Naguib Mahfouz, 1967
Miramar is set in Alexandria. Alexandria is a city which occurs occasionally as a secondary locale in the novels of Naguib Mahfouz. It is not a location which Mahfouz often uses as the main setting. Mahfouz is a Cairene novelist.
In Autumn Quail (1962), Isa Ibrahim Ad-Dabbagh moves to Alexandria for a while. ‘“I’m thinking of going to Alexandria.”’ [Autumn Quail, 12.] In The Beggar (1965), Omar al-Hamzawi takes his family for a holiday in Alexandria. This is quite normal for middle-class Cairenes. Omar takes a holiday on the doctor’s advice. ‘“Take a vacation.”’ [The Beggar, 1.]
Mansour Bahy, one of the characters in Miramar, takes a number of trips to Cairo to see a woman called Doreya. Other than that, the whole novel takes place in Alexandria.
Mansour’s former comrades, including Doreya’s husband, have been arrested. ‘”You heard…?” “Yes, at the office. I took the two o’clock train.”’ [Miramar, 3.]
Miramar is the name of the pension in which the novel is set. There are five residents. All of the residents are male. Two of the residents are older. The older residents are Amer Wagdi and Tolba Bey Marzuq.
Amer Wagdi is an old journalist. He is also an old Wafdist. ‘Those were the days – the glory of working for the Cause, independence, the nation!’ [Miramar, 1.]
Tolba Marzuq knows Wagdi’s work. Marzuq doesn’t approve of his politics. ‘“Yours was a good example of a fine pen serving a bad cause.”’ [1.]
Amer Wagdi has come to the Pension Miramar to die. ‘There’s not much time left; the world is changing fast and my weak eyes under their thinning white brows can no longer comprehend what they see.’ [1.]
Marzuq is a former landowner. ‘He was one of the King’s henchmen and naturally an enemy of the Wafd. I recall that his property had been put under sequestration a year ago, with all his resources confiscated, leaving only the usual allowance.’ [1.]
This dates the novel. The July Laws of 1961 were what made the July revolution of 1952 a socialist revolution. [Goldschmidt, 10.]
Under the July Laws, the maximum individual landholding was reduced from 200 to 100 feddans. A feddan is a little more than an acre. The July Laws also nationalised certain industries, including textiles.
Another resident of the pension, Sarhan al-Beheiry, works in a nationalised textile factory. Sarhan al-Beheiry introduces himself. ‘“Deputy head accountant at the Alexandria Textile Mills….”’ [1.]
The action of the novel occurs no earlier than 1962. If Mahfouz had wanted us to know it occurs later than that, he would have given us an indication. He does not.
Al-Beheiry and Bahy are younger than Wagdi and Marzuq. The fifth resident, Hosny Allam, is also a younger man. In addition there are two female characters. One is Mariana, the proprietor. The other is Zohra, who is hired as a maid.
Mariana is Greek. There is no novel of Mahfouz’s in which the Greek community is foreground. The Greeks however are often present.
In Autumn Quail, Ad-Dabbagh chooses to live in the Greek quarter. ‘…you could see Greek faces on the balconies, at the windows, and in the street. He was a stranger in a district filled with strangers… you were all strangers in a strange country.’ [Autumn Quail, 13.]
Mariana is in reduced circumstances. ‘The pension is all she has; she has to take in winter guests… at a reasonable rent, although I can retain my room in the summer only if I pay at the special summer rate for vacationers.’ [Miramar, 1.]
Zohra is a pretty countrywoman. She is often referred to, somewhat disparagingly, as a ‘fellaha’ The word means female peasant. Zohra’s prettiness is a powerful part of the dynamic of the novel. ‘I opened the judas as Madame always did and met a pair of eyes that belonged to a pretty face, a suntanned face, framed in the black scarf of a fellaha, with features full of character and an expectant look that went instantly to the heart.’ [1.]
Mahfouz does not deal with the country in his novels. He is a quintessentially metropolitan novelist. Countrywomen occur, like Nabawiyya, Said Mahran’s wife in The Thief and the Dogs (1961), when they have come to the city and become maids. ‘She was always so nicely dressed, much neater than the other servant girls, which was why she’d been known as the “Turkish lady’s maid.”’ [The Thief and the Dogs, 10.]
Zohra in Miramar and Samara in Adrift on the Nile (1966) are among Mahfouz’s most sympathetic portraits of women. Both Zohra and Samara have something more to them than sexuality.
