Analisys of the influences the “Infitah” had in the Egyptian people through the novel “The Day the Leader was Killed” by Naguib Mahfouz

Analisys of the influences the “Infitah” had in the Egyptian people through the...

Framingham State College

Framingham, Ma

Analyses of the influences the “Infitah” had in the

Egyptian people through the novel

The Day the Leader was Killed” by Naguib Mahfouz

Giovanni Nanni


History and Literature – A World View - 84.955

Dr. Abby Wolf (

Dr. John Mackey (

April 2003

There are many kinds of point of view. Each individual will perceive the surroundings in his or her own way according to the beliefs that created the judgment standards that each one uses to measure and assess the events that one is faced with. This is not different in a novel. The characters discuss, reflect, and act upon the facts and events that are happening around them. These events will have different impacts in the lives of each individual as well as in the story of each character. How different are the actions, feelings and perceptions of an individual when facing a life-changing event? Do the environment and political settings influence differently each character regarding their actions? How different each character position itself based in the life experience and philosophical or religious beliefs? It is possible to find some answers for these questions in the novel written by Naguib Mahfouz entitled The Day the Leader was Killed.

In this novel Mahfouz deals with the personal perceptions as well as the personal decisions that each character had to take motivated by the impact the changes in Egypt’s political and economical scenario had in their personal stories. Because he is not bound by the rules of an historical account, Mahfouz can and does explore the feelings and sentiments the characters have in facing the surrounding events. In his novel he uses the real story of Anwar al-Sadat, the Egyptian president that introduced the nation the economical and political policies that opened the internal market to the global economy. While using this real scenario as backdrop for his story, Mahfouz explores the perceptions and reactions each different character, representing three different social classes, had. The novel explores the lives of these characters while coping and dealing with all the events around them and the changes promoted by these events. Mahfouz’s story reaches its apex with the assassination of the president, which creates an even broader commotion and uncertainty.

The new governmental policies were called Infitah, which literally means “open door”. These policies affected the lives of the Egyptian individuals in a great and deep extent. Every inhabitant of the republic had to adequate to the new times. These times were not full of prosperity and a few elite in detriment of the commoner was amassing most of the wealth. Each and everyone in the country were fighting to maintain their living status. However, the constant increase in prices and living costs were changing the traditions and customs that the people had. In midst of these uncertain times, the author explores the lives of three characters. Each character was facing the problems and difficulties on their own way. Each one had to make life-altering decisions to adapt to the nation’s political and economical situation. Each one felt, perceived and acted in a different but somewhat similar way. Those similarities permitted them to be connected throughout the course of their stories as well as stay connected even when they went their separate ways. These characters reflected the sentiment of the common people in facing the changes in their nation and lives. Through the eyes of the characters one can see how deep the struggles to cope with the historical changes were while trying to maintain the traditions and keep their promises. These struggles are seen in the story of these three main characters. The different ways that each character perceived their surroundings and the ways they coped with the political and economical environments determined the course of their actions in the story.

The first character is Muhtashimi Zayed. This character stands for an older and wiser generation; a generation that saw different political and economical scenarios. His remarks embedded in religious dogmas and teachings shows how important the religion was for the people, especially his generation. In the first page of the novel, he uses many times the expression “Lord” to comment about his everyday life showing his appreciation and dependency of the religious beliefs, which steer his life and determine his conduct. His perceptions are filtered by these beliefs. The events in the economical and political scenario are seen by him as God permitted. Even though he is interested in the Infitah, he understands that his time has passed and he is heading to the human common fate, the final dwelling, which is the grave. Muhtashimi recognizes it by quoting the muslin Prophet that says “Ye slave of God, be in this world as a stranger or passerby and reckon yourself among the dead.” (Mahfouz 8). Because he sees his life moving to an end, his preoccupation are more focused to his family than in the impacts that the Infitah brought upon himself. Muhtashimi’s attitude towards the surroundings events is calm, with resignation and resiliency. He does not fight or try to blame anyone. Due to his profound religious conduct, he is prone to accept the way things are. His time and worries are directed not to himself, but to his family in especial his grandson Elwan. He suffers for his family and tries not to be a burden. However, he can’t help much in his advanced age and he resigns himself to his role as pacemaker, advice giver and home-helper. His reactions express an extreme sense of unselfishness and love.

