Ahmed Khaled Towfik: "The youth sees me as an educator, not just a writer. I am very proud of this role. I feel like a father to them." Sarah Dea / The National
Ahmed Khaled Towfik: "The youth sees me as an educator, not just a writer. I am very proud of this role. I feel like a father to them." Sarah Dea / The National

Ahmed Khaled Towfik, Egypt's doctor of escapism



With his navy suit, tinted glasses and pinstriped shirt covering a middle-aged paunch, it is easy to imagine Dr Ahmed Khaled Towfik writing prescriptions or prowling before a pack of students in a lecture theatre.

It takes a greater leap of imagination to envisage this mild-mannered professor of tropical diseases as the voice of Arab youth, giving them an exhilarating sense of escapism with his horror and thriller novellas.

But Towfik is something of a hero in his native Egypt and one of the most prolific Arab writers of his time, churning out more than 500 titles and writing up to 22 books a year while holding down a full-time job at the university in Tanta, the city where he was born.

He was the first Arab writer to pen horror and science fiction thrillers. Many of his stories are set in Egypt with a cast of characters who have developed a cult following, such as the semi-autobiographical doctor Refaat Ismael in his Ma Waraa al Tabiaa series.

His books have inspired a younger generation of writers who grew up on a diet of his tales and are now following in his footsteps by writing their own, such as Ahmed Mourad, the author of Vertigo.

Now though, Towfik is in danger of being left behind. Aged 49 and more than a year on from the revolution in Egypt - an uprising dubbed "Revolution 2.0" by its protagonists, a reference to the central role the internet and social media played in the movement - he admits he has little patience for Facebook and Twitter and has no intention of using them to reach out to a new breed of followers.

"Even my own two children prefer Facebook to reading my books," he says ruefully. "I am too old for it though. I have four Facebook sites dedicated to me, but I don't know how to use it myself."

In Dubai for the annual Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, he admits he has yet to write a new work focusing on Egypt's seismic changes: "We are not a country yet and change is still happening. We need time for digestion. If I write about it now, it would be like regurgitating.

"I feel it is wrong to write literature about the revolution now. Nothing is sharp any more, so I am sticking to writing political articles and horror books for youth until things settle down."

Yet visions of a horrific future have been plaguing Towfik for some time and in Utopia, his first and only adult fiction, written in 2007, he imagines an Egyptian society living in cosseted wealth in gated enclaves in 2023, without rules or morals and eventually driven by boredom to hunt their impoverished compatriots who live beyond the gates for sport.

Tellingly, he writes in the foreword: "The Utopia mentioned here is an imaginary place ... even though the author knows for certain that this place will exist soon."

The revolt of the poorer classes may not have happened as he predicted but, he says, his grim vision serves as a warning: "I imagined a lot of classes would revolt and there would be chaos everywhere.

"It is our good luck that did not happen, but I sometimes feel very pessimistic about the future. I feel civil war is inevitable in Egypt and that Christians will separate to make their own communities. So in my writing, I have gone back to horror. It is escapism from the real horror."

The son of a cotton trader and a university secretary, Towfik first started writing adventure stories and thrillers at the age of 10.

His father owned a vast library and, unusually for an Egyptian teenager, Towfik began devouring British, American and Russian classics from the likes of Somerset Maugham, Mark Twain, Chekhov and Tolstoy, a dictionary at hand when he stumbled over the language.

His love of the classics has imbued his spoken English with formal Victorian quirks rather than the colloquial language of the street.

"My father was a very literate man and most of the family income was spent on books," says Towfik.

"My English was not good enough to read horror literature so I started writing it myself. You write to keep your mental stability."

Writing full time was never a career option. Like his peers, the dentist Alaa al Aswany who wrote The Yacoubian Building, and Yusuf Idris, the late doctor-cum-playwright, he could only contemplate writing as a hobby as the potential earnings would not be enough to live on.

