Al-Ahram Weekly Online   25 - 31 December 2003
Issue No. 670
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Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875
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Hosny Guindy


An unfinished conversation

In the months since Al-Ahram Weekly's founding editor-in-chief Hosny Guindy died, I have found myself wondering what he would have thought of everything that's been going on in Egypt, in the region, and in the world as a whole.

Guindy was a career journalist. An Upper Egyptian who had been transported -- after his father's tragic death -- from the rural calm of Qena to the urban chaos of Cairo at a young age, he also suffered from a rare chest ailment for most of his life. His obsession with the news -- in a pure form, far away from the concerns of the media as a business -- clearly demarcated him during a long career at Al-Ahram. He steadily rose in the ranks, becoming chief of the foreign news desk in the days when the newspaper was the public's main window onto the events of a changing world.

His liberal orientation, combined with a strong sense of national pride and a serious dedication to the nuts and bolts of the profession, made him a solid -- albeit reserved -- choice to take on the all-important task of establishing a new newspaper meant to convey an "Egyptian perspective" to the world at large.

Over the next 12 years, Guindy struggled against the odds in a valiant attempt to produce a newspaper of exceptional quality and global reach. Few would claim the paper was perfect, and those of us who work here are the first to point out our product's faults. But at the same time, Arab media insiders and our steadily increasing readership base consistently refer to Al-Ahram Weekly as being superior to much of the region's written press.

It's unfortunate that Guindy died just as the Weekly was catapulting into international renown -- albeit helped by the Western world's sudden obsession with the rest of the world, and especially the Middle East, in the post 11 September world. Then again, that may have been just fine for him. If anything, Guindy was someone who seemed to relish working in the background. He avoided attention like the plague. Consummately shy, the number of times he served as a visual spokesman for the paper in the last decade could have been counted on one hand. I remember him being immensely proud of where the paper was going, but still somewhat reluctant to deal with the inevitable scrutiny, the constant need to put a face on the product itself.

As an editor, Guindy mostly kept his views to himself. The paper was not meant to be a platform for one way of thinking or another -- articles and editorials were not accepted or rejected based on ideology.

As a person, however, Guindy did not shy away from expressing his opinion on things. Often times, he didn't even need to speak. Those of us who knew him well, had worked with him for years, and socialised with him occasionally, could usually tell from the expression on his face -- the hint of a knowing smile, or the beginnings of a serious frown -- how he might react to hearing a certain piece of news, or a rumour that the whole country was talking about.

By nature, everybody at a newspaper is busy. What a rare pleasure it always was, then, whenever a few minutes materialised when it was possible to just talk to Hosny Guindy -- either in his office, or in the corridors of the paper.

In many ways, Guindy was our sounding board. He would listen carefully to what we had to say, and then offer his take. He did not overtly try to convince you his view was right -- but because of his low-key manner, and accommodating conversational style, it was easy to be swayed.

Logic has that effect, and for myself and many others, the logic of moderation that coloured nearly everything Guindy did and said tended to imprint itself -- slowly but surely -- on our conscience. Even those who vehemently disagreed with him had to respect his supreme calm, and his straightforward attitude.

Although many would be loathe to admit it, we are often closer to the people we work with than to our own families and friends. At a newspaper, where long hours and proximity to the events that shape history are de rigueur, this can have an even more profound effect. It is unlikely that anyone who worked closely with Guindy did not feel that dynamic -- for in spite of the generally jovial attitude he exuded, there was an unmistakable seriousness of purpose in the way he did things.

The amazing thing is that nearly everyone who knew him echoed this after he died. It was widely acknowledged that the sheer number of memorials and testimonials written about him was unprecedented. Why? Was it because such a simple, unassuming but extraordinary man had not really gotten his due -- in terms of public adulation -- while he was still alive?

Or did it have something to do with the fact that everyone who knew him had hoped to have just one more conversation -- about some personal problem or milestone, or everything that's been going on in Egypt and the world as a whole.

By Tarek Atia

Mohamed Abdel-Ghani El-Gamasi


Field Marshal Mohamed Abdel-Ghani El-Gamasi, a hero of the 1973 October War and a veteran of other Arab-Israeli wars since 1948, will always be remembered for the essential role he played in the Egyptian army's triumphal October 1973 crossing of the Suez Canal and destruction of the "invincible" Bar Lev Line -- constructed by Israeli occupation forces along the eastern bank of the Canal.

Called a "Master of Strategy" by the Americans, and nicknamed "Scary Slim" by the Israelis, El-Gamasi had suffered several strokes and undergone open-heart surgery over the past few years.

