|Biographical detail : ||A deeply respected Egyptian journalist and historian
No political commentator in the Arab world had ever come close to the iconic status enjoyed by Muhammad Hassanein Heikal, writer and one-time editor-in-chief of Al Ahram (1957-74) Egypt’s flagship state newspaper. The newspaper was a club as much as an office and became a centre of Egyptian intellectual life.
In his long career span Heikal wielded, for two decades, enormous influence as a close confidant of al-Nasser (1918 – 70) president of Egypt who was regarded as an Arab liberator and unifier and who helped secure Egypt as a major player amongst Muslim states. Heikal helped write landmark speeches and a political manifesto, “The Philosophy of the Revolution.” He carried private messages to and from Western diplomats as Nasser’s informal emissary. And he remained the public voice of Nasserite secular Arab nationalism long after Nasser’s death in 1970.
Heikal’s link with political power was broken in the mid-1970s when he fell out with al-Nasser’s successor, Anwar el-Saadat (1918 – 81) over his peace with Israel and his turn toward the West. In 1981, Saadat jailed Heikal to silence him. Saadat was assassinated a month later, and his successor, President Hosni Mubarak, promptly freed Heikal.
He presented a series of programmes on the al-Jazeera network. Heikal was the political analyst capable of enthralling Arab television viewers.
In his final television interviews before his death, however, Heikal sounded notes of warning to President Sisi, who is struggling to defeat a militant insurgency based in the Sinai Peninsula and to halt a steep economic decline.
Heikal’s prolific writing – wrote 40 books - including Nasir, The Cairo Documents, Autumn of Fury, and Return of the Ayatollah and his encyclopaedic knowledge of both regional and international politics enhanced his stature to be a deeply respected figure and the intellectual godfather.
Born in Cairo to a wheat merchant Muhammad Hassanein Heikal sought a broader education at the American University in Cairo.
Having begun his career during World War II as a 19-year-old reporter covering the Battle of El Alamein, Heikal went on to a six-decade career as the dean of Arab political commentators. By the age of 24 he had won fame across the Arab world for his dispatches from the 1948 Arab war with Israel.
He was the sort of man who knew everybody and everything. Stocky and tough who thoroughly enjoyed the good things in life. He smoked expensive cigars almost continuously and took up golf and yet preserved an instinctive sympathy for the peasant society from which he sprang.