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Political and Social Dimensions in “The Thief and the Dogs”

 Political and Social Dimensions in “The Thief and the DogsAs I said before, some readers put this novel in the context of the Egyptian political and social developments which followed the 1952 revolution. 

Political and Social Dimensions in “The Thief and the Dogs”


This argument helps both the reader and the translator to understand the implied and unspoken language of the text. In addition, we should consider the public fears of the ruling fascists which promoted the writer’s politeness and some linguistic tricks.

Muhammad Amin Mahmoud Sulayman’s Analysis

Mahfouz had begun to put out antenna which received the signals of a profound change in the Egyptian society. The readers of the novel may recall the story of a clever thief called Muhammad Amin Mahmoud Sulayman, known in the state press as “al-Saffah” (the killer) – and who attacked houses and villas of the wealthy people and gave the poor some of the stolen money.

This happened one day in April 1960, when people loved that thief who humbled the police and awoke the dreams of downtrodden people in Egypt. So, Sa’eed Mahran is the voice that declared the people’s separation from the state, there is no more harmony and agreement. “If someone kills me, this means they kill millions, because I am the hope and the dreams of the crowds. I am the real man and the tears that shame everyman’, he says. Sa’eed does not learn that the state widened its bureaucratic and social gaps and foundations to meet its ambitious expectations. Sa’eed Mahran raised his voice and the society attention to the cracks in the structure’s foundations.[i] (Mohamed Berrada, (2009), Translated by Christina Phillips, pp. 116-117)

The shortcomings of the 1952 revolution

 Rasheed El-Enany (2004-102) says that Najeeb Mahfouz’s “The Thief and the Dogs” is the author’s first link in the chain which dealt with the shortcomings of the 1952 revolution. The betrayal of the revolutionary ideals is one of the main themes of the novel. This idea is embodied by Mahfouz in the relationship between Said Mahran, the protagonist of the novel, who suffers from his old friends’ betrayal, and Ra’ouf Olwan, his fallen idol.

Indeed, Mahfouz wanted to say that the newly emerged establishment betrayed innocent people and inherited all too soon privileges of the former regime. However, this is not a simple political novel, but Mahfouz succeeds in transforming the predicament of Said Mahran into a consideration of issues such as the value of human action and the alienation of the individual from both the modern society and God. The thief and the Dogs appeared to mark a different direction in Mahfouz’s post revolution aesthetics.

The real basis of the novel

The novel was based on some real incidents and accidents that gained a special public interest and occupied the Egyptian people’s minds. Said was released to find a world turned upside down. Ra’ouf Olwan, Said’s former planner, has become the Editor-in-Chief of a major state-run newspaper. His friend took his wife, daughter and money. Nothing was left to Said but rage and fierce desire for revenge. He tried to kill his enemies and transformed once more into an outlaw after two failed attempts where he killed the wrong man. Said fled to a safer place where he lived with a prostitute called Nur. Said recalled his childhood when he was an orphan, and tried to get the advice he needs from “Ali al-Jynaydi”, a sufi shaykh. However, Said became indoctrinated into a life of crime.”[ii] (Nathaniel Greenberg, (2014), p. 40)

A shelter in love and faith circles

 In "Najeeb Mahfouz: From Regional Fame to Global Recognition", the editors analysed this novel saying that Sa’eed Mahran was suffering a double betrayal on his release from the prison: his wife left him, and his old friend Ra’ouf Olwan, a journalist, abandoned his former stance regarding society and the rights of the downtrodden poor. Mahran wanted to avenge himself and planned to get rid of his enemies. There was a prostitute who loves him. She helped him and also gave him shelter.

In addition, Sa’eed was helped by a holy man whom he knew since he was a boy. So, He was revolving in vain in love and faith circles, when he tried to escape from this treacherous world. At the end, he failed to find his girlfriend who gives him love and the holy man who gives him advice, and he was left alone with the police dogs, which killed him by their teeth.[iii] (Michael Beard and Adnan Haydar (1993), (p. 15)

 



[i] Mohamed Berrada, (2009), Like a Summer Never to be Repeated, translated by Christina Phillips , The American University in Cairo Press, Cairo, New York.

[ii] Nathaniel Greenberg, (2014), The Aesthetic of Revolution in the Film and Literature of Naguib Mahfouz (1952–1967), Lexington Books, Lanham, Boulder, New York, London.

 

[iii] Michael Beard and Adnan Haydar(1993), Naguib Mahfouz: From Regional Fame to Global Recognition, Syarcuse University Press, Newyork.

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