Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1313, (29 september - 5 October 2016)
Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Issue 1313, (29 september - 5 October 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Heikal’s assassination attempt

While Mohammed Hassanein Heikal survived a heinous attempt on his life, part of his personal archive of literature, documents and art — a national treasure in its own right — did not, writes Mohamed Salmawy

Al-Ahram Weekly

While much has been written about the great journalist Mohammed Hassanein Heikal since he passed away at the beginning of this year, many aspects of his life remain unknown. Among these is the part he played in the events of 30 June 2013 and the following few days which would totally alter the political situation in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood was the first to appreciate this role as it had lost the most. Its leadership acted toward Heikal accordingly and issued the instructions to have him assassinated.

As other still active parties are more immediately connected with this issue, I will let them have the final say in revealing the details. Here I will merely say that according to the information available to me, which is very reliable, Heikal’s role in determining the course of events during that critical period in our history was highly influential. I will say no more apart from to add that as the crisis intensified in the days leading up to the 30 June Revolution, an official government vehicle picked up Heikal from his home in Giza every morning and brought him back there again in the afternoon. Heikal was surprised when I told him that I knew this, but he refused to answer any of my questions on the matter.

The Muslim Brotherhood, still in power at time, had the ability to learn what was happening in the various government agencies. Therefore, one of the first actions they took following the breakup of the Rabaa Al-Adawiya sit-in was to order the assassination of Heikal. What some call an arson attack against his rural home in Birqash was, in fact, a fully-fledged assassination attempt. It occurred on one of the weekdays that Heikal habitually stayed in his rural home, although by a stroke of luck he happened not to have been there on that particular day and was thus spared the death that the Muslim Brotherhood had planned for him, living another three years until he died when God had decreed.

Shortly before the arson attack, a curious incident occurred that may have been unknown to anyone outside of Heikal’s family. One day, a Muslim Brotherhood member who also was close to the Heikal family asked one of Heikal’s sons whether his father had a bodyguard. The person was surprised to learn that Heikal did not have a bodyguard and strongly advised the son that his father should have one.

The Birqash incident was not the first time that Heikal survived an assassination attempt. The first occurred during the Nasser era, at a time when Heikal had escalated his criticisms of the pervasive domestic role of the national intelligence agencies. Just as he got into the car that was waiting for him outside Al-Ahram building, a gun fired sending a bullet into the back seat, which is where the unknown assailant had thought Heikal would be. Heikal had gotten into the front seat next to the driver. Curiously that incident was covered up. Police never conducted an investigation and Salah Nasr, who at the time was the head of the General Intelligence Directorate and who boasted of knowing “where every ant moved in Israel”, never offered an explanation.

Heikal told me personally that the assassination attempt against him at his home in Birqash had been ordered by the Muslim Brotherhood Guidance Bureau. He reiterated this charge later in an interview. While Heikal survived that incident what did not survive was something for which the Muslim Brotherhood harbour a no less vehement hatred: historical and civilisational heritage. In the course of the many decades of his career, Heikal had accumulated a large and invaluable collection of manuscripts, books and artistic works. His unique library housed some of the most important works of contemporary world literature that were personally presented to Heikal by their authors. It also contained a precious collection of modern Egyptian paintings. Following that incident, some employees in the Birqash home came to Heikal with an original copy of a volume of Description de l’Égypte which was published during the Napoleonic era. They had found it in an irrigation canal; it was drenched with mud. The fire had destroyed all the contents in that house that were a national treasure of the first order.

It is not true that Heikal was able to amass such a large collection of documents by virtue of his connection with the ruling circles in the Nasserist and Sadat eras. Heikal was always on the lookout for documents and manuscripts wherever he could find them and would not wait for them to fall in his lap by presidential decree. A good part of his collection consisted of documents that he, himself, authored, such as his handwritten notes detailing the innumerable interviews that he held at home and abroad and for which no other source exists, and his memoirs of events and incidents that only he knew of. He also possessed unique documents and manuscripts that he had purchased in international auctions. One, for example, was a handwritten love letter by Albert Einstein. He once told me of a set of recently discovered correspondence between the Egyptian nationalist leader Mustafa Kamel and his French sponsor, Madame Juliette Adam. He bought the set, which was not part of the previously published correspondence, in Paris. He had intended to write and publish a monograph on it but decided that it might adversely affect the image of the national leader so he “kept it locked up in a drawer,” as he put it at the time.

Much has been said about Heikal’s library and where he kept its valuable contents. Heikal, for his part, never spoke of the matter. He believed, rightfully, that one of the most important ways to keep documents safe was not to disclose where they were kept. However, what is certain is that the portion his holdings that had been housed in Birqash was reduced to ashes and lost to mankind forever during the malicious Muslim Brotherhood assassination attempt against him in revenge for the as yet undisclosed part he played in the 30 June Revolution.

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