The second character in the novel is Elwan Fawwaz Muhtashimi. He is Muhtashimi’s grandson. Elwan belongs to the young and driven generation, a generation that discusses politics and their environment. His generation does not accept its fate as if God determined it in a manner that his grandfather’s does. He has many individual struggles. The political and economical scenario troubles him very much. He is not fond of the new policies and think that the actual president does not represents well Egypt. Elwan thinks that the president is not a real leader and compares the actual with the former, which was a very charismatic and popular figure. His generation was put to a very harsh reality when the Infitah policies replaced the Nasserism (which were the former economical policies in place. In this period the government, in a socialistic manner, took over almost all the propriety and managed almost all the trade and economical matters of the country in order to keep it regulated and preventing manipulation (Kalpakian, 1996)). In some remarks he says that his engagement was announced “on a happy day. In those days, a dream could still come true.” (Mahfouz 12). He is clearly talking about the former economical model where employment and most of business were regulated by the government. Although Elwan is really engaged in the political matters, religion is not a cornerstone in his mind as was to his grandfather. For him, one’s fate is in one’s hand. He believes in the religion that he was raised in, but it does not have much influence in his decisions. For Elwan, God is a figure that is not present and available to help him in his present conditions. In his present stage of life, the economical hardships imposed by the Infitah are preventing him to move forward and keep his promise of marrying his sweetheart Randa. Elwan is not capable to accept the living condition that he is in. Infitah for him and his family did not bring any kind of improvement of comfort. In fact it did the opposite. It was necessary that his father and mother worked long hours to keep a very limited and simple life. It was very hard for him to see himself and his family in such conditions while others were growing rich by the minute. These contradictory pictures were fuel for Elwan’s resentment toward his surroundings and social condition. Instead of giving him conditions to improve, the Infitah was taking away from him what he cherished the most and this was an incredible burden to be carried in a society where the engagement was a public promise and a moral commitment taken deeply serious. This burden was impeding him to have an attitude of hope regarding his future, which was deteriorating his relationship and plans. Due to all these social and psychological conditions, Elwan’s reactions were, presumably, anger towards the system, resentment and despair towards his condition, frustration and disbelief regarding the future ahead of him. Even though Elwan had such struggles and uncertain future, his actions were moral. He loved his family and his bride-to-be and all his decisions were weighted and taken while assessing how they were going to impact them.

Randa Sulayman Mubarak is the last main character. She is quite a different character. In her remarks it is possible to see a different kind of social class. The class that is impotent to change its fate however does not accept it. She has an attitude of a strong willed woman that has to consent and follow the ancient traditions at the same time that not accepting them fights for her happiness. Randa is politically aware of the surroundings however this is not her main focus. As a loving fiancé and daughter living in a Muslin nation, she respects her family but is willing to go against them in order to transform her plans and dreams in reality. Even though she lives in a religious country, her religious conduct is weak and sometimes pragmatic. She accepts the teachings by custom not by belief. Religion is not a guide and column of conduct for her. She is moral and respectful not because religion however, because she is committed to her family and fiancé. Randa is living in a country that a woman has to marry and not doing so could be considered a disgrace. Unfortunately for her, the Infitah did not help. As a matter of fact it created extra burden and problems. Her family is pressuring her to get married, however she cannot due to the incapacity of her bride-to-be amass enough money. The economical scenario does not allow them to go forward with their plans. The Infitah brought prosperity for some and they are not among them. This lack of financial stability is really hard for her to cope with. She is engaged and cannot and does not want to terminate it. However, both of them cannot make enough money to support their own home. In her stage of life, 26 years old, she is going to nowhere. Even though she knows that will be harder to get married if the engagement ends, the love she feels for her fiancé is bigger and keeps her with him. Randa’s attitude facing these many difficulties is of a woman that is strong and centered. Her personality is full of inner strength and will to overcome the obstacles. At the same time she has an infinite understanding and comprehension for her situation. This does not mean that she accepts it. However, she is living the life that she has while working and struggling to improve it. In the same way her reactions are quite different from the other two characters. Muhtashimi accepts his reality as God’s given and does not resent it even though he sees the suffering in his grandson’s life. Elwan, the grandson, does not accept his reality and reacts angrily about his life while loosing his hope. Randa however, even though she is not satisfied with her situation she continues to be strong and understands that with patience and hard work, eventually her plans will become true.

Although the environment that involves the three characters is fragile, at the same time it has strength in their diversity. Each character brings to this equation qualities that make their little circle strong. The political and economical scenario is not helping them. The burdens of a life full of struggles and frustrations are taking its toll upon them. The heavy weight carried by them regarding the necessity to keep their promises and follow the traditions at the same time that they are prevented to do so by their economical conditions generate extra anxiety and frustration. Unfortunately for them there is no easy way out. There is no bright future or much hope ahead of them.

This sentiment well expressed in the novel was a reflection of the general conditions that the citizens of Egypt were going through. From kingdom, to an open economy, passing by a quasi-socialistic state, the drastic changes in the nation’s political scenario brought to its people more problems than solutions. Although the idea of an open market is and was good, the way it was implemented affected the lives of the commoner for the worse not the better. Mahfouz richly expresses these sentiments in his novel. He had the liberty to explore the feelings while discussing the effects of the Infitah. Because he is a novel writer not an historian, Mahfouz was able to write about the events and the social conditions without being constrained by the genre. This possibility gave him the latitude to present the reality through the people’s eyes. It is possible to read about the Infitah in the books and factually understand what the policies were. However, only in a literally work full of sentiments, discussions, and struggles it is really possible to encompass the magnitude of the effects these policies had upon the people. These influences changed the way most of them perceived their country. These perceptions clarified in the Mahfouz’s novel expose how deeply the moral values were rooted. Even in the adversity the links that maintain individuals together are stronger than the burdens any event can bring. In Muhtashimi‘s words “God protect us!” (Mahfouz 92).


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Mahfouz, Naguib. The Day the Leader was Killed. New York: Anchor, 2000.