From Tutu to Latif-Ghattas

Mohamed Salmawy
Tuesday 4 Jan 2022

Mohamed Salmawy laments the paucity of international coverage in Egypt

It appears that most of our media have become so provincial that nothing outside domestic affairs is of any concern to them. The effect of this is to cut us off from what is going on in the rest of the world. When world events force themselves on our media, they merely relay the reports of Western news agencies, complete with the well-known biases of the West especially when it comes to Arab causes. Would we not be better served if our media exerted more effort to present an Arab point of view on those events? 

The reason I have brought up this matter has to do with the death, on 26 December, of the internationally renowned man of faith, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the companion of Nelson Mandela in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. It saddened me that so many of our newspapers confined their coverage to the same details of his life and courageous humanitarian stances that were covered in the Western press, and ignored the same parts as the Western press. Archbishop Tutu had dedicated his life to the fight against racial discrimination in his country. As the first Black bishop in Cape Town, he always said that faith was not just rites and rituals. It was also about spreading humanitarian values, championing justice and fighting tyranny and oppression. Due to Tutu’s influence, religion became one of the most effective instruments in the anti-apartheid struggle. His lifelong commitment to this cause earned him the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1984. 

Crucially, Tutu’s political stances were not characterised by the prevailing double standards in the West where they shed tears over the injustice suffered by Jews in the past under the Nazis but ignore the injustices inflicted on the Palestinians by the Nazis’ victims who have become today’s executioners. Tutu was one of the first leaders in the world to openly liken the Israeli occupation’s policies on the Palestinians to apartheid, and he advocated boycotting Israel as a racist state. When former President Donald Trump recognised occupied Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in 2017, Tutu said, “God is weeping over president Donald Trump’s inflammatory and discriminatory recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. It is our responsibility to tell Mr Trump that he is wrong.”

But if you search our news outlets for mention of the stances Tutu took in support of Arab rights, you will come up empty handed. That is because they are taking their cue from their Western counterparts which ignored these stances. Ironically, you will find mention of them in the Israeli press. The Jerusalem Post, for example, featured a lengthy article on the late South African archbishop that described him as “not a friend of Israel.” It observed that Tutu had “a lifelong identification with the Palestinian cause” and was “vocal [in his] opposition to what he deemed as Israel’s apartheid policies.” 

The week Tutu died, the Canadian-Egyptian poet Mona Latif-Ghattas too passed away. A prominent creative writer, she published numerous poetry collections, and was awarded the Prix du Salon for international Francophone poets for one of them. She has also authored novels and short stories. Her work and articles about her have appeared in important Canadian literary magazines such as Humanitas. Born in Cairo in 1946, she married the Egyptian businessman Émile Ghattas at the age of twenty and moved with him to Canada where she studied theatre at the University of Quebec in Montreal. 

Although an ocean away and immersed in Canadian literary and cultural life, Latif-Ghattas never forgot her native Egypt. This affiliation remained a part of her core to her dying day and found expression in her first novel, Nicolas: Le fils du Nil (1985). Also, her poetry anthology La triste beauté du monde (1993) and her short story collection Les lunes de miel (1996) contain several works inspired by Egypt. Latif-Ghattas contributed a special Egyptian touch to the literary heritage of her second home, Canada. She was proud of her Egyptian heritage and a worthy representative of Egypt, the Egyptian people and their ancient, culturally and artistically rich civilisation. She, herself, was multitalented. She was also a theatre director who staged works in both Montreal and Paris based on poetic and musical recitation. Some of these made their way to the Cairo Opera House. In addition, she promoted musical creativity, founding the Nicolas Latif award for outstanding young Egyptian musicians, an annual award named after her father. I hope her husband keeps this effort alive with support from his and his wife’s friends in Egypt. 

My friendship with Mona and her husband dates back more than 20 years. She admired my literary works and translated three of them into French: Salome’s Last Dance, Butterfly Wings and The Last Station: Naguib Mahfouz Looking Back

It saddened me as much as the news of her death that I was unable to find a single article in the Egyptian press on the late daughter of the Nile, Mona Latif-Ghattas.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 6 January, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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