Mohamed Hassanein Heikal, Egypt’s most prominent journalist and commentator, died today at the age of 92 in Cairo after a brief illness that ended an accomplished life and remarkable career.
Heikal will be buried today in a family service.
Born in 1923, Heikal started his career as a journalist in the fall of 1942 at the Egyptian Gazette.
His breakthrough came with his coverage of the WWII Battle of Al-Alemin for the Gazette. He later moved on to join the most established editor of the time, Mohamed El-Tabei, in the then most widely-circulated paper Akhr Saa.
Heikal joined Akhbar Al-Youm and worked closely with the Amin brothers before moving on to chair Al-Ahram in 1957 for 14 years, transforming the paper into the Arab world’s most reputable press establishment.
Following his remarkable years at the helm of Al-Ahram, Heikal produced the largest volume of his books that offer incredible insight into the politics of Egypt and the Middle East post Sykes-Picot up until the eve of the Arab Spring.
Beyond his capacity as the top notch political journalist of the Arab world for seven consecutive years, Heikal assumed a political status that was prompted by his close association with Gamal Abdel Nasser during the tumultuous years of Egypt’s independence and wars with Israel.
His political posturing was adjusted after a fall-out with Nasser’s successor Anwar Sadat over the latter's decisions on the Egyptian-Israeli negotiations following the end of the October War.
Towards the end of Sadat’s rule, he imprisoned Heikal and other top figures from across the political spectrum.
Following the dramatic assassination of Sadat, his successor Hosni Mubarak released Heikal and other political prisoners, but the rapport between the newcomer to the seat of power in Cairo and the established journalist was doomed.
During the last years of Mubarak’s rule, Heikal foresaw the outbreak of anger.
With the start of the January revolution, he saw a new day of hope for the country. He insisted, however, that the January revolution was for the youth and declined to assume any central public role despite his deep political consultations.
Heikal did not lend public support to any of the leading presidential runners in the spring of 2012 and called on the Muslim Brotherhood, upon the election of their candidate Mohamed Morsi, to avoid political exclusionism.
However, a few months later, Heikal expressed concern over the fate of Morsi’s rule and made no small support for his ouster during the 30 June demonstrations.
Heikal later offered generous support to the candidacy of Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi and he dubbed him “the president of need.”
During the last year, Heikal expressed much skepticism over state management – both publicly and privately.
In his last TV appearance in December 2015, Heikal was unequivocal in his warnings that Egypt is on a fast path towards political and economic troubles due to its lack of drive for reform.