ABU DHABI // The intertwining of the life of the literary giant Naguib Mahfouz and the cinema is being celebrated in the capital, but yesterday a surprising aspect of that association was considered - his spell as a film censor.
The critic and author Samir Farid spoke about this role, an unexpected career choice for such a noted liberal and supporter of democracy, during a panel session held as part of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival programme Naguib Mahfouz - Man of Cinema.
Mahfouz worked for many years as a civil servant in his home country of Egypt, and among the positions he held was that of director of movie censorship.
Mr Farid said people were shocked when this emerged after 1988, when Mahfouz became the first Arab to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. But he said the author lived in an oppressive society, and added: "You accepted anything from the government, you did not argue with the government."
Mr Farid and fellow panellists Kamal Ramzi and Wael Abdel Fatah discussed aspects of Mahfouz's involvement in film, which dated back to when he was 7 and went to see silent movies with his nanny. Each panellist has contributed an essay to the book Naguib Mahfouz - Man of Cinema, which has been published by the Abu Dhabi Film Festival and was launched at the session. The book is available only in Arabic, but an English edition is on the way.
Mr Ramzi said: "Naguib Mahfouz is common to all of us, we all relate to that name and we relate directly to his work. He has taught us things we were unable to learn in school or university.
"He was able to describe clearly a certain location, but could also give actors a key to taking possession of a part and playing it on the screen."
Mr Fatah said: "Naguib Mahfouz has enriched the cinema and integrated reality into it. He appeared in the cinema as it was moving towards realism and exploring society."
The festival's Mahfouz programme marks the 100th anniversary of the author's birth. Eight films either drawn from his work or for which he wrote the screenplays are being shown.
Mahfouz is most famous as a novelist for his Cairo Trilogy, made up of Palace Walk, Palace of Desire and Sugar Street. He died in 2006 at 94.
The Mahfouz programme continues today with the screening of Kamal El Sheikh's The Thief and the Dogs, which is based on a novella by the author.