Instead, he studied medicine at Tanta University before embarking on a doctorate in tropical diseases, then becoming a lecturer at the same institution and graduating to the role of professor in 2008.

He was 32 before he published any of the work he had been stashing away.

"I had been writing secretly for myself the whole time and reached saturation point," he says. "I realised I had to face society. I was getting old and thought, it is now or never.

"Every writer has close friends who tell him he is a genius but I did not trust them. A cow must be milked or it will run dry."

He sent five manuscripts to a publisher, including the first instalments in his Ma Waraa al Tabiaa series called The Vampire and The Legend of the Werewolf.

The novellas, each about 16,000 words long, found an audience in teenagers hungry for fresh material and a thrilling plotline, and Towfik began writing for up to three hours a day.

In his Fantasia series, he interwove the storyline with references to the literary works he so admired, introducing an Arab audience to the likes of Arthur Conan Doyle and Dostoevsky - although he did so subtly because, he says, no one likes a preacher. "The youth see me as an educator, not just a writer," he says. "I am very proud of this role. I feel like a father to them. They made my name and they are hungry to read. Every day a man gets darker inside but youth are essentially white. They have not been stained by society.

"I do not broadcast messages because that is like writing an article. You have to read between the lines of my work but many of my readers said my ideas made them go to Tahrir Square during the revolution.

"I feel a responsibility for them but ultimately, I just try to be an entertainer."

His medical background gave him a unique peg, with much of his knowledge finding its way onto the page.

"I add in some psychology and some general knowledge," says Towfik. "Medicine gives me a great source of material.

"You study human beings at their weakest point. As a doctor you meet everyone from a minister to a rich man, crying because they are afraid of dying."

Indeed, as Towfik points out, Maugham - who spent five years studying medicine - once said the experience was an inspiration because "I saw how men died. I saw how they bore pain. I saw what hope looked like."

While Maugham never had to work as a doctor, Towfik has been denied that luxury. Even as one of the highest-paid authors in the Arab world, he still needs to work full-time to earn a living, but says he is as passionate about medicine as he is about writing.

"I prefer," he says, "to be a doctor who happens to write."

Sarfira

Director: Sudha Kongara Prasad

Starring: Akshay Kumar, Radhika Madan, Paresh Rawal

Rating: 2/5

Ticket prices

General admission Dh295 (under-three free)

Buy a four-person Family & Friends ticket and pay for only three tickets, so the fourth family member is free

Buy tickets at: wbworldabudhabi.com/en/tickets

KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES

Director: Wes Ball

Starring: Owen Teague, Freya Allen, Kevin Durand

Rating: 3.5/5

Turning waste into fuel

Average amount of biofuel produced at DIC factory every month: Approximately 106,000 litres

Amount of biofuel produced from 1 litre of used cooking oil: 920ml (92%)

Time required for one full cycle of production from used cooking oil to biofuel: One day

Energy requirements for one cycle of production from 1,000 litres of used cooking oil:
▪ Electricity - 1.1904 units
▪ Water- 31 litres
▪ Diesel – 26.275 litres

Kill

Director: Nikhil Nagesh Bhat

Starring: Lakshya, Tanya Maniktala, Ashish Vidyarthi, Harsh Chhaya, Raghav Juyal

Rating: 4.5/5

Abu Dhabi racecard

5pm: Maiden (Purebred Arabians); Dh80,000; 1,400m.
5.30pm: Maiden (PA); Dh80,00; 1,400m.
6pm: Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan National Day Cup (PA); Group 3; Dh500,000; 1,600m.
6.30pm: Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan National Day Cup (Thoroughbred); Listed; Dh380,000; 1,600m
7pm: Wathba Stallions Cup for Private Owners Handicap (PA); Dh70,000; 1,400m.
7.30pm: Handicap (PA); Dh80,000; 1,600m

What's in my pazhamkootan?

