A book review: Children of our Alley, Najeb Mahfouz and the Egyptian Uprising



Children from our Alley is a novel by the noble prize winning author Najib Mahfouz. Its one of Mahfouz’s most famous novels that triggered a wide spread controversy across the Arab world and its the novel that nearly got Mahfouz killed by The Muslim Brotherhood.

Novels Details:

  • Author: Najib Mahfouz.
  • Publishing date: 1981
  • Original Language: Arabic.
  • Genre: Fiction.
  • Characters and there symbols:

Jablawi: God.

Qendil: Gabriel

Adham: Adam

Idris: Satan

Qadri and Hamam: Cain and Abel

Jabal: Moses

Refaa’: Jesus

Qasim: Mohammad

Briefly about the novel:

Children of our Alley is a realistic symbolic novel, the events revolve in one of Cairo’s alleys. The novel starts with the greatest and most powerful character Jablwai and his children, more specifically the birth of his son Adham. Jablawi preferred his son Adham on the expense of the others; that led to the rebellion of his other son Idris and  his expulsion from Jablawi’s paradise. 

Moreover, Idris succeeds in seducing his brother Adham and the journey of Human and Satan begins as been narrated by the divine books. Qadri and Hamam (Cain and Abel) sons of Adham fight, one of them kills the other and there’s the emergance of his three other sons Jabal, Refaa’ and Qasim (Moses, Jesus and Mohamad).

Feedback on the novel: 

The novel had its share of rejection and banning by Muslim and Arab countries because of Najib Mahfouz courage to write a novel influenced by the divine books :Quran. Bible and the Old testament. Moreover, critics were furious by Mahfouz’s symbols and his representation of God and messengers in a rebellious interpretation.

Children of our Alley and the Arab Spring:

The entire novel revolves around the initial action by Jablawi to kick Adham out of the big house and then his subsequent withdrawal from the scene to this house that can be seen in the distance but is generally unobtainable to the characters of the novel. The three characters of Adham, Jabal, and Qassem all try to deal with the poverty and oppression of the Alley in the context of this key separation between the patriarch and his subjects. All three fail and are succeeded by the science of Arafa. Arafa refuses to work within the framework of Jablawi and eventually destroys him. It seems as if he has removed the oppressor from the story but Arafa too fails to achieve peace and prosperity for the Alley.

This metanarrative of the novel has a strong resonance today after we have witnessed the Egyptian uprising of 2011 and the ousting of former president Mubarak( which resembels the “omnipotent” Jablawi) from power. Mubarak, too, was believed to be untouchable. His nearly forty year reign in Egypt was one of complete control and patriarchal power. In 2011, protesters sought to change the framework in which Egyptians dealt with government and society. Mubarak left and a vacuum of power was left in Egypt. Najuib Mahfouz can be considered quite prophetic if we take Chlidren of our Alley as a larger story of humankind. He outlined in the
novel the various ways that the oppressed have sought to become free. One of these ways is to oust the patriarchal power, Jablawi, in favor of the modern solution of science. Just as Egyptians in 2011 sought to remove Mubarak in favor of the modern solution of democracy. However, just as the Alley in  fell into chaos after the death of Jablawi, Egypt has struggled with the transition to democracy.
Many oppressive and undemocratic parts are existing in the wake of the revolution. Najuib Mahfouz can therefore be considered very prophetic in regards to the Arab Awakening. He injects in the novel, however, a degree of optimism that can sometimes be lacking in today’s discourse of postrevolution societies. In his final paragraph, Mahfouz includes a generalization about the nature of the world, “Injustice must have an end, and the night must have light”.


Although Najuib Mahfouz sets up the novel as an allegory for religious history, he is much more interested  in human  behavior. Jablbawi is originally described to mirror the God of the Quran. His words, proximity to other characters, and actions set him up as the symbol of God. However, as the novel progresses, the reader sees more of Jablawi’s indifference, isolation, and unholy characteristics.
Finally, in the last story, people of the Alley question him outright and he eventually dies. I believe that Mahfouz is more interested in Jabblawi as a patriarchal absolute power rather than as a deity. In this way, the novel has an interesting connection to the 2011 Egyptian uprising in that it almost predicts it. It predicts not only the uprising against patriarchal power but also the vacuum that is left behind afterwards. Mahfouz seems to say that there are many types of oppression in the history of human
experience. The three Abrahamic religions are attempts to achieve freedom within the framework of religious history especially the original separation from God. Modernity attempts to work outside of the framework but includes its own set of oppressors and deities.

Yara x,






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4 responses to “A book review: Children of our Alley, Najeb Mahfouz and the Egyptian Uprising

  1. mlynxqualey


    Nicely done! An excellent job bringing in recent events and extending how this classic novel would reflect on them. I would love more details about how the alley “fell into chaos” (what sorts of chaos) and examining them against the Egypt of today. V. good job in the conclusion examining religious frameworks vs. modernity; would love to hear more about that, too.

  2. Yara, OMG I always wanted to read this book, I love love love it, nageeb mahfooz ra2e3 w bgnn… you always remind us of what we forget. Thanks Yara

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