Al-Ahram Weekly Online   28 February - 5 March 2008
Issue No. 886
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875


President by law

Sufi Abu Taleb (1925-2008)

Sufi Abu Taleb

Egypt paid homage on Saturday to Sufi Abu Taleb, former People's Assembly speaker and member of the Islamic Research Academy. He died of a heart attack a week ago at age 83.

President Hosni Mubarak was among senior officials who took part in Abu Taleb's military funeral. Abu Taleb will be remembered for serving as Egypt's president for eight days following Anwar El-Sadat's assassination in 1981. He died while attending a meeting of Al-Azhar University alumni in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Abu Taleb is said to have lost his temper over bungled travel arrangements at Kuala Lumpur airport, had a heart attack and died on the spot. Accusations of negligence on the part of the event's organisers surfaced immediately afterwards.

As a reporter accompanying the Egyptian delegation to Kuala Lumpur including Abu Taleb, I personally witnessed several incidents of poor management. For example, organisers tried to shorten a speech by Minister of Religious Endowments Mahmoud Zaqzouq and have him deliver it during dinner, rather than before dinner as was planned. At one point, Al-Azhar University President Ahmed Al-Tayeb threatened to withdraw from the conference altogether unless the approved schedule is implemented. Flight arrangements were quite sketchy, as we discovered during a stopover in Jeddah airport, in Saudi Arabia, when delegates complained they were booked on different classes than they were told.

A proponent of implementing Islamic Sharia, Abu Taleb is credited for incorporating Sharia in Egyptian laws during his time as parliament speaker. It was under his guidance that Article 2 of the constitution, famously stating that "Islamic Sharia is the main source of legislation in Egypt," was written. In fact, while attending the gathering in Kuala Lumpur, he reiterated the call for implementing Sharia across the Islamic world.

Abu Taleb also supervised the constitutional amendment allowing presidents to serve several terms in office, instead of only two.

Aside from his political accomplishments, Abu Taleb had an outstanding academic career during which he served as president of Cairo University and helped found Fayoum University.

Born on 27 January 1925, Abu Taleb studied law in Egypt, France and Italy. He obtained a PhD from Paris University in 1952.

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