Still, I understand why his hero Mahfouz unnerves him. Mahfouz is an example of a liberal intellectual who spoke his mind and paid for it over many years. Why pursue that sort of life if—in spite of the avid readership and the interested fans—the result is only alienation from one's society? A sensibility as expansive as that—as large as Mahfouz's—can have no rest in Egypt. Nonetheless, Mahfouz loved his country so much he left it only twice; someone else went to Stockholm to accept his Nobel Prize. What Egyptian cultural life will look like after his death is a question that not even he could have answered.
But at the end of the evening, Muhammad made his way through the small throng of admirers and leaned down to tell the old man what his work had meant to him. "Again please," Mahfouz said. So Muhammad had to say it again, loud enough that everyone in the room turned to look.