Naguib Mahfouz’s White Linen Suit

An Egyptian Nobel laureate, his pristine ensemble, and his obsequious entourage


| May-June 2009


I was in Cairo, trying desperately to interview the aging pop star Ahmed Adaweya, whose penis, depending on whom you talk to, was or was not cut off by Saudi royalty. It was a uniquely American endeavor, mocked a friend of mine: Invade the region with superior firepower, help topple a statue of Saddam Hussein, and then come in on a tourist visa to find a castrated singer.

“Next thing, you’ll probably want to steal this guy’s wife,” my friend said, way too loudly, waving in the direction of a Sa’idi in the corner of the coffee shop where we sat. “You’re like Genghis, but with loafers. You can just throw dollars at them. Or Michael Jackson records.” I looked nervously over my shoulder at the Sa’idi. Thankfully, he seemed oblivious to my home-wrecker plan, his eyes glued to the flickering television set. 50 Cent had his shirt off. His abs were glistening; they seemed almost extraterrestrial in their beauty. No one in the coffee shop was immune to their strange and terrifying allure.

“This is not the story of 50 Cent as object of the Sa’idi gaze,” said my friend, touching my leg just above the knee. “This is the story of what you choose to see when you come to Egypt. All you see is castration.”

“Isn’t it better than being really into Umm Kulthum’s glasses?” I asked. “Or Nasser’s Hawaiian shirts? Or Souad Hosni’s white dress?” The Egyptian singer Ruby started dancing on the television. “Or Ruby’s flared nostrils?”

“Her nostrils are beautiful,” said the coffee-shop owner. He finished adjusting the coals on our sheesha and blew his nose on the hem of his shirt. “I could write a ghazal about her nostrils.”

“We’re talking about Ahmed Adaweya’s penis,” announced my friend.






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