I have never written a eulogy or obituary for anyone, but the great journalist Mahmoud Murad, has a special place in my heart. His humanity and professionalism were rare qualities in today’s world.
Murad, who passed away earlier this week aged 81, joined Al-Ahram in 1958 while he was still studying for his university degree. Since then he covered everything from the art scene to judicial and military affairs. Murad, who was among the founding fathers of Al-Ahram Weekly in 1990, once also headed the features section of Al-Ahram, as well as that of the governorates. He was also head of Al-Ahram Centre for Training and Studies. In 1992, he founded Al-Ahram Press Agency.
Anyone who joins Al-Ahram Establishment knows that once in, it is difficult to imagine yourself leaving this colossal financial entity and moral symbol that is drenched in journalism history. Some call it the magic of Al-Ahram, others describe it as the allure of the institution, while others say it is the curse of Al-Ahram because those who leave remain enchanted by it and their memories there, even if painful.
Murad understood all this and more because he too struggled until he reached senior status at Al-Ahram, and worked in many sections of the newspaper. This made him empathetic to young aspiring reporters, and a kindred spirit for those who are working hard to make a name for themselves in the field. He opened the door to many aspiring reporters and writers with his empathy, gentleness and help to those who were invited into his realm — and they came in a variety of stripes, inclinations and affiliations at Al-Ahram.
I was one of those lucky enough. We shared many unforgettable situations that were definitive and fateful for me. Most importantly, he was the one who took the decision to offer me a full-time position at Al-Ahram after I spent four years as a research assistant at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies (ACPSS). This may seem too trivial or personal for some, but it unveils Murad’s humane and professional character.
Sombre humour to bridge the gap between him and his subordinates was one of Murad’s characteristics. And so were discussions and storytelling of his many trips to Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia and Uganda in Africa, as well as China, Japan, Indonesia and Malaysia in Asia. He had a trove of stories from South America, which he believes he rediscovered in his writings, and wrote extensively about most regional and international issues of the time.
He was a genius seminar organiser, covering all hot topics at home and abroad, evolving them into what can be called “Al-Ahram’s Hyde Park” because of the immense and intense topics and speakers. Murad was also keen on inviting many officials from African and other countries, with a special focus on Sudanese affairs.
Murad is a contemporary of the 1989 revolution in Sudan, and despite his close ties with some of those who participated or joined it later, its Islamist dimension was as clear as day to him. He always talked about the difference between being a journalist and a politician, which gave him a good space to stop and ponder many issues that others would avoid.
He encouraged me to take a deeper interest in Sudanese affairs too, and we often had extensive conversations and discussions during which we often disagreed more than agreed. Our relationship remained strong because he was great in his awareness, understanding and conduct, and a model journalist in encouraging his juniors.
Murad enjoyed quibbling about serious issues with humour or vice versa. Once he told me that my personal interest in politics drowned out any other subject such as art, sports or entertainment, and that a professional journalist must be familiar with all the arts of work. Indeed, Murad wrote in every field and had opinions on just about everything under the sun. He was passionate about any issue that could be the title of an article or seminar, or even a news item on any page in Al-Ahram.
He did not confine himself to being a writer in an ivory tower separate from his readers. He wrote news, reports, interviews, features and opinion pieces. He was the quintessential “journalist” and never turned his nose up on reporting. He eventually left all his titles at Al-Ahram but kept the one dearest to his heart: “reporter”.
He is a rare breed. He would often go to hospital due to a heart condition, but never stopped following up on the material he sent to the newspaper before it went to print. He had to proof the copy and layout of his writings. There are many anecdotes about his tenacity in writing and following up, even when he was ill. Once, he insisted on delaying medical tests so he could proof his article, and when he stopped coming to the office and worked from home he never stopped supervising his work. He would amicably ask colleagues to send him a copy before it went to print to make sure it was as he wanted it to be.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 5 March, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly