CAIRO, Egypt—Naguib Mahfouz, whose novels about the struggles of workaday Egyptians drew worldwide acclaim and made him the only Arab to win the Nobel Prize for literature, died of complications from a bleeding ulcer Wednesday at a Cairo hospital. He was 94.
President Hosni Mubarak issued a statement mourning the loss of "an exceptional writer, an enlightened thinker, an author who brought Arab culture and literature to the world's attention."
Average Egyptians also mourned Mahfouz.
"His death is a great loss to the entire Arab world," said Mohamed Idris, a Mahfouz fan who was shopping in a Cairo bookstore. "But he left us his writings, which are a treasure to Arabic literature."
Mahfouz will be buried Thursday after a military funeral at Cairo's al Rashdan Mosque, an honor typically reserved for senior government officials.
He was nothing if not prolific. He wrote more than 40 novels, 30 film scripts and several plays. His work is widely read throughout the Arab world and has been translated into many languages. Even with Egypt's high illiteracy rate, his tales reached millions here through television and film adaptations of his best-loved novels.
Mahfouz was born in 1911 in one of Cairo's most populous districts. He began writing at an early age, and after graduating with a degree in philosophy from Cairo University, published his first novel in 1939.
He garnered international attention with his Cairo trilogy—"Palace Walk," "Palace of Desire" and "Sugar Street"—published from 1955 to 1957. Set in Cairo during British colonial rule, it portrays generations of an Egyptian family led by an iron-fisted, complicated patriarch.
"He brought the Arabic novel to maturity and perfected its form," said Raymond Stock, his longtime friend and biographer.
The Swedish Academy of Letters, in awarding him the Nobel Prize in 1988, noted that Mahfouz, "through works rich in nuance—now clear-sightedly realistic, now evocatively ambiguous—has formed an Arabic narrative art that applies to all mankind."
Though his support for Egypt's 1979 peace treaty with Israel drew fury and bans on his work in some Arab countries, he remained devoted to Arab causes and donated a portion of his Nobel Prize money to Palestinian groups.
After news of his death broke Wednesday, Cairo residents flooded bookstores to find his novels. Others watched the nonstop coverage on television, which aired a documentary about Mahfouz's life and showed pictures of him throughout his career.
World leaders offered condolences. President Bush said Mahfouz's writings "show the deepest insight into the lives of Egyptians and of all mankind." French President Jacques Chirac called Mahfouz a "man of peace, tolerance and dialogue."
He was remembered as modest, gentle and friendly at the Fishawy cafe in Cairo's centuries-old Azhar district, where he was a regular.
"He would come and sit in that room over there, where he wrote and listened to the radio while sipping his green tea," recalled Saad Abdelhafiz, who's worked in Fishawy for 26 years.
Mahfouz's work also drew condemnation. In 1959, he published "Children of the Alley," a novel that describes man's eternal search for spiritual values through characters that were thinly disguised versions of God, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad.
Clerics at Egypt's Al Azhar University, considered by many as Sunni Islam's most prestigious institution, banned the novel for its portrayal of divine characters. For decades it wasn't published in Egypt or elsewhere in the Arab world except for Lebanon.
Militant Islamists demanded that Mahfouz be killed for his writings, and in 1994, when he was 82, he survived an assassination attempt by a militant who stabbed him in the neck with a knife. The incident left him unable to write, and his trips through Cairo's streets became limited.
"They are trying to extinguish the light of reason and thought. Beware," he said after the attack.
Mahfouz was admitted to the hospital with a head injury last month after falling on the sidewalk just outside his home, and his health subsequently deteriorated.
He is survived by his wife and two daughters.
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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