For a young Egyptian, perhaps approaching Anouar Abdel-Malek was no easy task. It was an intersection of destinies, a cycle of coincidence, that caused him to choose me to be his assistant. The life I lived with Anouar Abdel-Malek, for the period of two years (2004-2006), was built on systematic precision and rigour, which is among what I learned from him. My first intellectual meeting with Abdel-Malek was on Nahro street, where he tried to dismantle the colonial discourse of the West towards the Orient, emphasising the rise of China and the return of Russia as central figures in the new world. In his heart lay the experience of the Egyptian July 1952 revolution, which he believed in to the greatest extent. He believed in personal liberty and social justice, which were at its heart, and he lived his life defending these principles on a broader human level. He saw a parallel with Mao Zedong's revolution.
I used to receive my intellectual lessons at 8 in the morning on my seat at the Arabesque restaurant, in the salon overlooking the Merryland in Heliopolis; Abdel-Malek emphasised his stature in front of me, with his hands behind his back. He deeply believed in the need to gather and invest the forces of Arab nationalism and the Islamic and African connection. He stressed the return and the rise of the Orient, and I used to argue that the wealth and political decisions in the world are still concentrated in the hands of the West, at which he would be agitated. I was not allowed to have coffee or breakfast until I read an entire book from his library, which he would subsequently quiz me on. In the evening, his salon featured Diaa Rashwan, Saad Zahran, Mohammed Sid Ahmed, and other patriotic Egyptian figures.
The days pass. We reach a point where we behave like father and son. During Ramadan we would work from morning to noon. I never saw him drink water in front of me when I was fasting. Afterwards I realised that he fasted for some days in solidarity with his Egyptian Muslim brothers. I often went to our breakfast meeting and found him listening to Sheikh Mohammed Rifaat reciting the Quran. He said, “Can you hear the guitar?” He told me he had memorised many chapters of the holy book from listening. It puzzled me to see a Coptic scholar who was quite so tolerant. One day he told me, walking through Merryland and leaning on me: “Egypt is a long tale, thousands of years long.” Egypt was his passion. Memories of his days in political detention were dear to his soul. He told me of the mixture between love and the whip. One day he witnessed the murder of his friend Shohdi Attia by torture in prison. One day, after his escape from prison to Paris, President Nasser sent him a letter telling him to stay where he was because Egypt was on the verge of sharp turns and harsh confrontations.
He was sad as he recounted all this. A fugitive, he could see Egypt losing ground and historical significance in the contemporary world. I never imagined that one day he would die before my eyes. His heart was overwhelmingly youthful. He worked for over 14 hours a day. When I learned of his death, I wept as I remembered the phrase he always used say, “Don't be ashamed of anything you did. Nothing is worthy of an apology except a betrayal of honesty and honour.”
But, Dr Anouar, my words are too weak. I am the lost son who struggled much for the right to knowledge, the struggle that made you weep alone in exile.