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Posted on April 19th, 2012, by

Arabian Nights and Days by Naguib Mahfouz is a work which the author created as a continuation of Arabian Nights.

This fact determined the similarity of characters as well as themes of both works. Nevertheless, the work written by Naguib Mahfouz is an original work which represents the original Mahfouz’s vision of the Arab world of the Middle Ages epoch. At the same time, it should be said that Arabian Nights and Days raise a variety of themes which allow the audience to better understand the actual life of the Arab society in the past. In this respect, it is possible to mention the theme of justice, which apparently plays an important part in Arabian Nights and gives insight into the system of justice existing in the Arab world, its basic principles and mechanisms of the application of justice. At the same time, the author reveals the fact that the human justice is too weak an imperfect to be effectively implemented in the real world. This is why he introduces supernatural forces, such as genie, to carry out the justice, though with the hands of human beings. In such a way, the author lays emphasis on the fact that the medieval Arab world did not have an effective system of justice and to prevent injustice and punish criminals the interference of supernatural forces was needed.

In fact, speaking about justice in the context of Arabian Nights and Days, it is necessary to stress the multiple implications of the concept of justice. What is mean here is the fact that justice can be viewed not only as a purely criminal concept, but it is also justice as  broader concept which implies the just reward for good deeds, honest and honorable behavior, the virtuous lifestyle at large. Naguib Mahfouz attempts to reveal the injustice existing in the medieval society. To put it more precisely, as he continues Arabian Nights, he actually shows Sultan Shahriyar as a tyrant and unjust ruler. The Sultan wants to stop the torrent of blood and give up virgins’ massacre, but the author is apparently uncertain about the ability of the Sultan to stop the bloodshed. This is why Naguib Mahfouz’ Shahrzad, the daughter of Vizier Dandan, stays with the Sultan in order to control his actions and prevent massacres of virgins, which he was inclined to. In such a way, the author depicts the ruler of the country as a despotic ruler whose actions are unpredictable. Obviously, he can hardly control the judicial power of the country because his unlimited, tyrannical power is a threat to all citizens as long as he is not controlled by someone like Shahrzad. Obviously, the unlimited power and corruption of the ruler evoke a very negative attitude of the author on the ability of the despotic ruler to be a just and fair judge.

In addition, Naguib Mahfouz shows that the ruling elite is similar to the Sultan. To put it more precisely, the author presents the ruling elite as extremely corrupted and unpredictable as the Sultan was. In fact, the corruption made the ruling elite inclined to taking decisions which meet their personal interests, but not defined by legal norms and rules.

As a result, decisions taking by the ruling elite, including court decisions, could be absolutely different from principles of justice. As a result, the society depicted in Arabian Nights and Days is unhappy. While the majority of population leaves in poverty and suffers from injustice, the ruling elite benefits from bribes and takes unjust decisions. In such a situation, the lack of control over the ruling elite makes people unable to protect their interests in face of “justice”ť carried out by the Sultan and his corrupted subordinates.

As a result, the author shows that the system of justice in the medieval Arab society did not work well, if it worked at all. On the other hand, people needed justice and the author introduces supernatural powers to reestablish justice in the world. To put it more precisely, he introduces genie who takes the responsibility and plays the part of the supreme judge since it is genie who decides whether to punish a criminal or not. For instance, a genie forces merchant Sanaan al-Gamali to kill the governor. However, the merchant makes the assassination attempt in a delirium, he does not really understand what he is doing and what a crime he is committing. However, at the last moment genie abandons Sanaan al-Gamali to his own fate to be executed for the assassination. In this respect, it is possible to speak about the inability of the merchant to kill the governor consciously. He assassinates the governor being in a kind of delirium. Consequently, he apparently views it as a crime which he cannot commit because of the authority of the governor. Probably, he is also corrupted as well as the governor himself is. In such a way, the merchant is used by the genie as a tool of the punishment of a corrupted governor. At the same time, the merchant was probably corrupted too and was unable to reestablish justice consciously by killing the governor without the assistance of the genie. The latter decides to punish the merchant too and abandons him at the moment when Sanaan al-Gamali needs him most.

Furthermore, the genie continues his struggle with the corrupted authorities and injustice. This is why he chooses Gamasa al-Bulti, a chief of police, as another tool with the help of which the genie attempts to eliminate the corruption. However, the method the genie chooses remains the same. In such a way, the assassination becomes the major way of the reestablishment of justice in the society. But, unlike merchant Sanaan al-Gamali, Gamasa al-Bulti is rescued by the genie and gets a new identity that allows him to start a new life. Hence, it is obvious that the author reveals the power of the individual, such as the chief of police, who has managed to punish the corrupted governor, by killing him and got an opportunity to start a new life. Unlike, Sanaan, Gamasa reestablishes justice consciously.

Being the chief of police, he knew about the corruption, but he could not exercise his power in the corrupted environment, while the genie helped him to fulfill his professional duties.

At the same time, Arabian Nights and Days do not only reveal how the actual system of justice worked but the stories also reveal that justice can be carried out without legal authorities, that implies the interference of supernatural or divine forces, such as the genie. For instance, Arabian Nights and Days reveal the fact that the justice can be carried out by a genie, but not humans. Moreover, this supernatural justice is carried out without any investigations or accusations, or any other legal procedures. Instead, criminals can be justly punished simply because they are criminals, while virtuous people are rewarded.

In such a way, Arabian Nights and Days reveal the attitude of people to justice at that epoch. The stories reveal the fact that crime was normally severely punished in the Arab world. Moreover, criminals could be punished even without the legal trial that implied the existence of superior, divine justice. On the other hand, it is obvious that the author does not trust to the legal authorities and official justice system. Naguib Mahfouz shows that the officials are corrupted and they cannot be just. Instead, they terrorize people and protect their own interests. In such a situation, the author prefers to introduce supernatural elements in his book to carry out the function of superior justice. In such a way, the genie becomes the main judge, who plays humans as if they are puppets and who can punish the corrupted ruling elite. At the same time, the author shows that many people are unconscious of the fact that they can change the situation for better and eliminate corruption and injustice.

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