Add:
Parippu – moong dal and coconut curry
Sambar – vegetable-infused toor dal curry
Aviyal – mixed vegetables in thick coconut paste
Thoran – beans and other dry veggies with spiced coconut
Khichdi – lentil and rice porridge


Optional:
Kootukari – stew of black chickpeas, raw banana, yam and coconut paste
Olan – ash gourd curry with coconut milk
Pulissery – spiced buttermilk curry
Rasam – spice-infused soup with a tamarind base


Avoid:
Payasam – sweet vermicelli kheer

Omar Yabroudi's factfile

Born: October 20, 1989, Sharjah

Education: Bachelor of Science and Football, Liverpool John Moores University

2010: Accrington Stanley FC, internship

2010-2012: Crystal Palace, performance analyst with U-18 academy

2012-2015: Barnet FC, first-team performance analyst/head of recruitment

2015-2017: Nottingham Forest, head of recruitment

2018-present: Crystal Palace, player recruitment manager

 

 

 

 

MATCH INFO

Uefa Champions League final:

Who: Real Madrid v Liverpool
Where: NSC Olimpiyskiy Stadium, Kiev, Ukraine
When: Saturday, May 26, 10.45pm (UAE)
TV: Match on BeIN Sports

Sweet Tooth

Creator: Jim Mickle
Starring: Christian Convery, Nonso Anozie, Adeel Akhtar, Stefania LaVie Owen
Rating: 2.5/5

'Operation Mincemeat'

Director: John Madden

Cast: Colin Firth, Matthew Macfayden, Kelly Macdonald and Penelope Wilton

Rating: 4/5

Abu Dhabi card

5pm: Handicap (TB) Dh100,000 2,400m

5.30pm: Wathba Stallions Cup Handicap (PA) Dh 70,000 2,200m

6pm: Abu Dhabi Fillies Classic Prestige (PA) Dh110,000 1,400m

6.30pm: Abu Dhabi Colts Classic Prestige (PA) Dh110,000 1,400m

7pm: Handicap (PA) Dh85,000 1,600m

7.30pm: Maiden (PA) Dh80,000 1,600m

The National selections:

5pm: Valcartier

5.30pm: AF Taraha

6pm: Dhafra

6.30pm: Maqam

7pm: AF Mekhbat

7.30pm: Ezz Al Rawasi  

UAE rugby season

FIXTURES

West Asia Premiership

Dubai Hurricanes v Dubai Knights Eagles

Dubai Tigers v Bahrain

Jebel Ali Dragons v Abu Dhabi Harlequins

UAE Division 1

Dubai Sharks v Dubai Hurricanes II

Al Ain Amblers v Dubai Knights Eagles II

Dubai Tigers II v Abu Dhabi Saracens

Jebel Ali Dragons II v Abu Dhabi Harlequins II

Sharjah Wanderers v Dubai Exiles II

 

LAST SEASON

West Asia Premiership

Winners – Bahrain

Runners-up – Dubai Exiles

UAE Premiership

Winners – Abu Dhabi Harlequins

Runners-up – Jebel Ali Dragons

Dubai Rugby Sevens

Winners – Dubai Hurricanes

Runners-up – Abu Dhabi Harlequins

UAE Conference

Winners – Dubai Tigers

Runners-up – Al Ain Amblers

The alternatives

• Founded in 2014, Telr is a payment aggregator and gateway with an office in Silicon Oasis. It’s e-commerce entry plan costs Dh349 monthly (plus VAT). QR codes direct customers to an online payment page and merchants can generate payments through messaging apps.

• Business Bay’s Pallapay claims 40,000-plus active merchants who can invoice customers and receive payment by card. Fees range from 1.99 per cent plus Dh1 per transaction depending on payment method and location, such as online or via UAE mobile.

• Tap started in May 2013 in Kuwait, allowing Middle East businesses to bill, accept, receive and make payments online “easier, faster and smoother” via goSell and goCollect. It supports more than 10,000 merchants. Monthly fees range from US$65-100, plus card charges of 2.75-3.75 per cent and Dh1.2 per sale.

