Naguib Mahfouz, who became the first Arab writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature for his novels depicting Egyptian life in his beloved corner of ancient Cairo, died Wednesday, his doctor said. He was 94.
Mahfouz, who was accused of blasphemy by an Islamic militant and survived a stabbing attack years ago, was admitted to the hospital last month for a head injury. His doctor, Hossam Mowafi, said he died Wednesday morning after a sharp decline.
“His wife last night was whispering on his ears and he was smiling and nodding,” Mowafi said.
The Nobel Prize, awarded in 1988, brought to acclaim a man who had already established himself as one of the Middle East’s finest and most beloved writers and a strong voice for moderation and religious tolerance. But fame had its perils.
In 1994, an attacker inspired by a militant cleric’s ruling that a Mahfouz novel written decades before was blasphemous stabbed the then-82-year-old author as he left his Cairo home.
Mahfouz survived, but the attack damaged nerves leading to his right arm, seriously impairing his ability to write. A man who had once worked for hours at a time — writing in longhand — found it a struggle to “form legible words running in more or less straight lines,” he wrote in the aftermath.
Still, Mahfouz maintained a busy schedule well into his 90s. In his final years, he would go out six nights a week to meet friends at Cairo’s literary watering holes, trading jokes, ideas for stories and news of the day.