Novelist Abd al-Rahman Munif Mourned

Al Jadid Staff

Arab intellectuals are mourning the loss of Abd al-Rahman Munif, one of the greatest and most controversial Arab novelists, who died of a heart attack on January 24 in Syria. He was 71.

Born in Amman, Jordan, to a Saudi father and an Iraqi mother, Munif completed his secondary school education in Jordan. After studying law in Baghdad, he continued his studies in Cairo, ultimately earning a Ph.D. in petroleum economics at the University of Belgrade. During his oil industry career he served as an oil economist in Baghdad, and for OPEC.

In 1975 he traveled to Baghdad, where he edited a monthly periodical, Al-Naft wa al-Tanmiyya (Oil and Development). In 1981 he moved to France, and five years later to Damascus, Syria, where he and his wife took up residence.

From 1981 Munif devoted himself entirely to writing. He became one of the most prominent Arab novelists to have used modernist narrative techniques

His most famous work includes the quintet "Cities of Salt" (Mudun al-milh), which gives a portrait of traditional Bedouin society, starting with the establishment of the Middle Eastern sultanate of Mooran, the thinly veiled Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The late Edward Said described it as "the only serious work of fiction that tries to show the effect of oil, Americans and the local oligarchy on a Gulf country." The work was banned in Saudi Arabia, and Munif's Saudi passport was withdrawn.

His other famous novels include "The Assassination of Marzuq," “The Endings,” and "World Without Maps," which he co-wrote with the late Jabra Ibrahim Jabra.

Among the many awards he received was the 1998 Cairo Award for Creative Narration.

One of his articles was translated from the Arabic into English by Al Jadid’s editor, Elie Chalala. In the article which appeared in 1999 in Al Jadid, Munif remembers a noted Syrian artist, Fateh al-Moudaress, with whom he shared a commitment to progress, a sympathy for the oppressed, and an unshaken belief in social equality. 

Compiled and edited by Al Jadid Staff.