Miramar is divided into five chapters. Each chapter is told from the perspective of one of the characters. Neither Tolba Marzuq nor either of the women have a chapter of their own. The novel is not narrated at any point from their perspective. The first chapter and the last – which is short – are both narrated from the perspective of Amer Wagdi, the elderly journalist. Wagdi was the first resident to arrive in the pension for the winter. He is one of the few people still there at the end.
Each chapter starts when the character arrives in the pension. Since they arrive within a couple of weeks of each other, there is a lot of overlap in the narrative. This allows Mahfouz to tell the same incident from different points of view. There are three incidents in particular where this happens. Each time one of the incidents is told we learn a little more.
One of the incidents is the evening when everyone gathers to listen to a concert by Umm Kulthum on the radio. ‘We did not get acquainted any further until the first Thursday of the Umm Kulthum season, when I learned from Mariana that they would join us in the evening to listen to the concert on the radio… They had ordered a kebab supper and a bottle of whisky.’ [Miramar, 1.]
The other two incidents which are narrated from multiple points of view are fights. Both the fights involve Zohra. The first fight involves Sarhan Baheiry’s other woman. ‘“I opened the door for Monsieur Sarhan…. and there was this woman following him…. Then they started fighting.”’ [1.]
Zohra and the woman fight. Zohra gets the better of it. ‘The woman suddenly turns on [Zohra], but Zohra is a magnificent fighter and punches her twice, banging the stranger each time into the wall.’ [2.]
The second is a fight between Al-Beheiry and Allam. ‘She’d… gone out to find Sarhan al-Beheiry and Hosny Allam exchanging blows in the corridor.’ [1.]
Allam has assaulted Zohra. ‘Excited with drink and desire, I throw myself at [Zohra]. She fights me off, beating my chest with her fists…. I start hitting her savagely…. Then I feel a hand on my shoulder and hear Sarhan…. “No, no, gentleman, you’ll wreck the place! I won’t stand for it!”’ [2.]
Each of the characters has been affected by the revolution. The revolution, in Mahfouz’s novels of the 1960s, is the unifying force. What also unites the younger men is that they all have a problem making a commitment to women.
Amer Wagdi has been left behind by history. In this he has something in common with both Isa Ibrahim Ad-Dabbagh and Omar al-Hamzawi, the protagonists respectively of Autumn Quail and The Beggar. The process however is different in each case.
Autumn Quail starts with the fighting in the Canal Zone and the riots in Cairo in 1952 After the fighting and the riots Ad-Dabbagh is demoted. ‘“A decree’s been issued transferring me from my position in the minister’s office to the archives.”’ [Autumn Quail, 3.]
After the July Revolution Ad-Dabbagh is purged. He is accused of corruption. ‘… [Ad-Dabbagh] was summoned to appear before the Purge Committee…. All the accusations applied to the appointments of umdas on the basis of party bias and gifts….’ [7.]
Ad-Dabbagh has lost his role. ‘“We won’t be working, whatever job we take… because we’ve no role to play.”’ [13.]
Ad-Dabbagh is used to being part of history. History has moved on. It has abandoned him. ‘“We were the vanguard of a revolution…. and now we are the debris of one!”’ [10.]
Omar al-Hamzawi in The Beggar was deeply involved in politics as a young man. ‘”Tell me, do you remember those days of politics, demonstrations, and dreams of Utopia?”’ [The Beggar, 1.]
Now his life is meaningless. ‘Very often I’m sick of life, people, even the family…. I don’t want to think, to move or to feel. Everything is disintegrating and dying.”’ [1.]
Amer Wagdi had been powerful. ‘Amer Wagdi was someone indeed – full of favours for friends, but a man to be feared and avoided by enemies.’ [Miramar, 1.]
In this he was like Isa Ad-Dabbagh. ‘There’s been a time when he’d made several members of the [Purge] committee tremble even when his party was not in power.’ [Autumn Quail, 7.]
Wagdi, like many elderly people, perhaps, is nostalgic for the past. ‘All my friends are gone. The good old days are over…. But these are bad times. We are condemned to work with upstarts, clowns who no doubt got their training in a circus and then turned to journalism as the appropriate way to display their tricks.’ [Miramar, 1.]
Wagdi is alone. ‘“No wife, no family. And I’ve retired… I’m finished.”’ [1.]
Wagdi was once turned down as a suitor. ‘”Sir, may I ask you for your daughter’s hand?”’ [1.]
