Key events that shaped our social, political and cultural history
By Arfa Shahid
October 13, 1988: Naguib Mahfouz Awarded Nobel Prize for Literature
In 1988, Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfouz became the first Arab writer to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. Shortly after winning the award, Mahfouz was quoted as saying: “The Arab world also won the Nobel with me. I believe that international doors have opened, and that from now on, literate people will consider Arab literature also. We deserve that recognition.” Mahfouz was a controversial figure in the Arab World, both for being outspoken in his political views and for exploring a variety of bold themes in his work that were considered taboo in Egyptian society, such as homosexuality. As a consequence of his support for President Sadat’s Camp David peace treaty with Israel, his books were banned in many Arab countries. Furthermore, Mahfouz spoke in defense of Salman Rushdie, who published the notorious novel The Satanic Verses, after Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini passed a fatwa to kill Rushdie. Although Mahfouz called Rushdie’s work “insulting” to Islam, he remained a staunch supporter of freedom of speech and said that “no blasphemy harms Islam and Muslims so much as the call for murdering a writer.”
October 15, 1970: Anwar Sadat Appointed President of Egypt
Following the death of Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar Sadat became president. Sadat first met Nasser while he was serving in the military and posted to Sudan. The two, along with a group of junior officers, found the Free Officers movement that overthrew King Farouk in the July 1952 Revolution. Egyptians saw Sadat as little more than a puppet of Nasser, and believed he would fail soon after his presidency. However, Sadat surprised everyone with a series of astute political moves. He demanded that the Israelis withdraw from the Sinai Peninsula as well as the Golan Heights, which Israel fully occupied in the Yom Kippur War between an Egyptian-Syrian coalition and Israel. A few years after the war, he proposed a peace process to Israel and through a series of diplomatic negotiations, reached an initial agreement in the form of the Camp David Accords. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1978 for his efforts, and a finalized peace treaty was reached between Egypt and Israel in March 1979. However, this treaty contributed to Sadat’s downfall. A declining Egyptian economy coupled with a severe crackdown on dissent as well as a new animosity towards him given the peace treaty with Israel ultimately led to his assassination on October 6, 1981 during a military parade in Cairo.
October 17, 1961: Algerians Massacred in Paris
The Paris massacre occurred during the Algerian Independence War, under orders from the head of the Parisian Police, Maurice Papon. French National Police attacked a demonstration of some 30,000 pro-National Liberation Front (FLN) Algerians. Two months prior, the FLN had stepped up its campaign against both pro-France Algerians and the pro-independence Algerian National Movement in France, and increased bombings in Paris. Papon ordered his officers to crackdown on the Algerian community in Paris, and guaranteed that they would be protected against any charges of excessive violence. Police searched Arab ghettos for terrorists and killed a number of innocent Algerians, before attacking the demonstration. After denying the massacre for 37 years, the French government acknowledged 40 deaths, although the real number of fatalities was estimated to be between 100 to 300. Witnesses say bodies were littered at the site of the incident and some were floating in the Siene River. Papon was sentenced in 1998 to 10 years in prison for “complicity in crimes against humanity.”