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Muhammed Mustajab

Born in 1938 in the municipality of Dayrut in the impoverished southern Egyptian governorate of Assiut, Muhammed Mustajab completed high school and became a laborer, working on the construction of the Aswan High Dam in the 1960s. A chance encounter there with the Minister of Culture led to a decision to move to Cairo to study at the Institute for Fine Arts, but he dropped out and traveled to Iraq, where he worked for a few months before returning to join the Arabic Language Academy. A largely self-educated man, Mustajab became one of Egypt’s most celebrated short-story writers and novelists, and his satirical commentaries and columns were a mainstay of a number of national and regional newspapers. His unique and hugely influential style, which juxtaposed the ironic deployment of recondite classical Arabic and storytelling techniques with subversive, shocking, even obscene vignettes of contemporary Egyptian life, was the vehicle for scathing satire against almost all aspects of society. Populated by a changing cast of murderous, insecure, idle, morally bankrupt antiheroes, his stories deftly and mercilessly anatomize class, gender, and honor, parodying the discourses of power and officialdom of all stripes with an exquisite ear for register and tone. He died in 2005.

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