The rejection is very angry. Wagdi is rejected on religious grounds. ‘“People like you were made for hell…! Get out of this sanctified house, as Iblis was turned out of God’s grace!”’ [1.]
Iblis is Satan. Iblis was expelled from Paradise for refusing to worship Adam. The name in Arabic word is a corruption of the Greek word diavolos.
As Idris, Iblis is one of the important characters in Children of the Alley. Idris is banished by Gabalawi. The expulsion of Iblis introduces the theme of evil into the novel. ‘”Don’t you know the punishment for defying me, you fiend? Damnation to anyone who lets him back in or helps him!”’ [Children of the Alley, 1.]
We learn that Wagdi was once a student at Al Azhar, the religious university. He was expelled. We do not learn what for. ‘“My son, you were one of us. You studied in Al Azhar once. But don’t let us forget that you were expelled…. Wise men accused you of a terrible crime.”’ [Miramar, 1.]
Wagdi from time to time quotes the Qua’ran. He quotes Sura 55. ‘The Beneficent hath made known the Koran….’ [1.] Sura 55 deals with the lack of gratitude to God.
Wagdi also quotes Sura 27. ‘These are the revelations of the Scripture that maketh plain.’ [1.] Sura 27 deals with the denial of the afterlife.
Tolba asks Wagdi a question. ‘“Have you returned to the Faith?” he asked.’ [1.] We do not get an answer.
If Mahfouz wanted to tell us why Wagdi was expelled from Al Azhar he would have done. He does not. We are left with a picture of a secular person who has not so much abandoned his faith as been driven out of it.
Samara in Adrift on the Nile is very clear about the connection between lack of faith and nihilism. ‘It is also necessary that our belief has the sincerity of true religious faith, plus faith’s astonishing power to inspire acts of heroism.’ [Adrift on the Nile, 10.]
Mariana has been affected by both revolutions, the July Revolution of the Free Officers and the nationalist revolution of 1919. The nationalist revolution is a major theme of Palace Walk (1956), the first part of the Cairo Trilogy.
Mariana is bitter. ‘“Monsieur Amer, the first revolution killed my first husband. The second took my money and drove out my people. Why?”’ [Miramar, 1.]
There was a large migration of Greeks from Egypt to countries including Australia. Mariana’s claim that her people were ‘driven out’ is perhaps a little melodramatic. The migration started before the revolution of 1952 and continued well after it. [Wikipedia.]
Mariana’s first husband is ‘the Captain’. ‘There is the Captain’s portrait, in full dress, heavy whiskered – her first husband, killed in the Revolution of 1919.’ [Miramar, 1.]
Wagdi is a little puzzled about how Mariana lost her money. ‘”Haven’t you heard of the stock market crash…? That’s when I lost all the money I made in the Second World War.”’ [Miramar, 1.]
It is fairly clear that Mariana made her money from brothel-keeping. ‘”You never saw anything like the generosity of His Britannic Majesty’s officers!”’ [Miramar, 1.]
Tolba Marzuq has lost his land. ‘“He had a thousand feddans.”’ [Miramar, 1.]
Marzuq blames the Wafdists for his misfortunes. ‘“One man is responsible for this…. Saad Zaghloul.”’ [Miramar, 1.]
Marzuq has become paranoid. ‘[Tolba] was suspicious of strangers, certain that they knew his history and the circumstances of his ordeal….’ [Miramar, 1.]
Marzuq is not even a patriot any more. ‘”The Americans should have taken control of the whole world when they had the secret of the atom bomb all to themselves.”’ [Miramar, 1.]
The reference to the atom bomb here is only incidental. In Children of the Alley atomic weapons are an important theme. Arafa the magician develops a magic bottle. It is a symbol both of high explosive and the atom bomb. ‘”Should I consider a man with a weapon like yours, that makes clubs a joke, a poor man? …I want a great deal of [the magic bottle]. …you’ll be able to work your magic under my protection, and you will have everything you ever wanted.”’ [Children of the Alley, 105.]
Hosny Allam is intensely resentful of the revolution. ‘Revolution? Why not? To put you where you belong, you progeny of whores, to take all your money and push your noses in the mud.’ [Miramar, 2.]
What he seems to resent most is the loss of status of his class as a whole. It has made him cynical. ‘So what if my class has left me to the waves and the boat sinking? How marvellous to be loyal to nothing, to be free, completely free, free of claims from class, country or any duty whatever.’ [Miramar, 2.]
