' novels are deeply humanistic realism, portraying the daily lives of Egyptian families through years and through generations, chronicling their personal desires for freedom of thought, expression, and participation, and their public struggles with corruption, oppression, and lack of opportunity. Whether male or female, privileged or woefully underclass, Mahfouz captures each of his characters with a clarity that reveals the many layers of their personality, not only those characteristics and quirks that define them as Egyptians but also the weaknesses and strengths that declare their universality. Things rarely turn out well for the people of his alleys, mosques, house, shacks, and palaces, but it is their struggle to make something of their lives, for themselves and for the generations to follow, that inspires. The Egypt we hope for now -- a new era of democracy and opportunity -- is one Mahfouz long dreamed of for his beloved country and would have been proud to chronicle in a new novel that he might have entitled Tahrir Square.

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