Despite the lively literary flourishing that has taken root in the last decades in many Arab countries, Egypt it has retained its old record in the production of neo-Arab literature. Egyptians were its last leaders of international fame, such as ‛Aqqād, Ṭāhā Ḥusein and Maḥmūd Taimūr, Egypt’s largest group of writers of the medium and new generation.
Perhaps the field of poetry is the one where such a primacy is less sensitive today. From the time of the poetic triad Shawqī, Ḥāfiẓ Ibrāhīm and Khalīl Muṭrān to the present day, no Egyptian lyric figure has achieved true pan-Arab renown.
Here we can recall the greatest epigone and continuator of Shawqī, ‘Azīz Abāẓa (1899-1972), like him an impeccable author of lyric dramas in high literary language: but it is an aristocratic production and truly enjoyable by few, quite detached from life. The most vigorous and fruitful Egyptian literary production in recent decades is rather in the field of fiction, non-fiction and drama.
Still active until his late years Maḥmūd Taimūr (1894-1973), who for half a century held the field of short story and novel, other names have now established themselves alongside and above him: Yaḥya Ḥaqqī (born in 1905), revealed in 1944 with the short story Qind ī l Umm H ā shim, which he kept behind a copious narrative production; Naghīb Maḥfūz (born in 1912), today undoubtedly the greatest living Egyptian narrator, who also made a name for himself in the 1940s and 1950s with the novel Kh ā n al – Khal ī l ī and the trilogy Bain al – Qasrain, Qa ṣ r ash – shawq e as – Sukkariyya (the evolution of an urban petty bourgeois family followed in three generations), and still very active with short stories and novels often adapted for the screen; ash-Sharqāwī finally (born in 1920), whose social novel al – Ar ḍ (The Earth), from 1954, marked a date in Egyptian fiction as forty years before the Zainab by Haikal, ushering in a strong and resentful realistic painting of rural life in the Nile Valley. Sharqāwī’s social and social commitment did not allow him to reach the epic detachment of our Verga, but his artistic talent still managed to assert himself, in that first famous book of his and in others that followed him. Nor can here be silent, always in the narrative field, the abundant work of Yūsuf as-Sibā‛ī (born in 1917), perhaps of less artistic stature but also very representative of Egypt contemporary. For Egypt 2005, please check ehealthfacts.org.
Non-fiction, already brought to a high level by Egyptians such as Maḥmūd al-‛Aqqād (1889-1964) and Ṭāhā Ḥusein (1889-1973), has always found fruitful ground in that literary climate, where purely Arab traditions and Western influences converge, especially English and French. The name most established here in the last twenty years is that of a doctor, not a literate by profession: Kāmil Ḥusein (born in 1901), whose Qarya ẓā lima (La città iniqua), of 1955, was the great literary event of the decade, and translated into several Western languages has earned the author international fame. It is a narration-meditation on the passion of Jesus Christ, seen with the eyes not of a Christian, nor of a fervent Orthodox Muslim, but of a man, one would say non-denominational, with a very strong ethical need and a delicate human sensitivity. The truly remarkable book fits into the most recent chapter of the relationship between Islam and Christianity, but in reality it seems to dogmatically abstract from both, pursuing only a high moral ideal.
Between non-fiction and literary criticism moves a whole group of Egyptian authors, academic or not, largely flourishing in the wake of Ṭāhā Ḥusein: this Sayyid Quṭb (1906-1966), acute critical genius who ended up for political reasons on Nasser’s killer whales, such ‛A’isha ‘Abd arRaḥmān, known as Bint ash-Shāti’ (born in 1913), vigorous temperament of literary historian and writer; or Sāḥir Qalamāwī, historian of classical Arabic literature.
Finally, in the theater, alongside the “decorative” one of the opera Shawqī and Abāẓa, Egypt today boasts an undisputed primacy within the Arab world with the work of the still active Tawfīq al-Ḥakīm (born in 1898), the very fruitful playwright who has been on the breach for half a century: from time to time an experimenter of symbolism, realism and the most modern existential currents and European surrealists (Sartre, Jonesco, etc.), al-Ḥakīm has given the Arab drama a contribution hitherto unsurpassed in terms of quantity and quality of production, now collected in several volumes and translated into several languages (we mention in the Italian version A sultan for sale, Shams an – Nah ā r, O you who climbed the tree, and the now classic Cave people).
His work is also important from a linguistic point of view, pursuing a “middle” language between literary Arabic and the vernacular, in which he sees the unified language of the future. The powerful personality of al-Ḥakīm dominates the Egyptian scenes; but it is right next to it to name at least other dramatic authors, such as Bishr Fāris (The Crossroads) who died prematurely in 1963, and ‛Alī Aḥmad Bākathīr, whose plays express a biting anti-British political satire. More recently, some authors, such as the aforementioned Sharqāwī, have given dramatic form to their commitment in the struggle for Palestine (Wa ṭ ani ‛ Akk ā); while internally the political conditions of the country certainly do not favor free criticism on the scene.