Mahfouz was the first Arab to ever win the Nobel Prize for literature, while Orhan Pamuk was the first Turkish individual to win a Nobel Prize at all. In contrast to Mahfouz who criticized his nation's government only indirectly, Pamuk's open criticism of Turkish government practices outside of his fictional universe made him something of a cause celeb for human-rights organizations and writers' unions. Rather than praise, right-win Turkish patriots lobbied for punishing him under Article 301 of the Turkish criminal code. Article #01 bans expressions of speech that could be considered critical of the Turkish culture, and carries a penalty of up to three years in prison ("In Istanbul, a writer awaits her day in court," the Guardian, 2006). The feminist Turkish author Elif Shafak suffered a similar fate upon the publication of her novel the Bastard of Istanbul.
In the eyes of some Westerners, the condemnation of both Elif Shafak and Orhan Pamuk was bizarre -- Pamuk in particular has been praised not for bracing political satire, but for the "Ottoman otherworldliness "of his novels such as in My Name Is Red, and the way that his "magic realism" is used to subvert "the harder-edged world we all share" (Eoan-Chuan, 2006). The political positions Pamuk has advocated outside of his literary output may have had to do more with his prosecution, than anything of substance in his works, in contrast to Shafak, who has not been as noted for her political activism as much as her daring decision to author the Bastard of Istanbul in English.
Shafak's novel is distinctive because of the centrality of female characters in its narrative. Most of the men are dead or missing, and all characters engage in freewheeling political discourse. It was not Shafak speaking in her own voice that spurred the government's prosecution but the fact that some of her characters, speaking in their own voices entertained the notion that the Turkish slaughter of Armenians was genocide (Unsworth, 2007).
The prosecution of Shafak and Pamuk was dropped, mainly because of fears that a widely-publicized trial could threaten Turkey's impending admission to the EU. However, even though the cases were dropped and Turkey was eventually admitted, questions remain such as how far must Middle Eastern nations move towards democracy, if they wish to produce authors that draw world acclaim and prizes and if they wish to function as viable actors in democratic arenas like the EU. A politically sanitized society cannot produce authors that meet the standards of the Nobel committee, and the nation's greatest authors will flee to other lands where they do not have to resist public prosecution or violent threats from right-wing Islamicist groups to articulate their views and artistic vision.
Elif Shafak." All Things Considered. NPR. 6 Feb 2007. 28 Oct 2007. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=7217653
Eoan-Chuan, Howard. "Orhan Pamuk." Time Magazine. 26 Feb 2006.
28 Oct 2007. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1187233,00.html
In Istanbul, a writer awaits her day in court." The Guardian. Books. 26 Jul 2006.
28 Oct 2007. http://books.guardian.co.uk/voicesofprotest/story/0,1827872,00.html
Naguib Mahfouz 1911-2006." BBC News. 30 Aug 2006. 28 Oct 2007. http://youtube.com/watch?v=z3IKuWbSQwE
Naguib Mahfouz: The Nobel Prize in Literature." Nobelprize.org.
Biography first published 1988. Last revised 2006. 28 Oct 2007. http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1988/mahfouz-bio.html
Unsworth. Barry. "The Bastard of Istanbul." The Washington Post's Book World. washingtonpost.com. 2007. The Washington Post