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He was born in the district of Gamaliya and he studied philosophy at the University of Cairo. Mahfouz remained a bachelor until the age of 43. In 1954, he married an Egyptian woman, with whom he had two daughters.
As a consequence of his outspoken support for Sadat's Camp David peace treaty with Israel in 1978, his books were banned in many Arab countries until after he won the Nobel prize. Mahfouz was on an Islamic fundamentalist "death list". He defended Salman Rushdie after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini condemned Rushdie to death in 1989, but also criticized his Satanic Verses as "insulting" to Islam.
Naguib Mahfouz wrote thirty-four novels, over 350 short stories, dozens of movie scripts and five plays over a 70-year career. Mahfouz's stories, written in the florid classical Arabic, are almost always set in the heavily populated urban quarters of Cairo, where his characters, mostly ordinary people, try to cope with the modernization of society and the temptations of Western values.
In his honor, a coffee shop in the Cairo bazaar, Khan al-Khalili, bears his name and has a portrait of the author in the main room.