INTERVIEW: Mohamed Abul-Ghar talks about a life where art and science were always entwined

Dina Ezzat , Tuesday 25 Jul 2023

Mohamed Abul-Ghar, the prominent gynaecologist, talks to Ahram Online on the occasion of receiving the Nile Award in Science and Advanced Technological Sciences.

Mohamed Aboulghar
Mohamed Aboulghar


In the previous month, Mohamed Ashour, the Minister of Higher Education and Head of the Scientific Research and Technology Academy, declared that Dr Mohamed Abul-Ghar, a professor at Cairo University's Faculty of Medicine, was the recipient of the State Nile Award in Science and Advanced Technological Sciences.

The news of the award was not surprising for this renowned figure in the field of gynaecology in Egypt and the region. The nomination for the prize typically happens months before the June announcement of the winners, through a prestigious medical organization with the nominee's consent and sharing of their CV.

In contrast to awards given to humanities figures, science professionals are selected based on a strict scoring system that considers their career path, achievements, published research, and other internationally recognized contributions. The top scorers are then evaluated by a committee that assesses the nominee's overall profile. The committee, which lacks government representatives, allows for secret voting.

With a career spanning nearly half a century in medical practice and research, Abul-Ghar's win was well-deserved, particularly given his groundbreaking contributions to the treatment of infertility problems. Notably, he introduced IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) techniques to Egypt, leading to the birth of the first IVF child in March 1986, just 10 years after the first IVF success in England.

In 1987, after joining the Cairo University Faculty of Medicine 30 years earlier, Abul-Ghar and his colleagues, Ragaa Mansour and Gamal Sorour, celebrated the first birthday of  Hebattollah, the first IVF child born in Egypt. Since then, they have continually worked to improve IVF techniques to address the fertility issues of more couples, including those with more complex cases.

In an interview upon receiving the award, Abul-Ghar revealed that his dedication and passion for his profession and research never monopolized his time. He always found time for a diverse range of interests, including arts, culture, politics, and history. His vast array of books and commentaries in the press, which includes a weekly column in the daily Al-Masry Al-Youm, touches on various topics such as education, political freedoms, economic issues, books, paintings, movies, and more.

 “I remember during my first days at the faculty of medicine, Cairo University, when the dean, Mohamed Ibrahim – a cardiologist, came into class in the company of two prominent figures of the time, Hussein Fawzy, a medical doctor with an accomplished knowledge on art, music, marine biology and many other things, and Yehiya Hakki, a lawyer and novelist,” Abul-Ghar said. During his interview, Abul-Ghar recounted a moment during his medical studies when the dean of his class, which consisted of 200 students at the time, urged them to aim to be more than just physicians - to become true 'hokama,' the plural of the Arabic word 'hakim,' which historically referred to a medical doctor in the first half of the 20th century, but literally translates to 'wise men.'

Abul-Ghar and some of his classmates took advantage of the chance to attend book clubs and discussion sessions that Fawzy and Haqqi offered to their class, focusing on topics such as classical music, plastic arts, and literature. For Abul-Ghar, this was a natural fit, as he came from "a family that actively engaged in public affairs while also enjoying music and the arts."

 “We were certainly privileged and I think a good few of this class grew up to practice medicine and appreciate art and engage in public affairs,” Abul-Ghar said. He added that previous classes, such as that of Youssef Idris, a renowned Egyptian author who joined Cairo University's faculty of medicine in the early 1950s, were similarly fortunate. He argued that university education during that time was not solely focused on curricula or medical training, but also on enabling students to gain knowledge and prepare for life beyond their professions.

Abul-Ghar currently has two grandchildren, Yassmine and Youssef, attending the same faculty he and his daughters, Hanna and Mona, had completed in the 1950s and 1980s, respectively. However, he acknowledges that the education offered to his class of 200 students is not comparable to what the current class of 3,000 students receives. He agrees that this is not only due to the overall setting but also to certain aspects of medical teaching and clinical training.

Furthermore, Abul-Ghar pointed out that many professors from public universities are being recruited to teach at private universities that cater to the wealthy and not necessarily highly qualified students. This makes it difficult to expect these professors to always have the necessary time and energy to dedicate to the large classes of today.

Abul-Ghar believes that recent medical school graduates face a difficult challenge today, due to the complex situation of education and postgraduate studies. He notes that only 10 percent of medical school graduates are able to access the necessary path for medical excellence. Additionally, he cites the high level of inflation, which forces people to prioritize their monthly bills every year.

 “It is not easy for the young doctors for sure but it is also worrying because what the doctors acquire or do not acquire is directly reflected on what the patients get or do not get; so, if we are talking about a maximum of 10 percent of the doctors have access to the quality of education, training and research required for the making of an excellent doctor then this means that probably not much more than 10 percent of the patients have access to this level of medical proficiency,” he said.

Abul-Ghar regrets the decline in Egypt's once prominent status as a leader in medical education and services in the Arab world. He notes that "while other Arab countries have heavily invested in education and scholarships, Egypt has not, resulting in a gap in the quality of medical doctors." He emphasizes the need for more investment in education and considers it a top priority in his daily life.

In addition to his ongoing medical research and editorial work for a gynaecology and obstetrics journal, Abul-Ghar is equally interested in history. He has contributed to several volumes on various aspects of Egyptian history, such as the January 2011 Revolution (in which he played a prominent role), the 1919 Revolution, the Jews of Egypt, and the forced conscription of Egyptian soldiers and workers during the British occupation.

Abul-Ghar's current project is a history volume on the life and reign of Egypt's first monarch, King Fouad, who held the title of Sultan from 1917 and became King in 1922 after the UK declared Egyptian independence, remaining in power until 1936.

As with his past history projects, Abul-Ghar is currently delving into foreign archives to gather material, due to the "incredible difficulties" researchers face in accessing documents in Egyptian archives.

Abul-Ghar believes it is "of utmost importance" for Egyptians to learn their history from various perspectives, rather than solely relying on school books or government-controlled media. In recent years, he has been focused on two specific issues: the 100th anniversary of the 1919 Revolution and the upcoming 50th anniversary of the passing of Taha Hussein, which will occur in October of this year.

Abul-Ghar regards the 1919 Revolution as the most significant "real" revolution in modern Egyptian history, in which people from all walks of life and from all parts of the country contributed. He believes this revolution paved the way for Egypt to have a true constitution and parliament.

Abul-Ghar considers Taha Hussein to be one of the most significant figures of enlightenment in modern Egyptian history. He notes that this is not only due to Hussein's efforts to make education accessible to as many Egyptians as possible but also because of the "remarkable and revolutionary ideas" he championed that could have had an even greater impact if they had reached a larger audience.

Abul-Ghar believes that both the 1919 Revolution and Taha Hussein embodied the fundamental concepts of democracy and enlightenment, which he views as essential elements for shaping a better future for Egypt, a nation as grand as it is.


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