Fathi Naguib


When Fathi Naguib succumbed to a heart attack this year, the judicial system lost one of its most dedicated and loyal servants. Naguib had been head of the Court of Cassation and the Supreme Judicial Council before being declared -- by presidential decree in July 2001 -- head of the Supreme Constitutional Court.

The son of Mohamed Naguib, a sub-editor at Al-Ahram, Naguib complimented his 1958 Cairo University law degree with a PhD from the Sorbonne in Paris.

Saad Fakhri Abdel-Nour


Wafd Party Secretary-General Saad Fakhri Abdel-Nour -- who was named after Saad Zaghloul, the historic Wafd Party leader and architect of the 1919 Revolution -- died in May at the age of 82. Abdel-Nour was born to a wealthy Sohag-based Wafdist family. His father was a close associate of Zaghloul's.

Abdel-Nour was a lawyer with a post-graduate degree from France. He had been active in the party's affairs since 1951.

Adel Abu Zahra


Adel Abu Zahra was not just a prominent professor; he was a hero to the civil society movements concerned with conservation, environmental protection, freedom of expression and women's rights.

Abu Zahra taught a wide range of courses on aesthetics, psychology, scientific history, environmental education as well as critical and creative thinking. He was also a member of the Supreme Council for Culture, the executive board of the American University in Cairo's Development Research Centre, and the National Council for Women's culture and media committee.

Last year, he was one of 10 activists who received the United Nations' Volunteer Prize in recognition of his efforts.

Salah Hilal


When Salah Hilal passed away, veteran journalists said the profession had lost one of the last vestiges of the "beautiful generations" of yore.

A consultant to both the editor-in-chief of Al-Ahram, as well as the economic daily Al-Alam Al-Youm, Hilal was a dedicated and influential newspaperman. Born in Koum Al-Nour in Daqahliya on 24 December 1927, he died at the age of 75.

John Gerhart


American University in Cairo (AUC) President Emeritus John Deuel Gerhart passed away in New York after a lengthy battle with appendix cancer. From September 1998 to March 2002, Gerhart -- the son of an Episcopal minister -- had served as AUC's ninth president. He had resigned for health reasons, but as President Emeritus, he remained active, raising funds for the university's ambitious new campus in New Cairo.

The Texas native beloved by the university's students and faculty died just a few days shy of his 60th birthday.

Aida Guindy


The strengthof believing in others

Aida: the subject of the e-mail sent to me from a friend and colleague. Before I even opened it, I had a sinking feeling; I thought I knew what it contained: words I dreaded to hear. "Very sorry to have to break the news but our Aida has passed away."

Nadra did not have to write her last name nor say whom she meant; we all knew her simply as 'our Aida'. Maybe since the last meeting I had with Aida Guindy, just before travelling, I somehow feared that it would be the last time I saw her. It was an exceptional meeting in which, after nearly 12 years of working together, we were open about how we felt towards each other. It was as if we were saying our last words, our good-byes.

What can I say about Aida Guindy? Confronted by such human-beings words always fail. She was one of the first Egyptian women to reach some of the most senior international posts in the UN and she was received and respected by dignitaries. Yet she kept her unaffected modesty and her honest love and appreciation for all people. This is probably her most enduring characteristic.

Why did everybody who worked with or knew Aida love her so much? Why did all of them feel that they had a very special relationship with her? Was it her intelligence, her wit and humour, the charming smile that never seemed to leave her face, the very special accent with which she spoke English, her deep knowledge and wisdom, or her sincere friendliness? Or was it all this plus her unique gift of believing in people's abilities and her constant unyielding support, even at times when many others may have forsaken them?

It is this characteristic that made Aida's impact so unique and placed her in such a special position with her friends and colleagues. In short, Aida had such a strong impact on the world of development because she sincerely believed in it, in as much as she truly believed in people. This made people love her and brought out the best in people who knew her.

In all the teams that Aida led, in the Zaitoun project, the Ain Helwan project, in UNICEF and others, Aida Guindy left a lasting impression. She created a spirit that made a team work together in harmony, dedication, love and belief.

It is this spirit that will always live after her, in all those who worked with her and all those who knew her and loved her. It is a lesson in being a human being, in leadership and in development.

By Alaa Shukrallah
Consultant in health policy and development.

Adopting humanity

"When I age, I want to be like Aida Guindy, and when I pass away, I want people to remember me for what they remembered her," this was an assertion reiterated by many of those interviewed by Al-Ahram Weekly after Guindy's death. It wasn't only her outstanding accomplishments and her pioneering professional role they were referring to, nor her powerful character, or even her incredible ability to be cheerful even in the midst of the most painful of times. It was something else, something much more lasting that she left with each person she knew, and that will live in them forever.