His personal loss of status has led to him being turned down as a suitor. ‘“You’re just mad because Mervat turned you down.”’ [Miramar, 2.]
His property hasn’t done him any good. ‘“No education,” she said, “and a hazardous hundred feddans.”’ [Miramar, 2.]
Mansour Bahy has been affected in a different way. He is a communist. ‘No one guessed what [Tolba Marzuq] meant to me: old recollections, dreams of bloodshed, of classes in conflict….’ [Miramar, 3.]
Before the July Revolution, the communists and the Muslim Brotherhood were both considered a threat. ‘”He assured me that the only alternatives to the Revolution were the Communists or the Brotherhood.’” [5.]
Bahy’s brother is a police official. Mariana is very impressed. ‘“Your brother is a very distinguished police officer indeed.”’ [Miramar, 3.]
Bahy’s brother has forced him to leave his comrades and relocate to Alexandria. ‘“So I’m to stay prisoner here in Alexandria, to spend the rest of my life trying to justify myself.”’ [Miramar, 3.]
Bahy is a weak man. This is symbolised by his somewhat effeminate appearance. ‘I was charmed by his fine, delicate features….’ [Miramar, 3.]
Sarhan al-Beheiry is an opportunist. Before the revolution Al-Beheiry was active in the Wafd. ‘We’d both been members of Wafdist student committees….’ [4.]
After the revolution Al-Beheiry turned his coat. ‘“Of course. I was a member of the Liberation Organisation and then the National Union. Now I’m on the Committee of Twenty and I’m also an elected member of the company board, representing the staff.”’ [1.]
What makes Al-Beheiry vulnerable is greed. ‘“What’s life worth without your own villa, your own car and your own woman?”’ [4.]
Al-Beheiry gets involved in a plot to steal yarn from the factory where he works. ‘”The goods are up for grabs. You can imagine what a truckload of yarn can bring on the black market. It’s a safe operation and we can repeat it four times a month.”’ [4.]
Zohra is less concretely affected by the revolution than the other characters. She has nothing to lose. ‘“She used to rent half a feddan and work it herself….”’ [1.]
Symbolically we can imagine Zohra is more affected by the revolution than anyone, and in a more positive way. It may be the revolution that emboldened Zohra to resist the oppressive social conditions of life for women in the countryside. ‘”She ran away…. Her grandfather wanted her to marry an old man….”’ [1.]
It may have been the revolution which gave Zohra hope. “I love the land and the village, but I hate the misery…. Here is where love is. Education. Cleanliness. Hope.” [1.]
Zohra is determined to better herself. She decides to get an education. ‘”She’s arranged it with a schoolmistress who lives on the fifth floor. A young teacher who’ll give her private lessons.”’ [1.]
Zohra sticks to her plans even when her romantic hopes are dashed. ‘”What are your plans for the future?” “Just what they were….”’ [5.]
Womanising is as important as the revolution in Miramar. All the young men are womanisers. Amer Wagdi and Tolba Marzuq are not excluded. They were both womanisers in the past. Mariana was once Tolba Marzuq’s mistress. ‘”…are you back on the old terms with Mariana?”’ [1.]
Amer Wagdi had a reputation. ‘”Have you forgotten all your old escapades? The scandal sheets of the thirties were full of them; your chasing every skirt – or rather melaya – in Sharia Muhammad Ali.’” [1.]
The melaya is the black, head to foot garment worn for modesty by Egyptian women. It is used as a prop by belly dancers in Alexandria in immodest dancing. Dancers in clubs, like singers, were considered loose women.
Womanising is a persistent theme in the novels that Naguib Mahfouz wrote in the sixties. It is usually associated with lack of meaning. The journalist Samara in Adrift on the Nile thinks of lack of meaning as absurdity. ‘Absurdity is the loss of meaning, the meaning of anything.’ [Adrift on the Nile, 10.]
Mahfouz introduces the existentialist term commitment. This makes it quite clear he is thinking of absurdity in the context of that ideology. In Adrift on the Nile a group of friends meet on a houseboat to smoke hashish. One of them says, in a comment on an article by Samara, ‘”I thought that the article smacked of ‘commitment’.”’ [8.]
In Autumn Quail, Isa Ibrahim Ad-Dabbagh has lost his sense of being an actor in history. ‘“We won’t be working, whatever job we take… because we’ve no role to play.”’ [Autumn Quail, 13.]
