Midaq Alley

Midaq Alley Summary and Analysis of Chapters 11-17


Chapter 11

Mrs. Kirsha, still furious after her fight with Kirsha, consults Radwan Hussainy. Everyone goes to him for help, because of his piety and kindness. Mrs. Hussainy tells her that her husband is deep in prayer, and then fetches him for Mrs. Kirsha.

Mrs. Kirsha summarizes her recent spat to Radwan Hussainy, who is well aware of Kirsha's vices, just like most of Midaq Alley is. Though he does not want to get involved in this depraved affair, Radwan Hussainy advises Mrs. Kirsha to keep her faith in God, and promises to handle her problem.

Radwan Hussainy sends for Kirsha, and then advises him to quit the relationship with the young salesman. Kirsha remains respectful because of Hussainy's reputation, but he is enraged at how everyone concerns themselves with his business, and claims that others are simply jealous. He also claims that he is helping the young salesman out of pity for the boy's poverty, and not from insidious desire. Radwan Hussainy counters with a word of warning: Kirsha will lose everything if he continues to engage in filth, for "wickedness prevents [one] from finding salvation." (97). Finally, Kirsha tires of the lecture, and leaves.

Chapter 12

Kirsha does not return home for two nights. One night, Mrs. Kirsha sees him leave the café with the young salesman, and wonders whether he has heeded Radwan Hussainy's advice at all.

A few night later, she bursts into the crowded café and confronts the young salesman, insulting him in front of the crowd. Kirsha tries to intercede, but she shoves him away before physically assaulting the young boy. Radwan Hussainy eventually disperses the tension, and Mrs. Kirsha returns to her apartment. Kirsha is furious over the spectacle. He blames himself for not having disciplined his wife more effectively, especially considering how his criminal past has qualified him to do so.

Chapter 13

The engagement between Abbas and Hamida has been recognized as official, even though she remains ambivalent about him. Uncle Kamil accompanies Abbas to ask Umm Hamida for the girl's hand in marriage. Umm Hamida approves of the union, and is frankly surprised by Hamida's acquiescence. They recite the Qur'an together to sanctify the engagement.

Abbas prepares to leave for his 1-2 year stint in the army, which makes Hamida sympathetic. She realizes that she actually feels sad over his impending absence, and when they say goodbye in the stairwell of Mrs. Saniya Afify's house, she allows him to kiss her.

The night before he leaves, Abbas stops by Kirsha's café to bid farewell to his friends and neighbors. Uncle Kamil is particularly sad over Abbas's departure. The next morning, Abbas leaves with a heavy heart. On top of the pain of leaving his friends, he has put his beloved barber shop up for sale.

Chapter 14

Hussain Kirsha, meanwhile, is stuck in Midaq Alley, jealous that Abbas has gotten away. He feels nothing but contempt for the alley and its inhabitants, and tells his mother so. Though accustomed to his rudeness, Mrs. Kirsha argues vehemently with him nonetheless.

Hussain is tired of his father's bad reputation, and wants to leave home. Mrs. Kirsha panics at the prospect of losing her son, and she seeks out Kirsha to confront him. Kirsha is annoyed by the drama, and blames his wife even as he hurries home with her. Despite his father's interference, Hussain remains firm in his ambition, claiming he wants to be a 'gentleman' like his friends, who live in modern homes with electricity. Kirsha finally slaps his son across the face, after which Hussain grabs his possessions and promptly leaves the apartment.

Chapter 15

It has been some time since Mrs. Saniya Afify hired Umm Hamida to broker a marriage, and so the landlady is anxious when her tenant one day stops by. Umm Hamida first informs Mrs. Afify about Hamida's engagement, which dismays the older lady.

Finally, Umm Hamida announces that she has also found a man for Mrs. Saniya Afify. Ahmad Effendi Talbat is a 30 year-old civil servant who works in the police department, and comes from a good family. Though he is interested in the marriage, he has asked to first see a photograph of Mrs. Afify, and he also expects Mrs. Afify to pay the dowry herself. Though it irks her stingy instinct, this demand is not exactly a surprise to Mrs. Afify. She finds a photograph taken of her long before, and offers this to Umm Hamida.

After letting the news sink in, Mrs Afify decides to go hear her her horoscope read.

Chapter 16

One night, Zaita meets with a tall, distinguished man who claims that he is an unsuccessful beggar. Zaita decides that instead of trying to cripple this fellow, he will teach him how to appear like a nobleman fallen on hard times. Zaita believes this strikes a person's pity more effectively than a physical handicap, claiming that "dignity is the most precious deformity" (127).