2checkout’s “all-in-one payment gateway and merchant account” accepts payments in 200-plus markets for 2.4-3.9 per cent, plus a Dh1.2-Dh1.8 currency conversion charge. The US provider processes online shop and mobile transactions and has 17,000-plus active digital commerce users.

• PayPal is probably the best-known online goods payment method - usually used for eBay purchases -  but can be used to receive funds, providing everyone’s signed up. Costs from 2.9 per cent plus Dh1.2 per transaction.

MO

Creators: Mohammed Amer, Ramy Youssef

Stars: Mohammed Amer, Teresa Ruiz, Omar Elba

Rating: 4/5

TOURNAMENT INFO

2018 ICC World Twenty20 Asian Western Regional Qualifier
The top three teams progress to the Asia Qualifier

Thursday results
UAE beat Kuwait by 86 runs
Qatar beat Bahrain by five wickets
Saudi Arabia beat Maldives by 35 runs

Friday fixtures
10am, third-place playoff – Saudi Arabia v Kuwait
3pm, final – UAE v Qatar

How I connect with my kids when working or travelling

Little notes: My girls often find a letter from me, with a joke, task or some instructions for the afternoon, and saying what I’m excited for when I get home.
Phone call check-in: My kids know that at 3.30pm I’ll be free for a quick chat.
Highs and lows: Instead of a “how was your day?”, at dinner or at bathtime we share three highlights; one thing that didn’t go so well; and something we’re looking forward to.
I start, you next: In the morning, I often start a little Lego project or drawing, and ask them to work on it while I’m gone, then we’ll finish it together.
Bedtime connection: Wake up and sleep time are important moments. A snuggle, some proud words, listening, a story. I can’t be there every night, but I can start the day with them.
Undivided attention: Putting the phone away when I get home often means sitting in the car to send a last email, but leaving it out of sight between home time and bedtime means you can connect properly.
Demystify, don’t demonise your job: Help them understand what you do, where and why. Show them your workplace if you can, then it’s not so abstract when you’re away - they’ll picture you there. Invite them into your “other” world so they know more about the different roles you have.

The specs

Engine: 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8
Power: 680hp at 6,000rpm
Torque: 800Nm at 2,750-6,000rpm
Transmission: Rear-mounted eight-speed auto
Fuel consumption: 13.6L/100km
On sale: Orderbook open; deliveries start end of year
Price: From Dh970,000

The five pillars of Islam

1. Fasting

2. Prayer

3. Hajj

4. Shahada

5. Zakat

Name: Peter Dicce

Title: Assistant dean of students and director of athletics

Favourite sport: soccer

Favourite team: Bayern Munich

Favourite player: Franz Beckenbauer

Favourite activity in Abu Dhabi: scuba diving in the Northern Emirates 

 

COMPANY PROFILE

Company name: Klipit

Started: 2022

Founders: Venkat Reddy, Mohammed Al Bulooki, Bilal Merchant, Asif Ahmed, Ovais Merchant

Based: Dubai, UAE

Industry: Digital receipts, finance, blockchain

Funding: $4 million

Investors: Privately/self-funded

The specs

Price, base: Dh228,000 / Dh232,000 (est)
Engine: 5.7-litre Hemi V8
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Power: 395hp @ 5,600rpm
Torque: 552Nm
Fuel economy, combined: 12.5L / 100km

