Farewell to the voice of the people … Galal Amer

Sayed Mahmoud, Sunday 12 Feb 2012

Passing away only hours after marching in support of the revolution in Alexandria, Galal Amer left a unique legacy of laughter, sarcasm and faith in the Egyptian people

Galal Amer

Less than 48 hours before he passed away, the Egyptian satrirical writer Galal Amer walked in a demonstration against military rule through Alexandria. In front of the demonstration was another calling for the continuation of military rule, headed by Tawfiq Okasha — a different kind of satirical character. While Amer sided with the revolution and its demands for "bread, freedom and social justice" before suffering the heart attack that took his life, Okasha placed himself against these demands, making jokes about those asking for them.

This comparison maybe shows the extent of the loss suffered by the young Egyptian revolution that lost one of its most important resistance voices; a brave voice that was greatly influential among average Egyptians.

Amer started writing after a life in the military, reaching the rank of general, proud to have participated in a number of wars up until the October 1973 victory. The talent of this unique writer was discovered by the Egyptian leftwing only after his early retirement, when he started writing for a local newspaper issued by the Tagammu Party in Alexandria. Later Ibrahim Eissa chose him for the Letters to the Editor page in Al-Ahram, from which he moved to a daily column at Al-Badeel leftist newspaper on its last page, giving a light side to an otherwise solemn newspaper.

With the closure of Al-Badeel, doors opened for Amer in the widely-distributed Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper where his success spread even more and enabled him to contact a much wider public. His fame grew even more with the thousands of fans he gathered on his Facebook and Twitter pages, to the extent that he noted once, “The two most stolen Egyptian creations are the music of Baligh Hamdy and the words of Galal Amer.”

The school to which Amer belonged is a continuation of a trend that existed in Egyptian newspapers until the 1960s, leaving behind writers like Mahmoud El-Saadany, Mohamed Afifi and Ahmed Ragab, among others. While all of them depended on large news organisations for success, Amer started much later and on the periphery, enabling him to stay free of organisational restrictions and to build his own style without such "considerations," using the term "at God’s will" to describe himself. This allowed him to link closer to people, by comparison to, for example Ahmed Ragab who chose isolation in a distant tower, or El-Saadany whose link to the dictatorship posed many questions about his writings.

Amer’s star shone at a unique moment and his production was so rich, especially during the last five years of the Mubarak regime. His two books sold very well: Masr Ala Kaff Afreet (Egypt on a Ghost’s Hand) published in 2007 by Dar Al-Ain, and Istikalet Rais Arabi (An Arab President’s Resignation) published by Dar Merit in 2010.

Amer’s style was light and condense, suitable for the young generation, to the extent that some of his writings were used in graffiti, describing Amer as a man “closely resembling his writings.” His daily column of 400 words expressed deep knowledge of history, philosophy and literature, mixing deep laughter with deep social insight that made him a voice of the revolution, refusing all talk of its failure.

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