Mohamed Hassanein Heikal

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On February 17, 2016, Mohamed Hassanein Heikal died at the age of 92 after a short period of illness. He was a famous journalist and a leading authority on modern Middle East.

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Narration: February 17, 2016; Muhammad Hassanein Heikal died at the age of 92 after a short period of illness that ended a momentous career and a highly eventful life. He was the guru of Egyptian and Arab journalism and the ultimate inside storyteller of key political events in the region after World War II. Muhammad Hassanein Heikal was a leading authority on modern Middle East with works that brought him worldwide fame and influence.

Heikal first won public attention as a war reporter covering the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948 which later led to what Arabs call the Nakba or Catastrophe.

In 1952, a revolution in Egypt overthrew the British-backed King Farouk and brought to power Gamal Abdul Nasser. Heikal's greatest years had already begun. As Nasser's close friend, Heikal became a firm supporter of the revolution and helped the new leader draft his manifesto which was an outlook for the future of the country.

In 1956, Heikal was appointed as editor-in-chief of the semi-official newspaper, Al Ahram, a position he held for 17 years. Under Heikal, Al Ahram became the Arab world's most prestigious paper which provided a platform for Nasser's nationalist and pan-Arab policies. Soon the paper became the gauge of Egyptian policy.

Heikal stood by Nasser during the hardest political challenges, in particular after the Suez War, an invasion of Egypt in late 1956 by Israel, the United Kingdom and France. The aims were to regain Western control of the Canal and to remove Nasser from power.

In 1968, Heikal became a member of the Central Committee of the Arab Socialist Union, which was in fact Nasser's ruling party. Two years later, he was appointed as the Minister of National Guidance.

In September 1970, Nasser died from a heart attack.

Heikal had a rocky relationship with the new president. He fell out with Sadat over his domestic and international policies. The president relieved him of his duties in 1974. The disagreement was mainly over Heikal's opposition to the 1979 peace treaty Sadat had signed with Israel. The treaty was received with enormous controversy across the Arab world; and it was condemned and considered as a stab in the back. Heikal believed that the treaty would isolate Egypt from the rest of the Arab world and have endless political repercussions for Cairo.

In 1981, Sadat ordered Heikal to be jailed, along with hundreds of political leaders, writers and intellectuals who were opposed to his peace initiative with Israel and his alliance with the United States of America.One month later Sadat was assassinated during the annual victory parade.

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Narration: As Hosni Mubarak took office in the same month, he released Heikal from prison but didn’t let him return to Al Ahram. He was also prohibited from writing in the Egyptian press. After that, Heikal kept a low profile abroad writing for foreign papers until the 2000s, when he returned to Egypt. By then, he had written some of his most famous books which spanned more than six decades and covered a variety of issues on Egypt and the region. In his "Secret Channels: The Inside Story of Arab-Israeli Peace Negotiations," Heikal examined the history of covert negotiations between Israeli and Arab representatives which resulted in the Oslo Agreement in September 1993.

Heikal has also written some books about Iran: "Iran on a Volcano" is about the first Prime Minister of Iran, Mohammad Mosaddegh, who was overthrown in a coup d'état orchestrated by the American Central Intelligence Agency and the British Secret Intelligence Service; the book also deals with the nationalization of the Iranian oil industry, which had long been under British control through the Anglo-Persian Oil. Heikal’s writings on the Islamic Revolution of Iran under the leadership of Ayatollah Khomeini made him one of the best Arab experts on Iran. He visited Ayatollah Khomeini twice; first, when the Ayatollah was in exile in Paris and second in Tehran. He praised Ayatollah Khomeini for his serious attempt to bring unity to the Islamic world. To him, the sectarian conflict among Muslims was a scheme to distract the Islamic world from fighting the Israeli regime.

As for the territorial disputes over Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tunbs in the Persian Gulf, Heikal believed that it was a made-up story with political motivation on behalf of the United Arab Emirates. The three Persian Gulf islands have always been part of Iran throughout history.

In his "Illusions of Triumph: An Arab View of The Gulf War" Heikal argued that Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in 1990 was less a challenge to the West and Israel than an attempt by the Iraqi leader to assert his leadership of the Arab world after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

From 2007, Heikal hosted a series of lectures on world events entitled “With Heikal,” which was broadcast on the Arabic television network Al Jazeera.

In 2012 as a revolutionary wave of demonstration and protests swept across Egypt and brought Hosni Mubarak down from power, Heikal published his last book, a sharp criticism of Mubarak which portrayed him as inept and corrupt.

After of the ouster of Mohamed Morsi, Heikal supported the candidacy of president Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi as the only option to save Egypt from chaos. However, he later expressed his skepticism about the ability of al-Sisi to handle many challenges facing the country.

Since unrest broke out in Syria in the early spring of 2011, Heikal wrote many articles to analyze the situation in this country. He argued that Bashar al-Assad’s resistance over the past five year couldn’t be ignored. he believed that if there had been a better candidate to take office, Assad couldn’t have remained in power.

Heikal was also strongly critical of Saudi war on Yemen. He called Yeman “An dormant volcano” that if erupted, the whole region would be adversely affected.

Heikal was certainly the most important living witness of modern Egypt. For six decades, he was always there witnessing where history was made. He was quite aware of his role in the modern politics and history of the region. He once wrote, "I lived to see and I told what I had lived." 


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