The death on 30 August 2006 of the Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz - the sole Arab writer to receive the Nobel prize in literature - was marked around the world, and by many of those unable to read a word of his work in its original language. This universal moment, however, was primarily an Egyptian and Arab one, and for more even than the loss of a great writer. For Naguib Mahfouz's death is also a symbol of the demise of Arab liberalism. It is a century's story, and the "Dostoyevsky of Cairo" was the one whose books embodied it.
A century ago, the west was not worryingly eyeing the Arab world, with a fear of suicide-bombers and plane hijackers. It was colonising the Arab world - for a number of reasons: the strategic location, the Suez canal, securing trade routes, access to the Indian subcontinent, protection of minorities, exploitation of economic resources, building empires, civilising the savage Saracens.