Obituary: Yehia Haqqi

Yehia Haqqi, writer, born Cairo 7 January 1905, died Cairo 9 December 1992.

THE EGYPTIAN novelist Yehia Haqqi is well known among Arabic language writers and readers for his comprehensive and wide variety of works: novels, novellas, short stories; translated works from German, French, Italian, Turkish and Persian; books on literary criticism and the history of literature and the arts; and columns in daily and weekly journals.

After a few years in the shadows, Haqqi's name hit the headlines briefly in the aftermath of the Cairo earthquake in October when the ailing writer vacated his hospital bed 'to make one bed available for injured civilians who are needier and younger citzens'.

The statement incorporated the mixed and sometimes confused feelings, as well as the feeling for sacrifice, of this literary giant. He was full of love for the poor and the handicapped, and felt an urgent need to prove his Egyptianism.

From his birth in 1905 in Cairo to Turkish parents, when Egypt was officially still part of the disintegrating Ottoman Empire, the young Yehia Haqqi fought to prove that he was more Egyptian than those born to families who had lived for thousands of years on the banks of the Nile. 'If you squeeze me in one of the street sugar-cane squeezers, not one single Turkish drop would come out, because I am more Egyptian than the Pharaohs.'

In using Egyptian metaphors and developing the Arabic literary language to embrace the Nilotic Egyptian, Haqqi went further than many of his compatriots to develop a language that literary critics in Egypt called al-haqqawiyah, or Haqqism.

Like most writers of his generation, he did not devote all his time to writing until after years - three decades in his case - in the service of the state. He joined the diplomatic service in 1928, and served in many countries abroad, thus giving himself experience to cement his speciality as one of the best writer-critics to examine the clash of eastern and western values, good and bad.

Such experience is very evident in his best-known and longest novel, Quandeel Om Hashem ('The Lantern Of Om Hashem', 1954). This novel, along with the late Egyptian philosopher Tawfik el-Hakim's Ousfure minelsharq ('The Bird from the East') is regarded by Arabic literature scholars as the base for everything written in Arabic about pre- and post- colonial contacts between the romantic, mystic, spiritual, but backward, values of the East and the secular, rational, advanced way of life in the West. Om Hashem is the Cairo mosque of a Muslim woman saint, Zynab, the daughter of the prophet Muhammad, where thousands of handicapped Muslims go seeking a cure. Haqqi, who had been born in the area, used his childhood memories in the novel: the German- educated doctor who is outraged by the way a Muslim mother treats her child's eyes with drops of oil from the mosque's lantern, thus blinding the child. The doctor rushes into the mosque to smash the 1,000-year-old lantern.

When Cairo television turned the novel into a film, Islamic fundamentalists were outraged, but the popularity of the film overcame their protest. Despite this confrontation, Haqqi was never in real danger from the fundamentalists. Unlike Naguib Mahfouz, Haqqi professed his Muslim faith. In fact the message he conveyed was that what the East needs to catch up with the West is a new structure: a modern secularised Muslim empire ruled by a benevolent dictatorship.

He was very excited by Col Nasser's military coup in 1952. He penned a new novel, Al-Ustazh ('The Crafts Master') - where the main character was unmistakably Nasser as the promised benevolent dictator. As expected, critics accused him of seeking favours with Nasser, but such accusations hardly fitted in with Haqqi's character. He was a modest and simple man to the point of enjoying pain and suffering. He once sold most of his antique furniture and collection of books and slept on a mattress on the floor.

His writing about the deprived, the physically and mentally handicapped turned into an obsession. His 1955 anthology of short stories Blood and Earth won the highest state prize in literature, while one of its stories, 'The Postman', was made into a film in 1965 and won international prizes.

After he quit his job as an editor of the prestigious Al-Migalla literary journal, in 1970, he refused offers to write regularly for national dailies like Al-Ahram, where Mahfouz writes, or the Middle East's largest daily, Al-Akhbar, but he wrote a weekly 1,000-word column in a small circulation paper, Al- Taaoun, for a small sum of money.

Haqqi devoted himself to being a guide to many young Egyptian writers - there is hardly a writer in Egypt today between the ages of 30 and 50 who has not published a book with an introduction by Haqqi.

(Photograph omitted)

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

HR Manager - London - £40,000 + bonus

£32000 - £40000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Talent Manager / HR Manager - central London - £50,000

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Talent / Learning & Development Mana...

HR Manager (standalone) - London

Up to £40,000: Ashdown Group: Standalone HR Manager role for an SME business b...

HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350 - £400 per ...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone