Naguib Mahfouz's Children of the Alley and the Coming Revolution

Nathaniel Greenberg


2011 marked the centennial of Naguib Mahfouz’s birth. Celebrating in the shadow of the Arab Spring, it was a fitting coincidence for fans of the late great master, as Mahfouz was undoubtedly the most prolific chronicler of social transformation in modern Egyptian history. Recognized more than any author in the Arab world, most of Mahfouz’s thirty novels have been translated into English (and many other languages) and works like Bayn al-Qaṣrayn (Palace Walk, 1956) and Zuqāq al-Midaqq (Midaq Alley, 1945) have become staples of world literature classes. Despite this canonization, the controversy surrounding his first novel following the Free-Officers’ revolution of 1952, Awlād Ḥāratinā (Children of the Alley, 1959), remains as poignant as ever. Banned by the government of Nasser and finally republished in 2006, just months after the author’s death and Egypt’s first “open” parliamentary elections, key aspects of the novel appear prophetic in the wake of 25 January 2011. As I suggest here, it is difficult to read Awlād Ḥāratinā today as anything less than an “aesthetic anticipation of the future,” a material touchstone in Egypt’s long struggle for democracy (Rancière, Politics 29).