A beautiful mind Mohamed El-Sayed Said (1950-2009)
Democracy demands more than just the feeling of exasperation that comes with being ruled. Mohamed El-Sayed Said, deputy director of Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, who passed away this week after a courageous two-year battle with cancer, conducted his life by this particular philosophy. His admonishments were addressed as much to himself as to his countrymen and women. He was himself a child of the 1952 July Revolution, yet he was not a Nasserist in the narrow sense of the term. He had a sense of purpose.
The aggressive lymphoma that ended his life did not stop him from participating in all facets of political life in Egypt. When he joined Al-Ahram as a young researcher in 1975, he had just finished his military service following his graduation from Cairo University's Faculty of Economics and Political Science in 1973. He was drafted into the army while preparations for the 1973 October War were in full swing and participated in the war, something he was proud of until the end of his life.
While an undergraduate Said also participated in the 1971-73 radical student movement which called for the liberation of Sinai. He was first incarcerated in 1968 for his student activism. At that time he was an ardent Marxist. His first book published by Al-Ahram on the role of transnational companies in weakening the emerging economies of the Third World is typical of Said's work during the 1970s. By the end of the 1980s, he shied away from being identified as a Marxist, but remained a staunch leftist until he breathed his last. He was detained in 1989 for his solidarity with the workers of the steel industry and in 2004 he emerged as a founding member of Kifaya, yet another demonstration of his commitment to freedom and political pluralism.
As far as Said's politics is concerned, university is where it all kicked off. As a student leader he was frequently detained, and his credentials as an activist were cemented when he was incarcerated in the late 1980s following his return from the USA after obtaining his PhD. Having arrived at the belief that human rights are of paramount importance in the development of democracy in Egypt, upon his return from the US, Said participated in the establishment of Arab and Egyptian organisations for human rights. He wrote a much-acclaimed report about the punishment of dissidents by torture, for which he was punished by being arrested and tortured.
In 2007, Said founded the independent daily Al-Badeel. He had hoped that it would be a beacon of enlightenment; however, he resigned two years later due to ill health. Said's passing was a particular loss to Al-Ahram Weekly.