Novelist Naguib Mahfouz, the first Arab to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, is garnering both praise and criticism in his native land.
Some said he should have received the award long ago. Others criticized his support of the 1979 Camp David peace agreement between Egypt and Israel and his book attacking the late President Gamal Abdel Nasser's domestic and pan-Arabist policies.Mahfouz, the first Arab writer to win the award in its 87-year history, has vividly portrayed poverty in Egypt. The Swedish Academy honored him in Stockholm Thursday with the 1988 prize for literature for advancing the art of the novel, a relatively new genre in Arabic literature.
One of his books, "Children of Gebelawi," has been banned since 1959 in his own country because it offended religious leaders. But the Swedish Academy cited the book as it awarded the prize, saying,"Different norm systems are confronted with tension in the description of the conflict between good and evil."
Mahfouz, 76, son of a Cairo civil servant, said he was "very happy and thankful for the Arab world" for receiving the award, worth $390,000 and inevitable royalties and prestige.
"I congratulate the Egyptian people that one of its small people won a big award, (but) it's not too big for Egypt," he said. "I hope this will be the first step for our literary generations. We have taken a lot and must now give."
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Culture Minister Farouk Hosni sent Mahfouz congratulating telegrams. In Jerusalem, Israel Television reported Foreign Minister Shimon Peres also sent Mahfouz a congratulatory cable.
Poet Hamid Saeed, secretary-general of the General Federation of Arab Writers and editor-in-chief of the Iraqi newspaper al-Thawra in Baghdad, said Mahfouz has long deserved the prize.
Farouk Mustafa, a professor at the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute, said: "He should have won it 20 years ago, actually. I think the committee was negligent in the first to ignore the longest literary tradition in the whole world, which is the Arabic literary tradition."
But Fakhri Kawar, one of Jordan's best-known novelists, said he believed Mahfouz was honored partly because of his relatively noncritical position toward Israel.
"I would like to point out that (Mahfouz's) relationship with Israel and his writings on Camp David have contributed greatly to push Zionism and help him win that award," Kawar said.