Midaq Alley

Midaq Alley Summary and Analysis of Chapters 6-10


Chapter 6

This chapter focuses of Kirsha's activities outside of the café.

Because Mr. Kirsha has a tendency to waste his cafe's profits on his weaknesses, he stays poor no matter his business's success. For instance, he often ventures out at night to sell hashish, and he himself smokes the herb too much. However, his largest vice is an affection for young men.

One night, Kirsha walks to a small shop near al-Azhar to look in on its young salesman, to whom he is attracted. The young salesman notices that Kirsha had visited three times previously, without buying anything. This time, however, Kirsha purchases a dozen pairs of socks, and then departs.

However, Kirsha stands nearby to keep the store (and the boy) in sight. After the shop closes, Kirsha follows the departing salesman, making small talk about the boy's long hours and how the working class is exploited. He ascertains that the young man is unmarried, and flatters him. Before they separate, Kirsha asks the boy to visit his cafe that evening.

That night at the cafe, the new radio plays, but everyone ignores it. Abbas announces his plan to work for the British Army. Radwan Hussainy gives a long speech arguing that boredom is the antithesis of faith, and that love is the only way to conquer life's tragedies. Even though many admire Radwan Hussainy because of his faith, they also know that he mistreats his wife, perhaps because she is only person over whom he still has power. His attitude is not terribly surprising, considering the common attitude at the time that women should be treated as children.

While his patrons socialize, Kirsha anxiously awaits the arrival of the young salesman. His lust is no longer a secret in the Alley. The chapter ends as Kirsha sees the boy approaching.

Chapter 7

Chapter 7 introduces Zaita, the cripple-maker.

The narrator describes the bakery, which sits next to Kirsha's café. It is owned and operated by Husniya and her husband Jaada, and has a small outbuilding with a tiny window attached to it. This outbuilding is a dirty, dingy place filled with medical instruments and parts of human bodies. This is where Zaita lives and works every night.

Zaita works as a cripple-maker; people who no longer want to work come to him to be safely maimed so that they can effectively beg money. Because of the insidious nature of his work, Zaita's job begins at midnight, and he sleeps during the day. Whenever he is awake in daylight hours, Zaita spies on Husniya and Jaada, watching the woman beat her husband. At night, she teases him. Zaita hates Jaada, but is jealous that he has a wife. In fact, he hates most of the people in the alley, who hate him in return because of his job and his offensive smell. He likes to imagine them suffering horrible deaths. He only loves beggars. At night he meanders around the ancient arch to check in on all the beggars; they are, after all, his livelihood, and they pay him a portion of their earnings.

One night, he returns from making his rounds to find Dr. Booshy and two men waiting in his room. According to Dr. Booshy, the two men want to become beggars. Zaita questions why the first man - who appears quite strong - wants to be maimed. The man feigns tears, and claims he cannot find other work. Zaita initially refuses the job, but then decides he will train the man to act as an imbecile, since that will garner the most sympathy from passersby. He then promises the other man - a small, frail fellow - that he will create for the him the illusion of blindness. When this man offers to give Zaita half of his earnings, Zaita insists he charges a standard percentage and a fee for the operation. As he prepares for and imagines the sadism of the operation, he grows perversely happy.

Chapter 8

In this chapter, the narrator speaks about Salim Alwan's company, which operates from Midaq Alley.

The company causes quite a lot of noise - there are always trucks driving in and out, as well as buyers and sellers arriving. The company produces perfume, but the war has limited imports from India. Nevertheless, it has prospered because Salim Alwan trades goods like tea on the black market.

Salim's health is strong, but he is anxious that the company will fail after his death, since none of his sons are interested in running the business. One of his sons, Muhammad Salim Alwan, is a judge who argues his father should liquidate the company to enjoy a comfortable retirement. However, Salim Alwan wishes to keep working, so the son has encouraged him to purchase the title of 'Bey.' Other family members argue he should enter politics, but Arif Salim Alwan, another son and an Attorney, thinks the campaign would bankrupt the family, since Egyptian politics are so corrupt. Conflicted, Salim is happy to mostly ignore such ambitions and focus instead on making money.

Salim is also renowned for his sexual energy, which he maintains in part through a daily lunch of husked wheat. The entire Alley wondered about it, and Husniya one day switched his wheat with her husband's, wondering whether it was actually an aphrodisiac. Salim Alwan did indeed realize the trick, and he stopped doing business with her bakery. However, once the Alley learned of the mixture's efficacy, it became quite popular.

Salim Alwan lusts privately after Hamida, even though he has known her since she was a little girl. His desires are compounded by his wife's steadily declining sexual desires, which cannot keep up with his own. He often considers asking Hamida to be his second wife, but is conflicted because she comes from such a lowly background. There is no easy way for him to satisfy his growing lust, and thoughts of her are growing more all-consuming.

Chapter 9

Mrs. Kirsha has grown accustomed to Kirsha's indiscretions. She is a fierce woman who has faced a lot of unhappiness in her life and in her marriage. Nevertheless, she is usually able to hide her despair.

