Jamil Nimri

Heikal’s Departure

تم نشره في Thu 18 February / Feb 2016. 11:14 PM
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The great Mohamed Hassanein Heikal has gone. And I shall write from my own perspective how we witnessed the building of his legacy and how we followed his works for half a century.

We were walking to Irbid High school early morning one day during the days of the Attrition War in 1969, as the loud voice of the famous paper-man declaring Heikal’s article had come out, tempting up with enticing phrases even though the article was not of national or Pan-Arabist discourse. On the contrary, the article was a long spread analysis printed on a whole page of “Al Anwar” newspaper in coordination with “Al Ahram”, with a particularly different political purpose.

Articles like that usually contained political messages and subtleties that were intended to test waters. After all, Heikal was —as we would find out later on, Abdul Nasser’s communication channel with the Americans, the theoretician of Nasserian Right dialects, and was wildly resented and criticised by the left; to the point that Ahmed Fouad Negm wrote a song about him in the voice of Sheik Imam titled “Honestly Mr. Mickey”.

Nevertheless, Heikal did support Al Saddat’s coup again Nasserism. But when he opposed the president, he was locked up with thousands of others who opposed as well. Al Saddat was jealous of Heikal and could not stand his independence, pride, and love for Abdul Nasser; he wanted to destroy Heikal’s place locally and globally.

And then Al Saddat was assassinated, and Hassanein wrote his book “The Autumn of Fury”, tearing the late president’s character to shreds.

His depictions of Al Saddat and other leaders contained many doubtful elements; given it was customary of him to write about the leaders he depicted after they have passed, he usually recited events and conversations without any other witnesses but him. And even though it was known about Heikal that he had outstanding memory skills, it did not make sense that —according to a conversation I remember with Nehru, he had memorised a whole two-hour conversation by heart without ever recording any part of it, and then quoted the conversation on paper years later.

Besides that, and in spite of it, Heikal was the biggest documenter in the history of journalism. His books on the most crucial events of the era in the Middle East since WWII, were rich of documents from the major powers’ archives. Heikal had the kind of respect and appreciation that was rarely —if ever, achieved by a journalist; he had relations with world and Arab leaders who respected him beyond measure. Heikal was of more importance than some nation leaders. Which created a diffusion between his characters as a politician and as a writer and journalist outstanding by far any other.

He often surprised the world with documents from his own personal archives sometimes —documents no one else had, in order to support his stories and analyses. He might have been the owner of modern history’s largest private archive.

On the other hand, Mohammed Hassanein Heikal was a political ascetic, even during Abdul Nasser’s reign. He always preferred his journalistic authority as a respected influential author over any official position. Once —under pressure by Abdul Nasser, he agreed to assume the position of Egypt’s Minister of Information, but only briefly.

Heikal was also the most important historian of Nasser’s era, having centred himself in the very detail of its every event. Be it so, he also had a definitive role in the making of crucial decisions.

But through his books, however, he was also definitive to many other incidents. And in the end, he became the author of the most important works on the region’s modern history; from wars, to revolutions, all throughout the many differentiations of politics and diplomacy. Hence, with this trait —a witness to the era, he became a reference, a science, and a phenomena that is researched and studied.

Moreover, he was a star of the famous weekly programme during the rise of the most prominent satellite station “Al Jazeera”; where he substituted writing history with telling it, live and on screen, in a no less captivating manner.

Large audiences tuned into his programmes; and there is no doubt that he has made a lot of money during and even before starring on television. Which is what allowing him to live the aristocratic life he seemed to reflect and retain in his character that coupled with order, superb accuracy, and memory.

Notable of his legacy; Mohammed Hassanein Heikal remained steadfast his patriotic, nationalistic, concerned, and committed position, using his knowledge and expertise to face up to American and western foreign policies and aspirations in the region.