11 -17 February 1999
Issue No. 416
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
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A tenacious heartBy Abdel-Moneim Said
There are some people who make you regret you did not have the chance to get to know them better at an earlier stage in life. Lutfi El-Kholi, with whom I only developed a personal friendship in the past few years, was one such person.
This is not to say that I did not know him beforehand, or rather know of him. Our entire generation grew up on his pioneering work in Al-Tali'a magazine and his articles in Al-Ahram. But an intellectual acquaintance is one thing, and personal friendship quite another. Then, in the mid-'70s, when we moved into the Centre for Political and Strategic Studies in the Al-Ahram building, an intellectual and ideological rapport was established at the same time as a geographical proximity: his office was on the same floor. Yet a considerable distance still separated us because we were of different generations. He was one of those awe-inspiring giants like Tawfiq El-Hakim, Louis Awad, Naguib Mahfouz, Ahmed Bahaaeddin, and Youssef Idris, whose daunting reputations echoed through the halls of Al-Ahram.
Throughout the '80s, this intangible relationship continued as we followed his political and intellectual ideas, often differing with him, especially in the case of Camp David and the Egyptian-Israeli peace accord. Yet regardless of our respective positions, there was always that admiration for a person who was not only dedicated to the pursuit of truth, but also to the steadfast defence of his ideas in his writings and in his political activity in the Tagammu Party. During this period, his major preoccupation was the defence of the Palestinian cause, which he persevered in advocating whether as an exile in Paris or at home in Cairo -- indeed to the last moments of his life. This advocacy was never of that blind dogmatic variety which has so damaged the Palestinian cause. Rather, it was conscientious, aware of the limitations, necessities and changes imposed by the world around us.
Lutfi El-Kholi was never one to consider inflexibility a virtue. He always had the determination of the Marxist intellectual in his ceaseless pursuit of controversial social and economic realities at national and international levels. To this quest, moreover, he brought the sensibilities of the novelist and artist who probes the human heart in all things.
In the '90s, Lutfi El-Kholi was the Egyptian intellectual who was the most acutely sensitive to the changes in the region and the world. That was the point when I came to know him as a person and when we began to develop a friendship based on mutual political interests and human companionship. We were brought even closer together through our participation in the Egyptian peace movement.
Some might think that his work in recent years was restricted solely to his tireless pursuit of a just and lasting peace in the region that would restore Arab rights and open the doors to a better future for the Arabs in a world that has little mercy for the disadvantaged and underprivileged. I found his energies pouring in several directions at the same time, all intended to promote the interests and stature of our country. Even in the midst of the most relentless political attacks, he was committing enormous efforts to founding a bank for the poor, advising businessmen on how to create low-income housing, seeking out and actively promoting young intellectual and literary talents. When the terrorist disaster in Luxor occurred, he was at the forefront of those who acted to minimise its effects on the Egyptian tourist industry.
This magnanimous heart suffered three successive strokes from overwork and self-sacrifice. In any gathering, large or small, in Cairo, Washington or Tel Aviv, it was impossible to ignore the intellectual and moral weight that made him, whether speaking or silent, the centre of attention. This was not a frivolous heart. It was a tenacious fighter for what it believed was right. I cannot think of an Egyptian politician or intellectual who, in recent years, has been such a victim of vilification, a slander campaign that left no venal stone unturned. Yet I can personally testify that he never quavered for a moment. He excelled in the use of sharp and powerful weapons: reasoned argument, imperturbable logic and absolute devotion to the higher interest of the nation and the Arab world.
In the midst of that fray, Lutfi El-Kholi retained his indomitable nobility. During his campaign for peace, when he was subjected to some of the most vicious attacks for his views -- including attempts to have him removed from public life -- some of his supporters brought him documents containing damaging information about his adversaries. His reaction was categorical. He would not sink to personal vilification. His was a battle of the minds; it had to remain that way. He was engaged in a dialogue over the future of Egypt and the Arab world. This dialogue brooks none of the personal feuds, petty bickering and mudslinging which have caused so much damage and such waste of precious time.
Many will miss Lutfi El-Kholi: those he represented when advocating a just and lasting peace, when defending the right of future generations to development and progress; the Palestinians on whose behalf he spoke out, calling for the restoration of their legitimate rights; the new and original talents whom he discovered and promoted; even those who became his harshest critics. Egypt and the Arab world will miss the man who, in half a century, inspired a variety of intellectual trends. As for myself, I will miss much more. I will miss a dear, close friend.