Monday,25 March, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1362, (28 September - 4 October 2017)
Monday,25 March, 2019
Issue 1362, (28 September - 4 October 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Heikal’s legacy celebrated

Nora Koloyan-Keuhnelian joins a celebration of the life of the late Egyptian journalist Mohamed Hassanein Heikal at this week’s Heikal Foundation Journalism Awards


Mrs Heikal presenting the award to Basal, one of  three winners of the Heikal Prize
Mrs Heikal presenting the award to Basal, one of three winners of the Heikal Prize

Established in February 2007, the Heikal Foundation for Arab Journalism was to announce the winners of its first Annual Journalism Awards in a ceremony held at the Cairo Opera House earlier this week.

It was a night to remember for fans of the late Egyptian journalist Mohamed Hassanein Heikal. Prominent public figures from the media and business communities, as well as government officials and foreign dignitaries, had gathered to commemorate the career of “the newspaper man” or “al-gornalgi,” as the Arab world’s longest-serving journalist who passed away in February 2016 used to describe himself.

The day chosen for the awards, 23 September, was also the late writer’s birthday; he would have turned 94 this year.

A documentary on Heikal entitled “A Life in Journalism” was screened at the event, dealing with the writer’s life and career in testimonies from prominent figures. The documentary was produced by the CBC Egyptian Satellite Channel.

The surprise of the night was the withholding of the awards this year. Because of the newness of the awards and the limited works submitted by journalists, the jury decided that the number of works submitted, especially from Arab journalists, did not constitute enough competition for the appropriate selection of a winner.

They decided to withhold the awards for this year, and instead the foundation’s board of trustees gave three incentive prizes worth LE200,000 to three Egyptian journalists.

“It was a courageous decision to withhold the awards at the first annual ceremony, and it shows that people should learn from the basic values that Heikal possessed – his standards of professionalism. After he left Al-Ahram in 1975, he did not seek positions elsewhere,” Amr Al-Shobaki, political analyst at the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies and a former MP, told Al-Ahram Weekly.

Originally, the Heikal Prize announced before was two annual awards of LE 250,000 each: one for News Story of the Year and one for Investigative Story of the Year. Applicants must be Arabs under the age of 40 writing for print or digital newspapers, magazines and other publications. 

“We are truly honoured to be gathered here on the birthday of the late author and journalist Mohamed Hassanein Heikal, or ‘ustaz’ [professor] as he was fondly known to all of us,” spouse of the writer Hedayat Taymour said addressing the guests.

“This celebration is the brainchild of Ustaz Heikal, who believed in looking to the future while keeping the important lessons of history in mind,” Taymour, also chair of the board of the Heikal Foundation, said.

“Al-Ahram for Mohamed was his home, and [former president] Gamal Abdel-Nasser was the man he was most attached to,” she said.

Minister of Social Solidarity Ghada Wali also addressed the guests at the event. She deliberately used the word “besaraha” or “frankly speaking” several times in her speech, alluding to the title of Heikal’s highly regarded Friday column in Al-Ahram which ran from 1957 to 1974.

The prizes were awarded to Mohamed Salah Basal, head of the legal section of Al-Shorouk, for his extensive coverage of judicial affairs, Al-Watan’s military correspondent Ahmed Hassan Abdel-Aziz as best reporter for covering wars and Al-Masry Al-Youm’s Ghada Mohamed Al-Sherif for her stories relating to women’s rights.

“Mohamed Basal is a distinguished reporter who covers judicial affairs skillfully. He may be the brightest journalist of his generation, and I predict a brilliant future for him. But there is still the absence of a free atmosphere that would help him to do his work,” Ibrahim Al-Moallem, CEO of Al-Shorouk, the publisher of Heikal’s books since 1982, told the Weekly.

The evening also marked the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the foundation and the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, the Alexandria Library. Heikal’s family gave a collection of books to the Bibliotheca from the libraries the late writer owned in Cairo, Giza and Alexandria to make them available to visitors.

Bibliotheca President Mustafa Al-Fiqi signed the memorandum together with Taymour. “The 2000-year-old Bibliotheca is honoured tonight by the family’s generous decision that adds pride to this ancient establishment, as the library of Ustaz Heikal is part of the memory of an era and the history of a nation,” Al-Fiqi said.

He remembered the summer of 2013 when a fire at Heikal’s Giza mansion, Berkash, had destroyed parts of his priceless collection of books, documents and art. The fire had continued the one that had broken out at the Institut d’Egypte in Cairo in December 2011 that had also aimed to “destroy the memory of the homeland,” he said.

“In Heikal’s passing, we lost the conscience of a people, the compass of a nation and a life icon,” Al-Fiqi concluded. 

The foundation also unveiled a new Heikal-Times fellowship, a first-of-its-kind initiative, that will be awarded to a promising young journalist from the Arab world to attend a two-month programme at the London Times/Sunday Times in 2018.

Through the fellowship, the Heikal Foundation aims to support the professional development and international exposure of young journalists from the Arab world, as well as bring new perspectives and exciting talent to the Times/Sunday Times. Candidates will be selected in the coming months through a competitive process administered jointly by the Times/Sunday Times and the foundation.

“I am glad that there are ways to defend the journalism profession in Egypt, and I hope that other press organisations follow the same path in improving journalistic standards in the country. Media plays a valuable role in the lives of  governments and nations,” prominent commentator Fahmi Howeidy told the Weekly.

Howeidy worked closely with Heikal during his 17 years as head of Al-Ahram.

The Heikal Foundation for Arab Journalism has a mandate to expose young Arab journalists to the latest trends on the international media scene and provide technical support and training for journalists by engaging in dialogue and the exchange of ideas between journalists in the region and abroad.

The foundation’s inaugural workshop took place at the American University in Cairo on 24 February, 2007 where renowned American investigative journalist, political writer, Pulitzer and George Orwell awards winner Seymour Hersh was invited to lecture, for which it was a subject of criticism by the Egyptian government.

Other lecturers the foundation hosted were British journalist and executive editor of The Guardian at the time David Leigh, Steven Walt; professor of international affairs at Harvard University, British journalist and biographer Sir Alistair Horne and former foreign secretary of UK Lord David Owen.

 In a career that spanned more than six decades, Heikal’s own contribution to journalism is unmatched. He is credited with revolutionising the profession in Egypt and the Arab world. His appeals to fellow members of his profession to use their skills as writers to make a positive impact on their countries and societies is always remembered.

“How can the profession in the current circumstances help us to navigate the present period? Perhaps it can discharge its responsibility by discovering an open corridor leading to the future.” Mohamed Hassanein Heikal “A Declaration, an Apology and an Appeal”, Al-Ahram, 20 October, 2014.

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