Son'allah Ibrahim (Arabic: صنع الله إبراهيمṢunʻ Allāh Ibrāhīm) (born 1937) is an Egyptian novelist and short story writer and one of the "Sixties Generation" who is known for his leftist and nationalist views which are expressed rather directly in his work. His novels, especially later ones, incorporate many excerpts from newspapers, magazines and other political sources as a way to enlighten the people about a certain political or social issue. Because of his political opinions he was imprisoned during the 1960s; his imprisonment is featured in his first book, a collection of short stories titled That Smell (تلك الرائحة), which was one of the first writings in Egyptian literature to adopt a modernist tinge. His last book Memoirs of the Oasis Prison returns to the same theme.

Sonallah Ibrahim
صنع الله إبراهيم
NationalityEgyptian Egypt

In harmony with his political ideas, in 2003 he refused to accept a prestigious literary award worth 100,000 Egyptian pounds from Egypt's Ministry of Culture.


Sonallah Ibrahim was born in Cairo. His father was an upper-middle class civil servant; his mother, from a poor background, had been a nurse hired to look after his father's paralysed first wife. Ibrahim entered Cairo University to study law in 1952.[1] There he joined the Marxist Democratic Movement for National Liberation (DMNL). Despite the DMNL's support for Nasser's coup, Nasser moved to repress Communists in the late 1950s.[2] Ibrahim, arrested in 1959, received a seven-year prison sentence from a military tribunal.[1] He was released in 1964 on the occasion of Nikita Khrushchev visiting Egypt for the opening of the Aswan Dam.[2]


Hosam Aboul-Ela of the University of Houston described Ibrahim as "a relentless internal critic of successive Egyptian regimes" and wrote that "Ibrahim might best be described as a sort of Egyptian cross between Jonathan Swift and Manuel Puig".[3]

His novels are typically told in the first person, in a cold objective tone resembling press reportage which mimics reality. His main theme seems to be the importance of resisting the influence of the political mega-powers which attempt to invade the third world economically through many ways including the transcontinental companies. As an example, "Sharaf" [=Honour] deals with the intrusion of American politics in Egypt and includes long passages frankly criticising the big drug companies and their policies in third world countries. His interests are not limited to the situation in Egypt; "Beirut..Beirut" is something like an overview of the Lebanese civil war of the '70s and '80s, and "Warda" reveals a little-known episode about the activities of leftists and communists in Yemen and Oman in the '60s and '70s. The title of one of his latest novels is "Amricanly" which superficially means " American" or "in an American way" but is really a parody of another word "Othmanly" related to the notorious Dark Ages when Turkey ruled Egypt. The word "Amricanly" in another way is almost a transliteration of the phrase "My affairs were mine" in Arabic. His novel, "The Committee" is often described by critics as kafkaesque. In it the protagonist seeks entry into a shadowy organization. He is routinely subject to their vetting process and Sonallah uses his character to make numerous political observations in the form of speeches to the committee.[citation needed]

Several of Ibrahim's works also explore how repetition and fastidious attention to detail can be used to examine the themes of childhood innocence, boredom, and sexual frustration. In Stealth, the narrator recounts his childhood memories living with his father in a small, modest apartment. By describing each part of a mundane action, such as hanging up a coat or cooking some eggs, the narrator conveys his childhood curiosity and naivete about the adult world around him. In Ice, extensive repetition of intimate acts, with the same atomistic attention to detail, indicates the narrator's boredom and frustration with life as a foreign student in Soviet Russia.[citation needed]


  • That Smell or The Smell of It (تلك الرائحة Tilka al-râ’ihah, "That Smell")
    • This roman à clef novella is Ibrahim's first published work. It was first published in 1966. The English translation by Heinemann, titled The Smell of It, was published in 1971. Until the translated versions of Zaat and The Committee were released in 2001, it was the only work by Ibrahim available in English. In this novella, during the rule of Gamal Abdel Nasser, a young Egyptian writer who had been a political prisoner is released, and he takes a look at the street life in his country.[3]
  • The Committee (اللجنة)
  • The Star of August (نجمة أغسطس)
  • Beirut..Beirut (بيروت بيروت)
  • Zaat (ذات)
  • Honor (شرف)
  • Rose وردة
  • Amricanly (أمريكانلى)
  • Memoirs from the Oasis Prison (يوميات الواحات)
  • Cairo from Edge to Edge a portrait of Cairo with photographer Jean Pierre Ribiere
  • Stealth (التلصص)
  • The Turban and the Cap (العمامة والقبعة)
  • Ice (الجليد)

Works in English Translation





  1. ^ a b Abdalla F. Hassan, Black Humor in Dark Times, 19 June 2003.
  2. ^ a b Adam Schatz, Black, not Noir [review of Ibrahim, trans. Robyn Creswell, 'That Smell' and 'Notes from Prison' ], London Review of Books Vol. 35 No. 5 (7 March 2013), pp.15-16.
  3. ^ a b c Aboul-Ela, p. 251.

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