Guindy had a unique ability to see the positive side of people and help them believe in it, and others to see it. By doing so, she inspired generations of people to reach their full potential, and do for others what she did for them. Guindy was a role model to many -- among whom is Iman Bibars, board director of the Association for the Development and Enhancement of Women (ADEW). Bibars also worked directly with her for seven years. "She brought out the best in people by believing in them, by supporting them, revealing to them their strengths and putting aside their weaknesses. People could not help but be their best after that."

Guindy had a reputation for being particularly supportive of young people and women. She was above the pettiness, insecurities and rivalries that has become so conspicuous in development and women's activism circles today. Bibars believes Guindy's support for people was consistent and genuine to the point of being contagious. She was keen to open doors for all those she met, to be supportive in every possible way. "So at times, when one lost faith in people and felt they were not worth bothering with anymore, Aida would come to mind, .... and her memory would encourage one to go on, not to give up," confided Bibars.

Marie Assaad, whose friendship with Guindy extended over almost 70 years since the days they were in school together in 1935, summarises this well: "Aida was always adopting people, always seeing in them what no one saw." Guindy distinguished herself, according to Assaad, through mastering the art of human relations. She could win the respect of those at the very bottom and at the very top of the class echelons with her charm and love. This was a trait that was to win her many allies throughout her professional career, much of which was spent abroad.

Guindy is best known for rising to the uppermost echelons of the United Nations administration. She first joined the UN in 1954, after graduating with a BA in sociology, and an MA in social economy and social work, and having worked for some years in Egypt. From the very beginning, she was shattering established glass ceilings -- not through connections or dirty gains, but as Assaad stressed, by virtue of her popularity, her professional performance and her ability to always deliver.

From the outset, she proved to be a pioneer. She was the first Egyptian and first woman to enter the UN's African social development domain. Throughout her career in the UN, she was always determined to open new opportunities for women, to help them rise, like she did.

Guindy was one of the 12 key individuals selected by the UN Secretariat to establish the organisation's Economic Commission for Africa. She was then appointed head of the commission's social welfare unit in 1959 and spent 12 more years working on the continent.

This was still new terrain for Egyptian women, and in that sense she was a pioneer. In 1975, she was the first Egyptian woman to head the UNICEF regional office for East Africa, playing a pivotal role in promoting human development, particularly the welfare of mothers and children. This was soon followed by her promotion to the post of regional director of UNICEF's office in Geneva. This time, she was not only the first woman and the first Egyptian, but also, the first non-European, to occupy such a post, and she excelled in it. She retired in the 1980s and returned to Egypt.

Guindy's heart was never far from home. She represented Egypt in the 1985 Nairobi Women's Conference, playing an instrumental role in mobilising and organising women to represent their demands and interests. Her life-long commitment to the plight of the marginalised did not end with her retirement, but was rekindled on the domestic front. Guindy was a volunteer, adviser and mentor to many NGOs and developmental institutions. Volunteerism was not a way to spend the empty hours of the morning, nor was it a way to satisfy one's ego under the guise of altruism, for Guindy it was a way of living out the convictions she espoused throughout her life.

Guindy was an active board member of the Integrated Care Society (ICS), an NGO headed by Mrs Suzanne Mubarak, and working on urban development. Nour Ateya, also a board member of the ICS emphasised how Guindy was never tired of helping people, continually challenging them to pay special attention to the needs of women, children and disabled children. "She always went out of her way, keeping nothing back, but never actually gave you the impression that what she was doing was out of her way," said Ateya.

Bibars remembers her role in the 1992 earthquake well: "She would not stop. She mobilised and energised people around her, and became a vital focal point for sustaining the emergency efforts." When the ICS was involved in resettling the victims of the earthquake in Ain Helwan, recalled Bibars, Guindy, although well in her 70s, would still go all the way there herself. This inspired people to volunteer -- if she could do it, so should they.

Other than her humour, which, Assaad notes, made the most serious of subjects easy to swallow, she is remembered for the "little" gestures that touched people's hearts. Despite the fact that she was seriously ill in the past months, she still managed to call everyone up after Ramadan to wish them a happy Eid, and send others boxes of kahk.

Guindy passed away on 12 December aged 83. She will leave a void that no one can fill. It is not the message itself, for there are many who believe in the importance of trusting in people's fundamental goodness, value of the spirit of volunteerism and hold humanitarian convictions. However, it is the living and acting upon these beliefs every moment of one's life till one's last breath, and inspiring others to do so, that made Guindy a role model and mentor for many -- one that is indeed irreplaceable.

By Mariz Tadros

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