Ad-Dabbagh moves a prostitute into his flat in Alexandria. ‘The cheap cotton flannel dress, the defiant look untinged by reserve or haughtiness, and the very fact that she was walking alone at night, all these things showed that she was a Corniche girl.’ [14.]
Ad-Dabbagh treats the woman badly. When she gets pregnant he throws her out. ‘“You poisonous little snake!” he yelled at her. “Is this how you pay me back for giving you a home? …Don’t let me see your face from now on, or ever again.”’ [16.]
In The Beggar Omar al-Hamzawi loses his sense of meaning. ‘”I suppose I could still work, but I have no desire to…. Very often I’m sick of life, people, even the family…. I don’t want to think, to move or to feel. Everything is disintegrating and dying.”’ [The Beggar, 1.]
Al-Hamzawi tries to seduce a singer. ‘…for a moment, bewitched by the night’s charms, he was restored to his lost youth.’ [The Beggar, 7.]
The singer disappears. This is never quite satisfactorily explained. It doesn’t have to be. ‘“Where’s Margaret?” “…She’s gone.” “Where?” “Abroad.”’ [7.]
Al-Hamzawi takes up with a dancer. ‘…a magnificent statuesque woman with wide-set languid eyes and a high forehead which gave her face a certain aristocratic distinction.’ [8.]
The dancer leaves him. “I’m going away…. I don’t want anything…. What’s sad is that I’ve really loved you.”’ [13.]
Al-Hamzawi’s womanising becomes indiscriminate. ‘A brunette dancer at the New Paris attracted him, so he went after her…. The brunette left with him, enticed by money…. Every night he picked up a woman, from one club or another, sometimes from the streets.’ [13.]
Womanising in Autumn Quail and The Beggar is a response to loss of meaning. It is little more than a distraction. It does not create meaning.
The womanising of each of the young men in Miramar is different. The common factor is an incapacity for commitment. Womanising is an existential condition.
Hosny Allam, like Omar al-Hamzawi, has recourse to prostitutes. ‘I pay a visit to an old procuress at Chatby; she brings me a girl who isn’t bad to begin the day with.’ [2.]
Allam does so on an industrial scale. He is completely indifferent to his companions. ‘I go to the Metro cinema for the matinee and chat up a girl at the buffet during the intermission. We lunch at Omar Khayyam, then have a short siesta in her little flat at Ibrahimiya. By the time I get back to the pension I have forgotten her name.’ [2.]
Al-Hamzawi ends up seeing a different woman every night. Allam sees several women on the same day. ‘I drop in on the Maltese madam at Cleopatra and ask her to call in as many of her girls as she can.’ [2.]
Allam’s recklessness is symbolised by his excessively fast driving. ‘I drive around in my Ford, aimless except to satisfy a craving for speed.’
Allam is like the actor Ragab al-Qadi in Adrift on the Nile. ‘…they set off, faster and faster, until they were travelling at an insane speed.’ [Adrift on the Nile, 15.]
Ragab hits a pedestrian and kills him. ‘Suddenly a horrifying scream rang out. [Anis] opened his eyes, shaking, to see a black shape flying through the air.’ [15.]
Allam gets involved with Sarhan al-Beheiry’s discarded mistress. ‘… I emerge from behind the screen and take the strange woman firmly by the wrist. I pull her gently out, apologizing and trying to calm her down.’ [Miramar, 2.]
Safeya works at a night-club. The female entertainers are part-time prostitutes. ‘“I work at the Genevoise.”’ 
Allam is supposed to be looking for a business opportunity. ‘I drive around making plans for my new business.’ 
Safeya finds him just the opportunity he needs. ‘“There’s a wonderful opening for you…! The Genevoise. The owner wants to sell out.”’ 
Allam, like Saber in The Search, is on the point of becoming a pimp. Saber’s mother, like Mariana, is a brothel-keeper. She has prepared Saber for no other life. ‘”There’s nothing for me to do but become a ruffian, a hustler or a pimp.”’ [The Search, 1.]
It is in the case of Mansour al-Bahy that lack of commitment is perhaps most clearly existential in nature. Al-Bahy expects portentous events. ‘I said to myself that only a disaster, huge in scale, something on the order of a colossal earthquake, could bring back harmony.’ [3.]
