'But the greatest of these is love'
Many people were surprised by last week's outpouring of eulogies that accompanied the death of Hosny Guindy. Who was this man that so many people were writing about?
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From top: As a child; on his wedding day; with daughter Yasmeen at the beach and at her engagement party; The Guindys with the Weekly family at the surprise party we threw on Hosny's 60th birthday
The self-effacing nature of the man in question is perhaps one reason for the surprise: he purposefully kept a step behind and stayed largely out of the limelight. Unlike many in similar positions he was not an habitué of Cairo's social scene.
Born in Qena, in Upper Egypt, in October 1940, Guindy moved with his family to Cairo at the age of 10. The most traumatic event of his life had come at the age of eight; his father, Guindy Habib, a prominent lawyer in Qena died suddenly, leaving a 30- year-old widow and three children. It is this early childhood trauma, argue family and friends, that marked Hosny with a persistent sense of melancholy.
There was always a quiet sadness about Ustaz Hosny, as my generation of journalists called him. Having known him closely only for the past four years I had thought this had descended with his recent illness, but it was far more entrenched. One of his earliest memories, his wife Moushira Abdel-Malek told me this week, was of the big house in Qena being completely overhauled, all the furniture removed, black-draped cushions thrown on the floors for mourners. Since then his mother has always dressed in black.
The sadness resulting from the loss of his father was compounded when Hosny was diagnosed with Mediterranean Fever. He was often sick, even as a child. He had to work harder than others to catch up, which taught him a lot about diligence and perseverance. Much later in the early 1990s, while preparing the zero issues of Al-Ahram Weekly, Guindy was diagnosed with pulmonary fungus, an illness that later led him to several major surgical operations. But after every bout of Mediterranean Fever or fungal infection he would bounce back and come to the office as soon as he could, often against doctors' orders.
Ustaz Hosny loved music. Among classical composers Mozart was his favourite. But among Egyptian singers it is Abdel-Halim Hafez with whom he felt the closest affinity. And his favourite Halim song was Fi Yawm, fi shahr, fi sana (One day, one month, one year)... "wounds calm down and sleep," the song goes, "except my own wound which persists with the days." Perhaps it is not incidental that Halim, like Ustaz Hosny, was orphaned at an early age, and both endured life-time illnesses.
Love for music was one of the many bonds he shared with his wife. When they were introduced in 1968 by a mutual friend, Ibrahim Se'da, now chairman of the board of Al-Akhbar, Hosny immediately recognised the young Moushira whom he had often seen singing with the choir of St Andrews Church where her father, Samuel Abdel-Malek -- a chemist -- was choir conductor.
Guindy joined the foreign desk of Al-Ahram in 1964 and rose through its ranks under such legendary Ahram editors as George Aziz and Jacqueline Khoury, becoming foreign editor in 1979. "Jacqueline was grooming him for the job. He was the one really in charge as her health often kept her away from the office," remembers Sajini Dularamani, deputy managing editor of Al-Ahram and a long-time colleague and friend.
But as Hazem Abdel-Rahman, deputy editor-in-chief and current head of the foreign desk explains, he was a democratic boss. He gave staff members countless opportunities, "we even rotated responsibilities within the department on normal days," he recalls. "Of course when major news broke out he would be in charge himself. And it remains like this today at the foreign desk." "Whenever he asked a staff member for something he would begin 'if you please,'" says Khalil Ali Fahmi, BBC editor and former Al-Ahram foreign desk staff member. "He didn't boss us around."
Several generations of reporters and editors rose through the ranks of Al-Ahram and were shaped and influenced by Guindy's leadership and model: Hazem Abdel-Rahman, Sajini Dularamani, Attia Eissawi, Samia El-Guindi, Salwa Habib, Abdel-Azim Hammad, Zeinab El-Imam, Assem El-Qirsh, Mohamed Sabreen, Atef Saqr, Mohamed Eissa El-Sharqawi, Sami Sirri, and many others. Ustaz Hosny was keen on giving various staff the opportunity to learn and rise.
"He also insisted on maintaining the foreign news analysis page in the Friday edition when there was talk of cancelling it. Throughout the week we worked on news items and events that appeared in the paper without bylines. He was keen that we get opportunities to use our analytical skills and to see our names in print, hence the weekly analysis page. He also rotated the task of writing the foreign policy column among all of us, he didn't monopolise it himself," explains Abdel-Rahman.
One of the enduring traits of Hosny Guindy the editor was his support and encouragement of younger staff.
"You have no idea how he talked about people with higher management," says Sami Metwalli, Al-Ahram's managing editor. "He never asked for things for himself but would request opportunities for those working under him and present each one in the best light before the chairman of the board."
