Egypt’s renowned journalist and political commentator Mohamed Hassanein Heikal has, for only the second time in 37 years, written for Al-Ahram newspaper. His article in Tuesday’s edition on the sectarian tension engulfing Egypt saw the newspaper’s three print runs sell out. Copies are changing hands on the black market for LE3, three times the normal cover price.
Heikal was editor of Al Ahram from 1957 to 1974 during which time he wrote a regular column "Frankly Speaking" which was considered a barometer of Egyptian policy. He was removed from his post after Al-Ahram ran a series of articles critical of Sadat's policies. A close confident of President Abdel Nasser, Heikal was also advisor to Anwar El Sadat and served as minister of national guidance in 1970 - a post from which he resigned when Nasser died. In 1970 he was also acting minister of Foreign Affairs, member of the National Security Council and member of the Central Committee of the Arab Socialist Union.
Considered among the most powerful journalists in the world, Heikal is the author of many internationally recognised books including The Cairo Documents (1973) and Autumn of Fury: the Assasination of Sadat (1983).
The only time his words returned to the pages of Al-Ahram was in 2003 when he turned 80. He wrote a two-part article titled ‘permission to leave...request and a final report.’
In the article, he reflected candidly on how he maintained the public’s attention for so many years. “For years I tried to warn myself, every once in a while, of the problems of waiting. What I did was to put limits to what I write so that people wonder ‘why does this man not write more often?’ instead of having them wonder ‘why is this man writing at all?’ Now I am concerned with making people wonder ‘why is this man asking for a leave so soon?’ instead of asking ‘why is this man taking so long to leave?’”
Heikal kept them waiting a long time after that. The man known as the “teacher” of written journalism moved into television, citing his life experience in a weekly show for Al-Jazeera.
One of the most important, and courageous, Arab writers of the last 60 years, Heikal’s works on Egypt and the Arab world are considered a valuable historical record of the second half of the twentieth century.
An English langauge translation of the full text of the article entitled: "On the Sectarian Crisis and Other Matters" will be published is to appear shortly on Ahram Online.