Fatma Moussa


Professor Fatma Moussa (فاطمة موسى, 1927-2007) was for many years one of Egypt and the Arab world's foremost academics, educators and literary critics. 

In her work she constantly built bridges and articulated relationships between the literature of 'the West' and that of 'the Orient'. She wrote accounts of each literature in the language of the 'other' literature. She translated two major works of English literature into Arabic and one major work of Arabic literature into English. She helped, encouraged and educated generations of young people to work in this area of shared culture. Many of these young people grew into positions of influence and power. She herself remained active and influential until her death in 2007 at the age of 80. 

Fatma Moussa's academic career started with her work on the influence of the 'Oriental tale' on European literature in the 18th and 19th centuries. She is, for example, a widely quoted source on the history of The Thousand and One Nights and its entry into and influence on European literature. 

She then went on to develop another line of academic enquiry: the influence of the European novel on the rise of the novel form in Egypt. As a literary critic writing for the Arab press she wrote widely on both European and Arabic literature. At one point Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz said she was the most perceptive critic to write about his work. 

She was, in fact, the first serious translator of his work into English - long before he won the Nobel prize. Her translation of Miramar into English is arguably still the best among all the English translations of Mahfouz's work. On the other hand, her masterly translation of King Lear into Arabic has been much admired over the years. In April 2002 it was staged by the Egyptian National Theatre to a great deal of acclaim. 

In 1998 she was awarded "Ja’izat al-Dawlah al-Taqdiriyyah fi al-Funun wa al-Adab", the highest honour the State can bestow upon an academic. 

In her last years she remained full-time active: teaching a graduate course at Cairo University, supervising PhD theses, running a major state-funded program for translation from English to Arabic of important works, sitting on various University and Ministry of Culture academic committees and working hard to establish a serious presence for PEN Egypt.

Fatma Moussa brought up three children: Ahdaf Soueif (novelist) Layla Soueif (mathematician) and Ala Soueif (IT systems designer and Egyptologist).

(From ArabWorldBooks.com)

Publications: (Arabic)

  • نجيب محفوظ: وتطور الرواية العربية
  • سحر الرواية
  • سيرة الأدب الإنجليزى للقارئ العربى
  • قاموس المسرح



  • Mahfouz, Miramar, London: Heineman, 1978
  • Shakespeare, King Lear, Cairo, 1985
  • Soueif, The Map of Love, Cairo 2001


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