At the Weekly he often approached higher management with our endless requests for the latest technology. He firmly believed in keeping up with the latest advances and making the best possible use of the available resources.
"And he particularly encouraged women," says Dularamani. "He allowed Zeinab El-Imam and me to attend the daily noon editorial meeting with the editor-in-chief as representatives of the foreign desk," she says. "We were among the first women to join the desk, before that it was strictly a male domain. But Hosny encouraged us." It is, therefore, perhaps not surprising that the majority of staff writers and reporters at the Weekly are women. "He believed in women," explains Dularamani.
Hosny Guindy studied both psychology and journalism, graduating from the American University in Cairo in 1963. This combination of disciplines stayed with him throughout his career, helping him navigate through the often tense waters of journalism, gaining and keeping the respect of others even when opinions differed.
Friends remember how patient he was, listening to people's problems and trying to give as fair and honest an opinion as possible. Neighbours and colleagues often came to him with intimate problems and he was always there. When mediating between an upset couple, for example, he would try to be as fair as possible, and even when he differed with one party he did it in a way that won this person over and didn't antagonise them, a longtime neighbour and friend explains.
At work he put enormous energy into reconciling differences. "When he differed with an editor over a particular story Ustaz Hosny was democratic. He wouldn't insist on his prerogative as director of the department but would go to a respected figure, often Salama Ahmed Salama, and trust his judgement on the matter. Ustaz Salama more often than not corroborated Ustaz Hosny's views," explains Attia Eisawi, deputy managing editor at Al- Ahram. "But he was also capable of taking firm, courageous decisions, without antagonising others," says Fahmi, "which is very rare."
At the Weekly, where the majority of the staff were young and generally inexperienced, we often went to Ustaz Hosny with our petty complaints: we were slighted by a colleague, unjustly treated by an editor, our story was "mutilated by the copy-editor". He would listen closely and then help us put the matter in its proper perspective. He often discussed editorial policies and newspaper developments with staff, one to one, making even this young late- comer feel intimately involved with the paper.
As editor-in-chief of the Weekly since its inception in 1991 Guindy's byline rarely appeared in print. His mark, however, could be found on almost every single page of every single issue. Ustaz Hosny was extremely meticulous: he would fret at little things like messing up the way an Arab personality spells his name, or the use of American spelling rather than British. He worried over the font size of headlines and bylines. But he would also worry about writers getting the facts right, quietly coming up to one's desk, gently asking if this really could be said about that person or whether this was entirely fair, weren't there, perhaps, other sides of the issue to be taken into consideration?
One thing he taught us, colleagues at the foreign desk recall, was doing the job right. Both Abdel-Rahman and Dularamani stress he taught them to read news items "until the last line".
"Very often the most important piece of information comes at the end of a news item rather than in the first paragraph, this is particularly the case with the Associated Press, for example, more than Reuters or Agence France Presse," explains Abdel-Rahman, "and Ustaz Hosny was adamant that we read all the article first, before deciding what to do with it and how. And he was keen that we read all available items." He was so keen on doing the job properly that even as head of the foreign desk he would go to the office at 9am, quite early by journalistic standards, to read the wires himself and cut the stories off the tickers (before the days of computer networks) lest a news item be missed. "Whenever he was in charge of the lead story on the front page one knew that you could rely on Hosny. He would formulate the suitable banner and continue to follow through developments of the story for the second and third editions of the issue, not going home until all editions were printed," remembers Metwalli. This often meant 16 and 18-hour working days.
"He never made us feel that he was boss and we were his subordinates. He was more of a brother. We were a team and a family. And this continues to set the foreign desk apart from other departments here. Our bosses never sit locked up in their offices, they are always around the foreign and the central desk. This we learnt from Ustaz Hosny," says Abdel-Rahman.
It was the same at the Weekly where Ustaz Hosny's favourite hangout was not his own office but the lay-out department. Unless he had guests the door to his office was often left open and we were encouraged to stop by and say "hello" in the morning and "good bye" whenever we left.
Meticulousness and keenness on detail: if these characterised his approach to work they also did so at home where a slight imbalance in a painting on the wall would make him feel uncomfortable. He also had a sharp eye and an appreciation of fine art.
All the paintings hanging in the Guindys' home, including the bedroom, are by painter Sabry Ragheb, gifts of the late artist.
"He was a friend of my family, we got to know him well in the mid-1970s," Moushira explains. "Hosny's pleasure at the time was to spend hours and hours by Sabry watching him paint. He was amazed at the way Sabry held his brush from its tip yet produced strong sharp strokes nonetheless."
There are two portraits of Hosny and two of Moushira. "He was too shy to ask Sabry to paint him but when Sabry mentioned the idea Hosny was very happy. He wanted to see himself through Sabry's eyes."
