Reading Mahfouz through a Girardian Lens: Plague and Contagious Violence in The Harafish


This study seeks to investigate the influence of plague on Naguib Mahfouz’s novel, The Harafish (1977), which traces the changes that take place in an unnamed Egyptian alley after it has been struck by the plague. Crucially, the plague, along with its biomedical effect, plays a central role in the de/formation of the community’s sociopolitical structure. To approach Mahfouz’s novel as a plague narrative, the study utilizes Rene Girard’s theory of plague and literature that combines concepts such as reversal, undifferentiating, violence, and scapegoating. Following a Girardian perspective, the concepts of reversal and undifferentiation are used to explore the collapse of the prepandemic sociopolitical order, and the formation of a new structure in which the harafish, led by Ashur al-Naji, take control of the alley’s sources of power and wealth. Although undifferentiation becomes the ruling principle, violence, like the plague, infects the alley. Violence, through mimesis, becomes contagious and ends a sacrificial crisis. The study ultimately concludes that there is a close relationship between the plague’s biomedical and sociopolitical influence. Approaching The Harafish as a plague narrative adds value to the current scholarly and academic discourse over Mahfouz’s work itself and the post-COVID19 world crisis as well.


Muhammad Yousri


Girard, Mahfouz, scapegoating, plague, violence