Al-Bahy sees his future symbolised in the dramatic winter weather. ‘I watched the storm from behind the glass of my windowpanes until it finally cleared. This drama of the elements touched a sympathetic cord in my inmost heart. I had a premonition that forecast, in terms still incomprehensible to me, my personal destiny.’ [3.]
In addition to being unable to commit to a relationship with a woman Al-Bahy has also been unable to sustain a political commitment. ‘“Perhaps it was wise to stop working for a cause so uncongenial to you.”’ [3.]
Al-Bahy is aware of the effect that nihilism has on him. ‘I felt myself lapsing into anxious depression. “I’m sure the ideal is to believe and to put your beliefs into action. To have nothing to believe in is to be lost forever.”’ [3.]
Al-Bahy was previously in love with Doreya, the wife of his comrade Fawzi. Fawzi is now in jail. Al-Bahy renews his suit. ‘“Would you forgive me if I couldn’t help myself… and told you… that I love you now as I loved you in the past…?” “Mansour!”’ [3.]
Al-Bahy and Mrs Fawzi begin a relationship. It does not assuage Al-Bahy’s existential anguish. ‘When she stopped resisting and finally surrendered herself, it’s true, I was overjoyed. But afterward I was torn by anxiety, obsessed with the morbid idea that love was the road to death and that my own excesses would destroy me.’ [3.]
Mrs Fawzi sees Al-Bahy’s difficulty as a defect of character. ‘“You’ve always been so diffident….”’ [3.]
Mrs Fawzi cannot bear her loneliness. ‘“But I’m all by myself…. I can’t stand it anymore.”’ [3.]
Al-Bahy reacts as a lover should. “It just stands to simple reason: we should either separate or get you your divorce.” [3.]
Like all the other residents Al-Bahy is interested in Zohra. When Al-Beheiry betrays Zohra for Aleya, the schoolteacher, Al-Bahy overidentifies. ‘“That’s none of your business,” Sarhan was shouting. “I’ll marry as I like. I’ll marry Aleya….” I spat in his face. “There,” I shouted. “I spit on you and the likes of you. Traitors!”’ [3.]
Mrs Fawzi comes unexpectedly to visit Al-Bahy in Alexandria. ‘A woman was sitting near my desk. It was Doreya…. “I got a message from Fawzi…. He’s freed me to do what I like with my future.”’ [3.]
He betrays her. “Doreya. This kind offer of his. Don’t accept it.” [3.]
Mrs Fawzi perceives there is something seriously wrong. ‘“I’m beginning to think you’re mentally deranged.”’ [3.]
Al-Bahy’s response is glib. ‘“Never get too close to a man who hates himself.”’ [3.]
Mrs Fawzi is crushed. ‘Her staring eyes reflected her inner collapse…. it was clear to me that this broken creature I watched disappearing into oblivion was my first and probably my last and only love.’ [3.]
In his over-identification with Zohra Al-Bahy sees himself as the one who has been betrayed. ‘Here was Zohra, robbed of both honour and pride. Yes, I was looking into a mirror.’ [3.]
Al-Bahy decides to murder Al-Beheiry. ‘“I have no life if I don’t kill you.”’ [3.]
In Al-Bahy’s lack of any real motive, this is reminiscent of the acte gratuit that is referred to in Adrift on the Nile. ‘One might find a killer without a motive in a novel such as L’Etranger, but in real life?’ [Adrift on the Nile, 7.]
The psychology is very similar to that of Said Mahran in The Thief and the Dogs. ‘But unless I settle my account with [his wife and his former associate], life will have no taste, because I shall not forget the past.’ [The Thief and the Dogs, 4]
Al-Bahy follows Al-Beheiry. He forgets to take the weapon he intended to use. ‘Had I forgotten to take the scissors…? I kicked him in the ribs, once, twice, brutally, then I was kicking him like a lunatic….’ [Miramar, 3.]
The next morning, unprompted, Al-Bahy confesses. “I killed Sarhan al-Beheiry,” said Mansour…. “I’m going to the police myself.” [5.]
Mariana and Amer Wagdi agree, more or less, with Mrs Fawzi. ‘“He’s mad,” said Mariana, panic-stricken. “No, he’s sick,” I said.’ [5.]
Al-Beheiry is more of a conventional womaniser than Al-Bahy. He only ever leaves one woman for another.
Al-Beheiry is fed up with the woman he is living with. ‘“We’ve been living together for over a year,” Safeya said in her nagging fashion.’ [4.]
