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We lost Samer Soliman at a difficult time

A revolutionary thinker and writer who raised the standard of public debate on democracy, social justice and the empowerment of women, Samer Soliman's loss is deeply felt in Egypt's present crisis

Reem Saad , Saturday 11 May 2013
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Samer Soliman would have turned 45 on 2 May 2013 if he had not been snatched away by death on 23 December 2012 after a short battle with a vicious illness. The death of Samer was a personal loss to me, not only because he was a colleague at the American University in Cairo, but also because he was like a cousin to me, since his father, Mahrous Soliman, and my mother, Wedad Metry (may God bless them both) were tied together by a close, lifetime friendship that started when they worked side by side in the field of education.

My mother was coincidentally in Paris during Samer's doctoral dissertation defence, and despite not knowing a single word of French, she stayed for the full duration of the defence, as she considered herself to be a representative of the family on this crucial day, and she was infinitely proud of him then.

The church hall was filled to the brim on the day we said goodbye to Samer, with mourners overflowing to fill the outdoor courtyard too. It was a solemn and moving farewell, which was not peculiar, for he was a successful and popular person, taken by death in the prime of his youth and career.

His wife, Mary, delivered a heart-rending speech in which she reminded us that we were to bid him farewell in the same church where they were married only a few years earlier. She spoke of their love, and offered her condolences to his friends, and upon mentioning his love for Egypt a collective wave of emotion pervaded the hall.

It is normal to be distraught at the death of a loved one. Yet I admit that I found myself curious over the degree of shock and grief brought about by the death of Samer, a melancholy that has not been limited to his relatives and friends, but also extended to those who did not know him personally, yet became acquainted with him via his numerous writings and academic contributions, which were, incidentally, much more than may have seemed to us at the time. Samer was constantly embued in intellectual circles; these groups of people would think together, and have produced writings of great importance, many of which have not been stamped with their authors’ signatures.

Samer specialised in political economy and his most famous work was the book "Strong Regime, Weak State.” He was one of those who contributed in raising the standards of public debate. His academic contributions engulfed narrow specialisations, and were clearly distinguished from works by traditional political analysts by their blending of politics and economics, and society and culture, and by tackling an extended range of interests, and by his participation in important issues such as exposing sectarianism and upholding the rights of women, not to mention defending democracy, the civil state and social justice.

Samer was a free and serious thinker and intellectual, and he was also tough on many occasions, for his intellectual and political battles were played out with his friends before his rivals.

The momentous shock of Samer’s death is related to the revolution, but maybe it was not a shock as much as it was a feeling of grave loss for what this revolution needs most right now, which is thought and vision. The revolution has restored the status of the intellectual, and the importance of scientific thought and theorising, which had been until recently considered a passive occupation used to dub ineffective tasks and used to identify a state of isolation and an absence of mind.

"We lost Samer at a difficult time." These words were written by Samer’s friend, prominent researcher Amr Adly, who was also one of the co-founders of El-Bosla, in a comment on a friend's page who republished the prologue of the first edition of the magazine, which came out in June 2005 — the project that laid the foundation for the radical democracy current and unlocked important horizons for thought and political activity in Egypt.

Indeed, we lost Samer at a critical time, for in a different era, people would complain of too much talk, theorising and a lack of action, yet now, while we are in the heart of the revolutionary era, grasping for air, forcibly pushed, in constant motion on shaky ground, the role of the revolutionary thinker who can think whilst moving is of the utmost importance, and the loss of anyone with such capacity becomes a solemn and huge loss.

On the anniversary of Samer's birthday, Mary wrote on her Facebook page of the commencement of their love story, which coincided with his birthday in 2009, and she recounted how reading his article on women in El-Bosla was the real reason behind their marriage. "For him I left my father's hand before walking through the church’s door to our wedding, and I was not merely a commodity changing hands from one man to the other, but an autonomous being, taking the wild decision to commit to the first man to ever speak to me about freedom, and never about love."

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