Bahaa Taher was born in 1935 in Giza. He studied history and literature among other subjects at the University of Cairo. He then worked as a culture editor and reporter for Egyptian Radio. In the mid-sixties he published his first prose. Barred by censorship from writing in 1975, he emigrated in 1981. His travels took him to Africa and Asia and later also to Switzerland, where he worked as a translator for the United Nations in Geneva. Taher returned to Egypt in 1995 and is now considered one of the most important novelists in the country. In addition, he has published several books of short stories, essayistic works, as well as numerous translations from English and French.
Translated into a dozen languages, »Ġālatī Ṣafīya wa ʾd-dair« (1991; En. »Aunt Safiyya and the Monastery«, 1996) has been Taher’s most internationally successful and enthusiastically discussed book. In a sensitive, often imaginatively distorted portrayal he illustrates the changing relations between Copts and Muslims in a village not far from Luxor. While initially focussing on everyday events, the narrative soon takes unexpectedly tragic twists and turns. In »Al-ḥab fi ʾm-manaf« (1995; En. »Love in Exile«, 2005), Taher’s nameless narrator encounters autobiographical landmarks, from his journalism, pan-Arabic convictions and subsequent disillusionment and exile, themes which has already appeared in »Qalat Duha« (1985; En. »As Doha Said«, 2008). Even though an affair allows the protagonist to temporarily forget his family troubles and a professional dispute, the occupation of Lebanon and the subsequent shock of the massacres at Sabra and Shatila have an impact on the intimate relationship. For his novel, »Wāhat al-ġurūb« (2007; tr. »Sunset Oases«) Taher received the First International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2008. Set in the late 19th century, at the beginning of British colonial rule, the story of officer Mahmoud plays out at the Siwa Oasis and acts as parable about current conditions in the Arab world. Whilst the conflict of the main character between rebellion and obedience may be timeless, the multiple perspectives, which, amongst others, include the voice of Alexander the Great, are historically specific. Isolated by the surrounding vastness of the desert, the oases and its inhabitants are a microcosm of competing attitudes.
Taher is co-founder of the opposition Kifaya movement, which was founded in 2004 by intellectuals and campaigned for political change and against the rule of Hosni Mubarak. He is the winner of the Egyptian State Prize for Literature (1996/1998) and the Italian Premio Giuseppe Acerbi litterario (2000). Taher lives in Cairo.