At the Weekly he enjoyed being around as each page was conceived, designed and laid out. In many respects the paper owes its visual character and identity to him. Bland symmetry annoyed him as much as overstatement. He would urge us to use fewer but more powerful photos, shorter but more concise text. He would marvel when one of the lay-out editors came up with an unexpected, fresh composition. But these all had to be within the norms of Al-Ahram and the Weekly and it was rather conservative innovation that he strove after -- freshness only the keen eye would notice. Anything showy or noisy would be deemed "un- Weekly" and rejected.
We often winked at each other whenever Ustaz Hosny started to explain "the Egyptian perspective" -- there he goes again, we thought. But it was something he learned at Al-Ahram and which shaped the paradigms both of his work at the foreign desk and later at the Weekly. He would always keep in mind that we were producing an Egyptian newspaper and expected writers to keep that identity in mind as well, whatever topic they were writing about. I remember a conversation we had right after I joined the Weekly when Ustaz Hosny briefly related his career and experience. In the old days, he remembered, a lot of the work of foreign editors involved reading the foreign wires and translating the important international news into Arabic to the extent that the department was often referred to as the "translation department". But -- and here comes the work of foreign editors -- they didn't just translate news items, but used them to write up stories on the events. One looked at foreign news with an Egyptian eye, trying to make the news relevant to local readers and to find connections that would interest them, he explained. In covering any international event Al-Ahram should not sound like any other newspaper around the world, it should have a distinct taste, he argued.
It is a philosophy he brought to the Weekly. He was determined that the paper be as fair and as objective as possible in its coverage of local events while simultaneously viewing such events from a local angle. The mandate of the Weekly, after all, was to counter prevailing misconceptions in the West about Egypt and the Arab world.
The Egyptian perspective was also connected with Ustaz Hosny's deep sense of patriotism -- refined to the point where it transcended the narrow confines of nationalism.
He couldn't stay abroad for long. Dularamani and Abdel- Rahman remember when, in the early 1970s, Guindy was one of the team of Arab journalists selected to set up a pan-Arab newspaper in London, Asharq Al-Awsat.
"He felt he was a fish out of water," says Dularamani.
"He couldn't finish the term and rushed home," explains Abdel- Rahman. "I met him once in London on the first day of a three- day visit several years ago and I can't explain to you the light in his eyes when I said I was going to Cairo the next day; even though he himself would be returning in a couple of days he was already homesick," recalls Fahmi.
Family, friends and colleagues, people from differing intellectual and social backgrounds, consistently remember Ustaz Hosny as an almost angelic figure. "He was a sensitive and delicate person and like silk one was afraid one would unconsciously scratch him," comments Kamal Naguib, a veteran journalist and adviser to Al-Ahram's editor-in-chief. There was a spirituality about him that one finds difficult to describe; it transcended the confines of organised religion.
"His feet were not on the ground," says Moushira.
One remembers Hosny Guindy as a man profoundly full of love. He worried endlessly about having a child and it took his wife seven years to convince him. He was worried of the emotional drain having a child would place on him. He knew his love for that child would be so profound and deep it scared him. But he wished for a daughter. Yasmeen was born ten years into their marriage. Theirs was a special relationship. He wanted to give her the best of everything to the best of his means which were hardly extravagant.
His religiosity, like everything else, was also an exercise in understatement: "When I first joined Al-Ahram I asked Ustaz Hosny, then my boss at the foreign desk, to show me the direction of the qibla. He got up and led me to the prayer corner and said 'You'll have to forgive me, I don't quite know because I am a Christian, but this is how I see Sami Sirri pray.' And it turned out to be correct," remembers Eisawi.
"His ethics and behaviour were in harmony with the teachings of Islam even though he was not a Muslim. As a practicing Muslim I found in him a great example of ethics and decency. He embodied these spiritual ideals in his general behaviour and attitude towards others. We often had the kind of civilised cultural discussions that one is sadly denied these days," says Fahmi.
Hosny would occasionally attend the Anglican Church with Moushira but his regular Sunday morning visits to the Mar Morqos-Cleopatra Church in Heliopolis, were personal and discreet. He would stop on his way to work, slide into a corner of the church, say his prayers and leave quietly. He prayed faithfully every night of his life before sleeping, always beginning with Corinthians I:13, recited from a pocket Bible on the night-table with a mother-of-pearl hard cover which his mother had brought back decades ago from Jerusalem. It is the one passage he always read in the Bible, Moushira surmises, and in many ways it epitomises the man -- his motto in life:
"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
"Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears...
"And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love."
Hosny Guindy, born Qena, 11 October, 1940, died Cairo, 10 August, 2003. He is survived by his wife Moushira Abdel-Malek and their only daughter, Yasmeen Guindy.