Egyptian becomes first Arab-language author to win Nobel Prize. NOTICED AT LAST

Intellectuals here were overjoyed to learn that the 1988 Nobel Prize for literature was awarded yesterday to an Egyptian, 77-year-old novelist Naguib Mahfouz. But many also said that international recognition of Egyptian writers was long overdue. Mr. Mahfouz is the first Arabic-language author to win the Nobel prize.

The award committee cited Mahfouz's ``works rich in nuance, now clear-sightedly realistic, now evocatively ambiguous.'' He has written 40 novels and collections of short stories, several plays and more than 30 film scripts.

``The fact that we've never won tells you more about the prize than about us,'' said Mohammad Salmawy, an official in the culture ministry and a playwright himself. ``The world was totally unaware of what was happening here.''

Ahmad Baha Eddin, a respected columnist and colleague of Mr. Mahfouz at the semi-official Al Ahram newspaper, said, ``The general feeling is that Naguib Mahfouz deserved this 20 years ago.''

``I am happy that an Egyptian novelist, an Arabic writer, has won the prize,'' said Youssef Idris, whose political plays have drawn accolades in the Mideast and abroad.

But though he hoped to win the prize for himself, Mr. Idris noted, ``Mahfouz is really the godfather of the modern Egyptian novel.''

Mahfouz heard the news when his wife woke him up from his afternoon nap to tell him he had won the prize. Shortly after, the Swedish ambassador formally notified him.

``I am extremely happy for myself and Arab literature,'' Mahfouz said. ``I hope this is the first step for future generations.''

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