Idris Ali, one of Egypt’s leading Nubian writers, passed away last month at the age of 70, following a heart attack.
Self-taught in literature, Ali attended the Religious Institute of al-Azhar and lived in Libya and Cairo.
He was the author of three short story collections and six novels, including Dongola (AUC Press, 2006) and Poor (AUC Press, 2007), that address life in Nubia, where characters struggle with the challenges of poverty, marginalization, emotional starvation, and squandered opportunities.
Idris fought for the rights of Nubians to better living conditions and compensation for the land taken from them when the High Dam was built in the 1970s.
In a book review of Ali’s novel Poor, Al Ahram Weekly said “[Poor] is never less than intelligent, and many of its sections, especially the flashbacks to the narrator's childhood in Nubia, make for very interesting reading."
Ali's latest work, The Leader Having a Haircut, caused controversy and was eventually confiscated by Egyptian security and banned from the 2010 Cairo International Book Fair. The short novella describes Egyptian workers in Libya, driven away from their homes to work under inhumane conditions. “They accused him of insulting [Libyan leader] Ghaddafi and said his book contained immoral phrases,” said Gamal Eid, director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, at the time of the ban.
In the recent obituary of Idris Ali in Al Ahram Weekly, Mary Mourad noted: “Although he loved writing and considered it his life's task, he worked as an employee in a construction company that paid him barely enough to make a living, and their sole appreciation for his talent was to offer him a small raise when he received the award of the Best Egyptian Novel in 1999 and shook hands with President Mubarak. His minor pension was never enough and his constant suicide attempts reflected his low moods, especially after the loss of his son.”
From the mid-1880s to the end of the 1930s, boarding a Nile steamer at Cairo for a three-week voyage up to Aswan and back was just about the most glamorous, exciting, and luxurious vacation in the world.