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Saturday, 25 November 2017

Farag Fouda: The man who died for the love of Egypt

This week, friends and admirers of the late Farag Fouda — a man of tremendous moral and intellectual courage — marked the 24th anniversary of his killing at the hands of Gamaa Islamiya

Mohamed Abul Ghar , Thursday 23 Jun 2016
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Ousted President Mohamed Morsi actually pardoned one of those convicted of the killing of Farag Fouda, and this man has since joined the Islamic State group in Syria.

Fouda was a secular liberal who took part in the re-launch of the Wafd Party – the New Wafd as it was called – in the 1970s when late President Anwar El-Sadat allowed the presence of political parties.

Fouda, however, resigned from the party when it decided to enter into an electoral alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood for the legislative elections. He insisted that joining hands with the Muslim Brotherhood ran counter to all secular principles the Wafd supposedly stood for. He was convinced that this alliance would mark the end of the Wafd as a leading civil party.

According to the narrative of the Islamists, Egypt’s military defeat by Israel in the 1967 war was an inevitable result of the country’s alienation from Islam under Nasser. The same narrative suggests that the 1973 military victory under Sadat was the result of the country’s re-embrace of Islam.

For his part, Fouda was convinced that our defeat was the product of our failure to keep pace with modern military techniques and our lack of national resolve. He was equally convinced that the victory in the October War was the result of a military commitment to reverse the defeat and the strong national will that stood behind the army at the time. 

Fouda was strongly against the narrative propagated by Islamists that suggested that angels were fighting on the side of the Egyptian army during the October War, and supposedly led to the victory.

Fouda was always a strong believer in the values of science and hard work. He stood firmly against the constitutional amendments of 1981 that allowed for Islamic Sharia to change from being one of the main sources of legislation to being the main source. This was a major battle that he undertook.

Fouda was always brave in his battles against the Islamists, especially the militant Gamaa Islamiya.

He openly accused Sadat of being responsible for the rise of Islamist currents and always insisted that Islamist groups were set up in universities by national security bodies and the agents of the National Democratic Party (which Sadat led) to combat the Leftist and Nasserist trends.

Fouda tried to establish an independent party but his efforts were frustrated by the regime.

In 1992, in an article run by the state-owned weekly October Magazine, Fouda published an article whereby he anticipated the end of the Arab-Israeli struggle and the shift of positions that would turn Iran into the main enemy. He also warned of the increase of power of Islamists in Sudan.

He was one of the early voices to argue the need for Egypt to work to secure its Nile water share. These are all positions of a man who had a clear vision.

Fouda firmly believed that the parallel economy that Islamists were allowed to have was crucial to the power enjoyed by Islamist groups.

He warned of Islamist investment agencies and of the expanding financial capacity of Islamists, including the strong influence of Islamists across the media that allowed for an overdosing of religion.

It was on the eve of the devastating sectarian strife in Imbaba that Fouda failed to get government approval for a national security NGO he was keen on establishing.

In remarks on the Imbaba events, he wrote in the weekly paper of the Leftist Tagammu Party that the gangs of Imbaba were only echoing the arguments that being broadcast by the media, where the Islamists were allowed, by direct approval of the national security apparatus, a great deal of influence.

In his analysis, Fouda divided the Islamist trend into three camps: the traditional camp represented by the Muslim Brotherhood; the revolutionary camp represented by militant groups; and the wealthy camp that was the trend among those who had amassed considerable fortunes during years of working in Saudi Arabia.

Fouda argued that the Saudi regime had always declined to acknowledge the revolutionary trend within the Islamic movement because it had not been brought under Saudi guidance. He also argued that the Saudis were sceptically accommodating the Muslim Brotherhood, but that their heart and support was really with those who represented the Saudi way of thinking after having spent long years of work and money-making in Saudi Arabia.

Fouda was a very thorough researcher on matters related to the history of Islam. This put him exactly in the right position to argue with the Islamists. It also placed him as direct target for their scorn as he made arguments against the call for an Islamic caliphate or against Islamist objections to interest provided by banks on savings, among other matters.

Fouda was a strong supporter of Ijtihad – endless research on Islamic matters in the search for answers to modern questions – even if this research might take to task established Islamic convictions.

Fouda offered a direct definition of secular rule, in being civil rule based on constitutional principles of equal rights for all citizens and complete freedom of faith.

Fouda was the author of several important books including his Before the Fall that warned against and anticipated the dominance of Islamists that a few decades later manifested itself in the ascent of the Muslim Brotherhood to power.

I was a close friend of Fouda, whom I met through a joint friend, Mohamed Sharaf. Together we took part in the activities of several cultural and feminist organisations, including the Arab Woman Association led by Nawal Al-Saadawi.

Fouda manifested incredible courage in standing up against the Islamist argument during a famous debate at the book fair with leading Islamist and Muslim Brotherhood figures.

I was very alarmed when he insisted to go debate against three leading Islamist figures after two secular figures decided to skip the event. But he was committed and insisted that even if he had to die for saying what he believed, this would not undermine his position but would give it more strength and weight. 

I clearly remember the day of the debate that was attended by a large mass of young Islamist men in galabiyas and who later widely distributed video of this debate where I think Fouda crushed the three Islamists present.

Fouda died for the love of his country, for its future and the unity of Muslims and Copts. He died for the freedom of all Egyptians. People like Fouda might be killed as a price for their positions, but their ideas never die. They live on and they introduce change into the future.

The writer is former head of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party.

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