After the meeting, Zaita sees Husniya alone in the bakery, and he tries to chat with her. He is attracted to her, and suggests that her husband Jaada is disgusting and loathsome, hoping her physical beatings suggest she feels the same. However, she insists that Jaada is far superior to Zaita, and they argue vehemently over the question. Zaita finally propositions Husniya, throwing off his clothes. Disgusted, she throws a giant mug at him, and leaves him crumpled on the ground, writing in pain.

Chapter 17

One day, Umm Hamida visits Salim Alwan to purchase some goods, and he begs her to sit with him.

He has been wrestling between his passion and his responsibility, and has decided to ask for Hamida's hand. After mentioning that his wife does not approve of his aphrodisiac lunch, he declares his intention to the lady.

Umm Hamida is shocked, especially because they are not of the same class as Salim Alwan. Then, she remembers that her daughter is already engaged to Abbas, and tells him. Salim Alwan is furious to hear this news, knowing that his proposal could make him the object of gossip.


This section takes a number of the novel's characters to the edge. The alley's protective bubble has certainly burst, evidenced by the large number of explosive, violent interactions.

First of all, Mrs. Kirsha cannot stand her husband's indiscretions any longer, and asks Radwan Hussainy for help. When his religious warnings do not suffice, Mrs. Kirsha finally snaps and forces a physical altercation. This anger, though, is not something that has happened suddenly. Mrs. Kirsha has been contemptuous towards her husband for years, though the situation has moved beyond the absurd and comical into the desperate. Similarly, Zaita's feelings for Husniya erupt inside him, leading him to make a very inappropriate pass at her. Finally, Salim Alwan can no longer contain his lust for Hamida, and he sews seeds of discontent that will compromise the stasis of Hamida's engagement. His reaction is quite petulant; he is not used to being denied something he wants. Of course, the intensity of his anger results from a deep-seeded dissatisfaction with his life. Neither of these dramatic overtures solve any problems; in fact, they create the potential for further conflict. Nevertheless, they are not taken as rational tactics, but are rather expressions of pent-up desire.

Not all of the emotional outbursts in this section are negative, though. Hamida is finally able to admit her affection for Abbas. Uncle Kamil realizes the extent of his own affection for Abbas when the barber leaves, and Abbas is equally heartbroken to leave his friends, his shop, and the alley itself. All of these moments reveal how the delicate balance in Midaq Alley is starting to crumble. The characters are understanding their own wants and needs in a way they have not previously done, and these recognitions are leading to major conflicts.

As in the previous chapters, these conflicts can be understood as a microcosm of the conflict Egypt had while developing a national identity while being stifled by a colonial power. Naguib Mahfouz was greatly influenced by the Egyptian Revolution of 1919, which his people led against the British. Even thought that conflict took place years before the time that Midaq Alley is set, the themes are similar. Egyptians felt that certain promises made by the allies during the First World War were not upheld, and so fought for their independence. First, Saad Zaghlul led a group of Nationalist Activists to formally request the end of the British Protectorate in Egypt and Sudan. Zaghlul and his Wafd Party were quite successful in their grassroots initiatives, and they inspired a great deal of civil disobedience that forced the British to take action.

This history parallels the character conflicts in the novel. Before this section, most of the characters have had to control their passions due to some kind of social construct. Salim Alwan was afraid to approach the woman he lusts after because of her social class, while Hamida was afraid to admit her feelings for the lower-class Abbas. Mrs. Kirsha stomachs her husband's disobedience because she feels obligated to, as a wife. Mrs. Afify is willing to be robbed by a husband, since she has so little opportunity for companionship outside of a marriage. These early sections read like a series of little battles that will eventually require a larger war. The Alley starts to feel claustrophobic, so much so that Hussain Kirsha and Abbas have to leave to find any greater opportunity. Even Radwan Hussainy, who is renowned for his piety, is hampered somewhat by his religion. He is not able to face the true tragedy of his former life, and his aggression is not totally annihilated, but instead transferred towards his wife. He somewhat hides behind religion.

Considering this situation in light of the city's history, it is easy to see Mahfouz's perspective of people enslaved, but wanting to find a way out. As noted earlier, he does not explicitly explore the political landscape, but instead allows it to inform the everyday, universal struggles his characters face. They are repressed by various social forces - religion, gender, class - in the same way that Mahfouz's countrymen were. Further, in order for them to break from these constraints, they must weather the desperation until it is expressed through violence. This is not to argue that Mahfouz means his characters to be allegories for the Egyptian independence movement, but rather to indicate how the author's life and society is paralleled in the everyday conflicts his characters confront. In exploring how change can often come only through explicit revolution (even in microcosm), Mahfouz crafts both relateable, universal situations, as well as patterns specific to his own country and people.