Results
  • Brock Lesnar retained the WWE Universal title against Roman Reigns
  • Braun Strowman and Nicolas won the Raw Tag Team titles against Sheamus and Cesaro
  • AJ Styles retained the WWE World Heavyweight title against Shinsuke Nakamura
  • Nia Jax won the Raw Women’s title against Alexa Bliss
  • Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon beat Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn
  • The Undertaker beat John Cena
  • The Bludgeon Brothers won the SmackDown Tag Team titles against the Usos and New Day
  • Ronda Rousey and Kurt Angle beat Triple H and Stephanie McMahon
  • Jinder Mahal won the United States title against Randy Orton, Rusev and Bobby Roode
  • Charlotte retained the SmackDown Women’s title against Asuka
  • Seth Rollins won the Intercontinental title against The Miz and Finn Balor
  • Naomi won the first WrestleMania Women’s Battle Royal
  • Cedric Alexander won the vacant Cruiserweight title against Mustafa Ali
  • Matt Hardy won the Andre the Giant Battle Royal
MATCH INFO

Cricket World Cup League Two
Oman, UAE, Namibia
Al Amerat, Muscat
 
Results
Oman beat UAE by five wickets
UAE beat Namibia by eight runs
Namibia beat Oman by 52 runs
UAE beat Namibia by eight wickets
UAE v Oman - abandoned
Oman v Namibia - abandoned

The biog

Age: 32

Qualifications: Diploma in engineering from TSI Technical Institute, bachelor’s degree in accounting from Dubai’s Al Ghurair University, master’s degree in human resources from Abu Dhabi University, currently third years PHD in strategy of human resources.

Favourite mountain range: The Himalayas

Favourite experience: Two months trekking in Alaska

The specs

Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cylturbo

Transmission: seven-speed DSG automatic

Power: 242bhp

Torque: 370Nm

Price: Dh136,814

Company Profile

Company name: Hoopla
Date started: March 2023
Founder: Jacqueline Perrottet
Based: Dubai
Number of staff: 10
Investment stage: Pre-seed
Investment required: $500,000

Company profile

Name: Emonovo (previously Marj3)
Based: Cairo
Launch year: 2016
Number of employees: 12
Sector: education technology
Funding: three rounds, undisclosed amount

About Proto21

Date started: May 2018
Founder: Pir Arkam
Based: Dubai
Sector: Additive manufacturing (aka, 3D printing)
Staff: 18
Funding: Invested, supported and partnered by Joseph Group

The specs: 2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross

Price, base / as tested: Dh101,140 / Dh113,800


Engine: Turbocharged 1.5-litre four-cylinder


Power: 148hp @ 5,500rpm


Torque: 250Nm @ 2,000rpm


Transmission: Eight-speed CVT


Fuel consumption, combined: 7.0L / 100km

Russia's Muslim Heartlands

Dominic Rubin, Oxford

Sun jukebox

Rufus Thomas, Bear Cat (The Answer to Hound Dog) (1953)

This rip-off of Leiber/Stoller’s early rock stomper brought a lawsuit against Phillips and necessitated Presley’s premature sale to RCA.

Elvis Presley, Mystery Train (1955)

The B-side of Presley’s final single for Sun bops with a drummer-less groove.

Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two, Folsom Prison Blues (1955)

Originally recorded for Sun, Cash’s signature tune was performed for inmates of the titular prison 13 years later.

Carl Perkins, Blue Suede Shoes (1956)

Within a month of Sun’s February release Elvis had his version out on RCA.

Roy Orbison, Ooby Dooby (1956)

An essential piece of irreverent juvenilia from Orbison.

Jerry Lee Lewis, Great Balls of Fire (1957)

Lee’s trademark anthem is one of the era’s best-remembered – and best-selling – songs.

Tips for travelling while needing dialysis
  • Inform your doctor about your plans. 
  • Ask about your treatment so you know how it works. 
  • Pay attention to your health if you travel to a hot destination. 
  • Plan your trip well. 
Specs: 2024 McLaren Artura Spider

Engine: 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 and electric motor
Max power: 700hp at 7,500rpm
Max torque: 720Nm at 2,250rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed dual-clutch auto
0-100km/h: 3.0sec
Top speed: 330kph
Price: From Dh1.14 million ($311,000)
On sale: Now