Veteran radio presenter and media specialist Hamdy El Konayessi was born on 19 March 1941 in Shubra Al-Namla village, Gharbiya governorate, and graduated from the Faculty of Arts, Ain Shams University, in 1961.
El Konayessi worked as an English teacher in a secondary school before beginning his media career as a news broadcaster on Egyptian Radio in October 1963. Moving steadily through the ranks, he was appointed Egyptian Radio chairman in 1997, a post he held until 2001.
Three years into his first radio job he had contributed to the creation of a number of popular programmes, and in 1971 moved to Sawt Al-Arab (The Voice of Arabs Radio) radio channel. He became the manager of Youth and Sports Radio in 1988, and was then appointed the CEO of The Radio and Television magazine. He also served as the general secretary of the Radio and Television Festival.
El Konayessi worked as an international media consultant at UNESCO from 1975 till 1977, and in a similar capacity in London and New Delhi between 1980 till 1984.
His daughter Lobna, a professor of English literature, says her father kept himself busy all through his life and retained long-lasting friendships with many of the celebrated figures he met during his long career.
“During his last two months he was preparing a new book on the 6 October War,” revealed his daughter, who adds that “when he heard that the Egyptian army had crossed the Suez Canal in 1973, he went directly to the chairman of the Egyptian Radio and successfully petitioned to be sent to Sinai as a military correspondent.”
“He was the best known military correspondent of the time, reaching a large audience through his popular programme Sawt Al-Maaraka [the sound of the battle],” said Mohamed Marei, a former chairman of Sawt Al-Arab.
“He would carry the radio equipment and record interviews with soldiers and officers, and then return to Cairo to prepare his broadcasts.”
Marei thinks El Konayessi would have become a full-time writer if he had not entered radio. As it is, he wrote several books. One of them, Al-Toufan (The Deluge), about Israeli leaders’ reactions towards the 6 October War, became a successful radio series.
Following the 1967 defeat El Konayessi succeeded in reaching out to an audience that had lost confidence in local news media after it had broadcast false information during the conflict. During the War of Attrition, his programme Military Correspondent Diaries succeeded in regaining the public’s trust. A source who preferred to remain anonymous told Al-Ahram Weekly that El Konayessi’s calm and friendly personality was reflected in his voice even when speaking of war. Her grandmother, she added, would listen to his programme twice daily, when it was broadcast at 2pm and the repeat at 11pm.
El Konayessi also presented programmes on politics, poetry, and Arabic literature.
His interview with both Egyptian comedian Mohamed Sobhi and Syrian actor Doreid Lahham which was broadcast at the same time in both the Cairo-based Sawt Al-Arab and the Syrian radio was a breakthrough in the early 1990s.
Nojy Abaza, a broadcaster who worked with El Konayessi for many years, believes he remained a teacher even after giving up the profession and moving into radio. “He used to teach us the basics of media messaging. He believed the microphone could help in formulating the Egyptian character,” said Abaza.
“He was a decent human being in his dealing with everyone, in his professional and social life. He had a permanent smile and a kind heart,” remembered Amina Sabri, former chairman of Sawt Al-Arab. He also had a strategy to develop the Egyptian Radio to serve Arab nationalism, she added, citing his initiative, during one of the worst periods of tensions between Cairo and Baghdad, to broadcast a programme celebrating the life of the Iraqi singer Nazem Al-Ghazali.
Nabila Mekkawi, another former head of of Sawt Al-Arab Radio station, stresses El Konayessi’s role in establishing the Media Syndicate. In 2016 he became its first chairman.
El Konayessi was a member of the People’s Assembly between 2000 and 2005, and a member of the board of Al-Ahly Club. He was awarded the State Medal for Science and Arts, first-class, for his services to media.
“El Konayessi was unique. He was the first radio presenter to become a star, winning the admiration of vast swathes of the public,” said Mohamed Nawar, Egyptian radio’s current chairman.
While he left his village at an early age to study at the university in Cairo, he remained till his death carrying the good characteristics of an Egyptian from the countryside. “He was kind, supportive and a good listener,” Yasmine Al-Hussary, CEO of Sheikh Al-Hussary Charity Association told Al-Ahram Weekly.
Al-Hussary was born in the same village as El Konayessi and her late father, Sheikh Mahmoud Khalil Al-Hussary — one of Egypt’s best Quran reciters — received his first Quran lessons from Mohamed Ali El Konayessi, Hamdy’s father, in Shubra Al-Namla village.
El Konayessi’s funeral was at Al-Hussary Mosque in 6 October city, where many symphathisers were present to pay him farewell.
El Konayessi is survived by three daughters, Lobna, Maha, and Abir.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 2 September, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly