Late last week, family and friends paid their last respects to Amin Iskandar, a prominent Nasserist politician who died in a Cairo hospital at 70 after suffering from heart failure. A mass was held at a church in one of the Cairo neighbourhoods that Iskandar was particularly fond of: Shubra, the district that was always home to Egypt’s eclectic Christian presence, including that of the predominant Coptic Church to which he was a follower, just as it was home to the many and true colours and vibes of the majority of Egyptians that Iskandar belonged to and defended.
In church for the farewell were prominent figures from the stream of Nasserist thought — the Arab nationalist and socialist political ideology based on the thinking of former Egyptian president Gamal Abdel-Nasser — including two-time presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi with whom Iskandar had launched the Karama (Dignity) Party after having split with the Arab Democratic Nasserist Party which became defunct 10 years ago.
However, the sense of loss and sadness was felt in much wider quarters of intellectuals and activists of different age groups who had, at one point or other, crossed paths with this disciplined politician who was always a decent human being upon whom friends could lean on. He was, though, an uncompromising politician whom adversaries were always mindful of but never worried about possible backstabbing from his side.
The farewell was peaceful and it had a lot of sincerity and warmth — just like Iskandar himself. It was a moment for prayers and for tears but also for much acknowledgment for the memory of a man who was almost literally born under the star of the 1952 July Revolution and who was destined to believe in its slogans, to defend its claims, to live its joy and to carry its defeat like a cross all through his life — as the memory of the June 1967 military defeat against Israel always brought a sigh to his otherwise very confident talk.
It was at university, shortly after the 1967 defeat, that Iskandar embraced politics, as a Nasserist, and joined the foundation of a sequel of Nasserist forums. However, despite the association he always held so dear to the many forums and political parties that he committed to, Iskandar did not forgo his own ideas as an individual who believed in Abdel-Nasser’s call but acknowledged the mistakes of the Nasserist era — although he would never come round to admitting they were huge mistakes. After all, he believed, the pursuit of pan-Arabism was not a path that could have been walked straight without some inevitable hiccups.
Iskandar’s faith in pan-Arabism and the call of Abdel-Nasser put him at odds with the regime of Abdel-Nasser’s successor Anwar Al-Sadat, especially after Sadat’s pursuit of peace with Israel. He was arrested and imprisoned but he would not lessen his criticism. He always spoke his mind.
Regarding Abdel-Nasser’s call, Iskandar also embraced the plea for social justice. This got him to often call for and join demonstrations that rejected economic decisions that he saw to be detrimental to the poor, first under Sadat and later under Hosni Mubarak.
Under Mubarak, Iskandar opposed relations with Israel — even when Israelis were loudly complaining about Mubarak’s “cold peace” and economic liberalisation measures.
Under Sadat and Nasser, Iskandar was very critical of what he thought was an unguarded accommodation of radical Islamic influences that he often said were force-implanted in Egyptian society from the outside to derail the path of modernity that society had embraced since the early decades of the 20th century.
Iskandar was equally, and at times more ferociously, critical of what he thought was the failure of the larger Coptic community to speak for its “indelible citizenship rights”. He carried himself as a proud Copt, however, he would not go round in his everyday life, at work and in politics, as anything but an uncompromised Egyptian. He always declined to be treated as “a second class citizen”. For him, this would be an insult to his sense of dignity as a proud Egyptian.
Iskandar was married to who he sometimes called Nani, as did all his friends and followers. But most of the time he called her Mama, a fond term of endearment of the wife and mother of his two children, Fadi and Dina, who both gave him his two grandchildren.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 8 December, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly