A sacred profession
To mark the fifth anniversary of the death of Hosny Guindy, Al-Ahram Weekly's founding editor, Louis Greiss and Samir Sobhi recall the early days of the paper and their close association with a man they variously describe as making journalism in Egypt an ethical profession, a visionary, a lasting inspiration and a friend
portrait: Sabri Ragheb
After working together for two years Hosny Guindy told me a story.
- You know Mr Greiss, I once came to your office at Sabah Al-Kheir, the weekly magazine, looking for an opening. Your colleague there, the novelist and theatre writer Abdallah El-Tokhi, advised me to see you.
- Did I receive you well? I asked.
- Oh, yes, you did, he said, but what astonished me was what you said.
- What did I tell you, I asked. Smilingly he said I told him that I was looking for a music critic and a sports reporter, then asked him if he fitted the bill.
- What was your answer? I asked.
- No, he said with a smile. And then he excused himself.
I had been working alongside Guindy as an advisor for Al-Ahram Weekly. I did not recall the earlier meeting at all. Now I only wish that there were a time machine that could take me back to the days when I was studying at the American University in Cairo so that I could graduate and apply to work under Guindy's leadership as editor-in-chief of the Weekly. He was a wonderful person, keen to look after all his colleagues, the kind of serious journalist that Egypt had not known for years.
Hosny Guindy, who had earlier worked in the foreign section of Al-Ahram, was a man whose professional strengths became apparent when the Weekly first appeared.
The idea of the paper was first mooted in Sanaa, the capital of Yemen, where I was accompanying President Hosni Mubarak on an official trip. It was 1987, and the president's entourage also included Ibrahim Nafie, chairman of the board and editor-in-chief of Al-Ahram Establishment, Mamdouh El-Beltagui, head of the State Information Service, Mahfouz El-Ansari, editor of Al-Gomhuriya and others.
I suggested to Ibrahim Nafie the idea of publishing a newspaper in English so that Egypt's voice might be heard around the world. I pointed out that the British first published the Egyptian Gazette some hundred years ago, together with the weekly edition The Egyptian Mail. Both, though, had fallen into redundancy, lacking both function and a voice. If Al-Ahram published a weekly or a daily in English, I said, it would be different.
Nafie looked at me and said OK Louis, come to my office in Cairo and we'll discuss the idea.
To cut a long story short I received a call in 1990 and we discussed the idea. I then went to see Salama Ahmed Salama who called everyone in the Al-Ahram Establishment who was proficient in English to a meeting. Mohamed Salmawy, Hassan Fouad, who was my classmate at AUC -- we graduated together in 1955 -- and Hosny Guindy, then head of the Foreign Desk at Al-Ahram, were among those present. We held a meeting with Salama presiding. I asked for a layout editor, wondering if Samir Sobhi would be free to work with us. I also suggested in the first meeting to bring over people from the Department of Journalism at AUC.
Dr and Mrs James Napoli, Dr and Mrs John Rodenbeck and their son Mark were people I suggested. Guindy added the name of Mursi Saadeddin.
Then came Bahgat Badie from Reuters who brought with him Wadie Kirolos. I also suggested Mamduh El-Dakhakhni, from the Press Section of the British Embassy, and Mona Anis. By 1991 there was a big staff at the Weekly.
Nafie appointed me press advisor for the Weekly at which point I asked for a meeting with Salama. I asked him straight out, saying the paper needed an editor-in-chief and that he had to be from within the Al-Ahram staff so that he can cooperate with the establishment. Would you like to be the editor of the Weekly or can you suggest someone else?
He suggested Hosny Guindy as editor, Salmawy as deputy, Hassan Fouad as managing editor and Samir Sobhi as layout editor. I told Salama that we should perhaps name only the editor-in-chief and then allow him to choose his own assistants.
We both agreed on Guindy as the best person to lead the Weekly.
The paper first appeared on 28 February 1991, since when it has gained readers not just among Egyptians and expatriates but everybody who visits Cairo. The paper, many insisted, was the best English speaking newspaper in the Middle East.
Hosny Guindy is still remembered by his friends and colleagues as professional, ethical and serious. They were the qualities that helped him produce the best English speaking newspaper in the Arab world.
On the fifth anniversary of his death I would like to take the opportunity to call on Makram Mohamed Ahmed, Press Syndicate chairman, to name one of the halls in the Syndicate after Hosny Guindy, and hope someday to see a painting or a statue of him in the syndicate, a reminder to all members of a man who made journalism an ethical profession.
By Louis Greiss