However, one night, Kirsha does not come home. Mrs. Kirsha investigates at the café, where she learns about her husband's new affair with the young salesman. She visits her son, Hussain Kirsha, to discuss the impending scandal. Hussain, meanwhile, has been working with the British Army and despises the Alley more than ever. Though Hussain is perturbed by the news, he knows no way to reprimand his father, and mostly ignores his mother's concern.

That night, Mrs. Kirsha waits until midnight, and then calls Kirsha up to their apartment above the café. Kirsha asks the young salesman to wait for him, and then angrily acquiesces to her demand. At first, she says nothing, only admiring his stature and confidence. Kirsha, on the other hand, loses patience quickly with the woman he "sometimes disliked and sometimes loved" (76). They begin to argue, and she demands to know where he now goes to party at night. Kirsha insists that he will neither quit smoking hashish nor change his lifestyle. When she brings up the young boy, he threatens violence and then storms out, leaving her hungry for revenge.

Chapter 10

Abbas remains intoxicated from his encounter with Hamida. He considers her resistance to him as proof of her love, and he waits every day in front of his barbershop hoping to catch a glimpse of her.

One day, he approaches her again during her daily walk. Her feelings remain conflicted; he is poor and cannot provide what she dreams of, but she does admire him. Hamida agrees to speak privately with Abbas in an alley. There, he professes his love and tells her of his plan to make money with the British Army. He begs for her to pray for him, and promises to save money to buy her a house. As she warms to him, she feels herself losing control of her life. Without realizing quite how it happens, she comes to an agreement with him, which though not quite as romantic as he would like, Abbas recognizes as a binding engagement.


In this section, Mahfouz starts to peel away the layers of the characters in Midaq Alley. The alley becomes more of a microcosm of the society as we realize that everyone there has something to hide, and that things are always more complicated than they seem.

In these chapters, we get a better sense of how the characters stand in relation to a changing economic landscape. Midaq Alley is set during at a time when there was great expansion in Cairo. The population tripled between 1882 and 1937. There were new bridges, new transport links, and new upscale neighborhoods. Trade also started to increase during this time, and with the new commercial activities, immigrants (especially Greeks, Jews, and Armenians) started to flow in, attracted to the new opportunities of the city. In Midaq Alley, we see characters like Hamida and Salim Alwan, who are aware of the new opportunities, and we also see people like Kirsha, who hang onto much more traditional ideas. These conflicting perspectives lie at the heart of the novel, and are explored through an ensemble of characters who respond so differently to the same conditions.

Mahfouz for the first time gives a glimpse of the larger Egyptian society through his characters, mostly through Salim Alwan. The businessman considers politics (which the novel intimates are terribly corrupt and open to bribery) and the fading social construct of titles, one of which he considers buying even though it has only symbolic value. Even though the world is modernizing, this area of Cairo remains devoted to both the Islamic codes and vestiges of their changing society.

Salim Alwan and Hamida are actually quite similar in terms of their ambition. Many of the characters are defined by their aspirations, in fact. Though her dreams are more non-specific (because she knows nothing outside the Alley), Hamida yearns for a respectability in the same way that Salim does. Of course, her position as a woman means that she must hope to earn a higher station through marriage, which makes her sole talents her beauty and sexuality. He, on the other hand, can imagine raising his station more through his own agency. Abbas, as another example, develops a newfound ambition to take advantage of the wartime jobs, although his desires are more sexual and romantic. Another character who shows such aspirations is the young salesman, who spends time with Kirsha in hopes of gaining access to a different kind of life. Upward mobility is an ongoing theme in Midaq Alley, and is part of what makes the story so universal, relatable, and timeless.

One much darker exploration of this theme comes through the character of Zaita. Zaita is a businessman in his own right, like Salim Alwan and Kirsha. He actually has training (unlike Dr. Booshy), but practices it in a twisted manner. Through Zaita, Mahfouz explores both the esoteric extremes that humans can reach, and the effect of globalization. In the strange wartime economy, everyone is making his way however he can. There are opportunities anywhere, provided one will sacrifice one's dignity. This is true of both Zaita and the beggars who allow themselves to be maimed in order to exploit the begging market.

These chapters are not solely concerned with economy, however. For example, Mahfouz explores the underside of the marriage construct here. Kirsha, as example, is a successful businessman with many weaknesses, most notably a sexual proclivity for young boys. His marriage to Mrs. Kirsha is functional; though it has produced seven children, they quite despise one another. Their violent fight in Chapter 9 has a certain comic element to it, but it also reveals a distressing lack of affection. Similarly, though Salim Alwan is believed to be happily married, his sexual dissatisfaction has led him to scorn his wife's fading sexual appetite and lust after the young Hamida. He even considers practicing polygamy in order to satiate his lust.

In all these ways, the people of Midaq Alley represent the spectrum of universal humanity. Even though they are affected by the circumstances of the war, their emotions and desires are not born from those circumstances, but instead show them to be like people anywhere.