National Endowment for the Arts - The Big Read
The Thief and the Dogs

The Thief and the Dogs

by Naguib Mahfouz

The basis of any appreciation for literature is education and a concern for language.


Naguib Mahfouz (Image by Barry Iverson/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

The Life and Times of Naguib Mahfouz

1910s
Naguib Mahfouz is born in Cairo, December 11, 1911.
World War I begins, 1914.
Egyptian Revolution against British occupation and rule, 1919.

1920s
Egypt is granted independence.
The Tomb of Tutankhamen discovered by English archeologist Howard Carter, 1922.
Mahfouz and his family move from the Gamaliya district of Cairo to Abbasiya, 1924.

1930s
Mahfouz joins civil service, 1934.
King Fuad of Egypt dies and is succeeded by his son Farouk, 1936.
Mahfouz's novel Khufu's Wisdom published, 1939.
The Nazis invade Poland and World War II begins, 1939.

1940s
Mahfouz publishes seven more novels, including Thebes at War (1944) and Midaq Alley (1947).
World War II ends and the League of Arab States is formed, 1945.
Representatives from fifty countries, including Egypt and the U.S., form the United Nations by signing a charter "to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war," 1945.

1950s
The Free Officers Movement carries out a military coup against Egypt's King Farouk, abolishing the constitutional monarchy and establishing a republic led by General Muhammad Neguib, 1952.
General Neguib is overthrown by Gamal Abdel Nasser, 1954.
Mahfouz marries Atiyyatallah Ibrahim, 1954.
Mahfouz's The Cairo Trilogy published.
Remaining British troops are withdrawn from Egypt, 1956-57.

1960s
The Thief and the Dogs published, 1961.
First U.S. combat troops arrive in Vietnam, 1965.
Arab defeat in the Six-Day War leaves Israel occupying the Sinai Peninsula, eastern Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip, 1967.

1970s
Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser dies and is succeeded by Anwar Sadat, 1970.
Mahfouz retires from the civil service, 1971, and publishes Karnak Café (1974) and The Harafish (1977).
Vietnam War ends with a January cease-fire.
Arab-Israeli War (known as the October War in the Arab world) begins on October 6, 1973.

1980s
President Anwar Sadat assassinated by Muslim extremists and is succeeded by Hosni Mubarak, 1981.
Mahfouz publishes Arabian Nights and Days (1982) and The Day the Leader Was Killed (1985); he is awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, 1988.
Iranian leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, issues a fatwa against Salman Rushdie, author of The Satanic Verses, 1988.
Mahfouz joins other Arab intellectuals in statement against the fatwa, 1989.

1990s
First Gulf War begins, 1990.
Mahfouz is attacked by a Muslim extremist after a fatwa condemns his book Children of the Alley (1959), 1994.
Mahfouz is awarded an honorary doctorate by the American University in Cairo, 1995.

2000s
September 11th attacks lead to the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, 2001.
Mahfouz dies on August 30 and a state funeral with full military honors is held the next day, 2006.
U.S. completes troop pull-out of Iraq, 2011.
Violent protests take place in Cairo's Tahrir Square, 2011.
Mubarak resigns in response to mass protests against his regime, 2011.
First post-Mubarak parliament begins, 2012.

"There can be no doubt that a well-structured educational system could restore literature to its former status. The basis of any appreciation for literature is education and a concern for language. . . . With these in place, the written word would be well able to withstand the competition constituted by television."
—Naguib Mahfouz from Naguib Mahfouz at Sidi Gaber

The Egyptian Revolution of 1952

If asked to identify the most important event in modern Egyptian history, many Egyptians would point to the 1952 Revolution. Riots broke out at the beginning of that year after British forces sought to disarm a military barrack in Ismailia, a town on the west bank of the Suez Canal, killing fifty Egyptian police officers. The next day Egyptians rioted in Cairo, targeting British interests in particular.

King Farouk declared martial law, adding to the popular feeling that Egypt's monarchy was too closely allied with Great Britain. On July 23, 1952, a group called the Free Officers Movement led by General Muhammad Neguib, forced King Farouk to abdicate to his infant son. To deny the British an excuse for military intervention, the child held the title of king for nearly a year, but General Neguib and his Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) assumed the operation of the government.

The new government embraced socialist principles to form a political system that became known as Arab Socialism. They quickly instituted a series of reforms aimed at taking the land out of the hands of rich landowners. Limits to land ownership were set. The government redistributed land in small plots to the peasantry. Still, more than half the rural population remained landless laborers.

Eleven months after taking power, General Neguib declared the end of the monarchy in Egypt and became the country's president, prime minister, and chairman of the RCC. A young army colonel named Gamal Abdel Nasser served as deputy prime minister. Nasser accused Neguib of dictatorial ambition. In late 1954, after a political battle, General Neguib stepped down and Gamal Abdel Nasser became Egypt's head of state.

As president of Egypt, Nasser pronounced the country a one-party, socialist state. When Egypt and Syria joined to form the United Arab Republic in 1958, Nasser hoped other Arab nations would follow suit. Though many viewed Nasser as a champion of Arab interests, his hopes for a pan–Arab state never materialized, and Syria withdrew from the republic in 1961.

Nasser took giant steps on the road to modernization, including negotiating the construction of the Aswan Dam, which controls flooding along the Nile and provides much-needed electricity to many parts of rural Egypt; however, he also ruled the country with an iron fist. Widespread censorship, wire-tapping, the detainment of political prisoners, and fraudulent elections caused many citizens, like Naguib Mahfouz, to ask themselves whether life in post-revolutionary Egypt was truly better.

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