Egyptian Left loses one of its most important symbols: The death of Sherif Hatata

Mahmoud El-Wardani, Thursday 1 Jun 2017

With the death of writer, politician, intellectual and activist Sherif Hatata, not only has the Egyptian Left lost one of its most important symbols, it has also shared in the end to a chapter in modern Egyptian history.

Hatata was known for having lived his own way, swimming against the tide and letting his own convictions guide him through a tough life.

He was born in London, where his Egyptian father, who belonged to a prominent aristocratic family, was studying law and fell in love with a poor English girl to whom he got married.

In 1923, the couple had Sherif and the family moved to Egypt.

According to his autobiography Open Windows, which was published in two large volumes, Hatata only spoke English until he entered the faculty of medicine in Egypt and learned Arabic.

In 1946, Hatata participated in an uprising against the British occupation and the Egyptian monarchy, joining the leader of the movement, the National Committee of Workers and Students.

In 1947, Egypt's communist organisation Iskra merged with the Egyptian Movement for National Liberation to form the Democratic Movement for National Liberation, which was one of the most influential Leftist organisations, until it disbanded itself in 1964 in Wahat Prison.

Despite possessing an excellent transcript and a degree in medicine, Hatata decided to leave everything behind and become involved in this underground work.

It seems that the renowned novelist Ihsan Abdel-Quddous based his novel "A Man in our House" on Hatata's real life at the time.

Like the novel’s protagonist, Hatata was detained and held at Qasr Al-Ainy Hospital as a prisoner receiving treatment, where he hatched a plan for his escape.

He was smuggled in the bottom of a cargo ship anchored in Alexandria Port, pretending to work as a porter to make his getaway to France. After several months spent searching for someone that could assist him in contacting the French Communist Party, the French authorities arrested Hatata and sent him back to Egypt.

Hatata's time in prison exceeded 15 years. When he left Wahat Prison in 1964, he met the writer Nawal Al-Saadawi and they married immediately.

He then spent more than 15 years working for the World Health Organisation. The activist's marriage to Nawal broke up after long years.

Hatata later married critic Amal Al-Gamal and remained with her until his death in spite of the huge age gap between them which bordered on half a century.

Hatata never ceased contributing to the public sphere, playing a prominent role in Egypt's leftist and anti-globalisation organisations.

Before his death, he served as a member of the Board of Trustees of the Popular Alliance Party.

He authored more than 20 books including an autobiography and books on political thought, as well as novels.

Hatata is widely recognised in Egypt as an influence across all these fields. At age 94, he continued through his last days working and writing articles on public affairs.

Farewell Sherif and may your soul rest in peace after a life distinguished by giving and expecting nothing in return.

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