He spots Zohra. ‘She walked on in quick straight steps and when she turned in at the Miramar building she looked back quickly: honey-brown eyes, exquisite but rigidly noncommittal.’ [4.]
He makes enquiries about Zohra from the newspaper seller. ‘“She works at the Pension Miramar,” he said indifferently.’ [4.]
Unlike the other tenants, Al-Beheiry moves into the pension Miramar specifically because of Zohra. ‘”I’d like a room for a long stay.”’ [4.]
He makes excuses to his girlfriend. ‘“We’ll have to change our way of life…. I may even have to live in some dirty little hotel or noisy pension….” We’re though, I thought.’ [4.]
Zohra falls in love with Al-Beheiry. She is however quite rightly suspicious of him. ‘“I don’t trust you…. I love you… but you don’t really love me…. You look down on me, just the way they all do.”’ [4.]
Zohra is very aware of inequality. “Do you consider me your equal as a human being?” [4.]
Al-Beheiry’s discarded girlfriend is offended by Zohra’s social status. Since Safeya is a part-time prostitute, this is perhaps ironic. ‘Safeya stepped back and looked at Zohra in surprise…. “A servant. How dare you…?”’ [4.]
Zohra gives as good as she got. ‘Zohra slapped her across the mouth. Safeya hit back, but the girl was too strong for her…. Everybody was awake, doors were opened…..’ [4.]
Al-Beheiry makes difficulties about marrying Zohra. “… marriage would cause difficulties for me, with my family and at work too.” [4.]
For Al-Beheiry, marriage is about social advancement. ‘What’s the good of going into [marriage] if it doesn’t give me a push up the social ladder?’ [4.]
Al-Beheiry thinks that in his willingness to live with Zohra without being married he is being generous. ‘She’s really mulish. It hasn’t been as easy as I expected…. If she consents to live with me, I’m ready to give up the prospect of marriage, including my plans for advancement through a suitable match.’ [4.]
Al-Beheiry notices that Zohra’s teacher has the qualities that Zohra lacks. ‘[The teacher] is quite good-looking; she is also smartly dressed, a career girl…. If only Zohra could have found herself in the other girl’s world, with all its potentialities.’ [4.]
He pursues her. ‘I say hello and invite her for a cup of tea.… we meet at the café at the Amir cinema, then go in together to see the film…. I realise she’s looking of a husband and I weigh it all up cold-bloodedly….’ [4.]
Zohra discovers Al-Beheiry’s deception. She is outraged. ‘“I saw the two of you with my own eyes…. The teacher…. That whore, that man-hunter…. Why does God make sneaks like you…?” She spits in my face…. She spits at me again…. She leaps at me, slapping my face with unbelievable strength.’ [4.]
Zohra confronts Aleya’s family. They too are outraged. In their case it is very much about social status. ‘“Imagine a housemaid taking us to task like that!”’ [4.]
The plot in which Al-Beheiry is involved unravels. ‘“Listen, Sarhan, it’s gone badly wrong…. The driver wanted the whole lot for himself. They got him and he’s going to give everything away.”’ [4.]
In short order Al-Beheiry has lost the woman he was supposed to marry, the woman he left her for, his chance of wealth and – very probably – his freedom. He opts for suicide. ‘“A razor, please.”’ [4.]
It is suicide that is the cause of death, not a kicking. ‘The post mortem report showed the cause of death to be a razor cut across the arteries of the left wrist, not a beating with a shoe, as the alleged murder had claimed…. when the connection between the victim and the incident of the truckload of stolen yarn came out, the hypothesis of suicide was confirmed.’ [4.]
Al-Bahy’s attack on Al-Beheiry was completely futile. His confession was pointless. ‘“[Mansour] is an excellent young man…. but he suffers from some secret malady of which he must be cured.”’ [4.]
Amer Wagdi has religion. He quotes Sura 24. Sura 24 includes among other matters the punishment for adultery. It is also known as Sura An-Nur because of the reference to light. ‘”Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth.”’ [4.]
Zohra has her ambitions for mobility. ‘”When I learn to read and write,” [Zohra] said thoughtfully, “I’ll try to learn some profession. Like dressmaking perhaps.”’ [1.]
No-one else has anything very much. The nihilism of the Egyptian intelligentsia, in Miramar as well as in Adrift on the Nile, is destructive and self-destructive.
That is a working definition of evil.
Goldschmidt, Arthur Jr., Modern Egypt: the Formation of a Nation State
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