CAIRO: Novelist Youssef Abou Rayya, 53, died on Monday after a long battle with liver cancer.
The winner of the American University in Cairo’s 2005 Naguib Mahfouz Medal, Abou Rayya authored a collection of short stories and novels, some of which were translated into English and German.
Writers, novelists and critics have mourned the passing of Abou Rayya, who many described as a friend who didn’t shy away from defending writers’ freedom of expression.
His most notable efforts include spearheading a campaign to defend Syrian novelist Haidar Haidar when Al-Azhar accused the latter of heresy following the reprint of his controversial “Walimah li A’ashab Al-Bahr (Seaweed Banquet).
Egyptian novelist Ezzat El Kamhawy said Abou Rayya devoted his life to writing. “He had no materialistic ambitions, El Kamhawy said, explaining that only with this type of authentic devotion can Egyptian literature develop.
“This is a personal loss. Youssef was a dear friend and always lent me books that I never returned, which will always be on my shelf, said Somaya Ramadan, a short story writer, translator and literary critic.
Abou Rayya, born in 1955 in the Nile Delta village of Hihya, studied journalism at Cairo University. After graduating in 1977 and a short stint in journalism, Abou Rayya moved to creative writing. His first collection of short stories “Al Duha Al-‘Ali (High Forenoon) was published in 1985 and his first novel “Atash El Sabbar (Cactus Thirst) was published in 1989.
His novels include “Lailat ‘Ors (Wedding Night), for which he won the Naguib Mahfouz Medal, and “El Gezira El Bayda (The White Island). His collections of short stories include “‘Aks El Reeh (Against the Wind) and “Talal El Nar (Fire Drizzle). He also wrote a number of children s books including “Moghamarat Marco Polo (The Adventures of Marco Polo).
Abou Rayya fought a grueling battle with liver cancer; but according to friends, he kept his illness a secret until doctors told him he needs a transplant. “He had a unique sense of pride, said El Kamhawy commenting on his discretion.
Throughout the few months that preceded his death, writers and literary critics called on the government to fund his treatment. They specifically asked the Ministry of Finance to release part of a LE 20 million UAE fund, donated to the Egyptian Writers’ Union for such cases, to contribute to Abou Rayya’s treatment.
According to Al-Badeel, newspaper in an article titled “He did not die, he was murdered. the reporter criticized the Ministry of Finance for withholding the money that was donated by the ruler of UAE’s Al-Sharjah Emirate.