Monday,16 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1376, (11-17 January 2018)
Monday,16 July, 2018
Issue 1376, (11-17 January 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Eissa and Nafie

Mohamed Salmawy reflects on the lives of two pillars of Egyptian journalism who recently passed away

 


اقرأ باللغة العربية


Death has snatched two journalistic pillars who probably shared as many common denominators as they did points of divergence. Perhaps it would be accurate to say that journalism brought them together and politics divided them.

Ibrahim Nafie and Salah Eissa were not merely two eminent figures in journalism, a career they entered through two different portals, they also shared the quality of not resting on the laurels of their journalistic writings alone. Both men dedicated much of their time and effort to promoting the profession and those engaged in it. They both served in the Press Syndicate in which they left indelible marks, each in his own way.

Although a graduate of the Faculty of Law, Ibrahim Nafie entered journalism through the avenue of economics, a subject that he covered throughout his career since the time he was first engaged with Al-Gomhoureya newspaper. His talents in this area attracted the attention of Al-Ahram editor-in-chief Mohamed Hassanein Heikal who brought him aboard his journalistic team. Eissa, who also worked for Al-Gomhoureya, followed a political compass throughout his career which courted security surveillance that followed him for a large portion of his life and that, at one point, landed him in prison along with many other members of his profession.

Eissa was a remarkable writer. He wielded his journalistic pen like a surgeon’s scalpel, probing into the core of society in order to deliver detailed and insightful diagnoses of its ailments, or delving deep into history in order to unearth the roots of a particular issue. He had a passion for history. In addition to his articles for the press, he published a number of historical studies that occupy a prominent place on the shelves of Arabic reference works. His seminal History of Egyptian Constitutions served as an unofficial reference for us in the commission charged with drafting the current Egyptian constitution. One of his most famous works is Raya and Sakina’s Men, the study of the two Egyptian sisters who became notorious serial killers and that is one of the most important sociological histories of Egypt.

As a columnist, Eissa forged an idiosyncratic style that combined acerbic wit with profound insight and bold outspokenness. He occupied numerous journalistic posts, including editor-in-chief. Al-Qahera newspaper, which he founded, became a model for cultural journalism. As a member of the board of the Press Syndicate, in which he served for many years, he made an important contribution to protecting the press from political meddling. He, himself, became a walking encyclopaedia of the laws related to journalism to which I can personally testify from the time in the post-revolutionary period that we both served in the Supreme Council of Journalism. He was an authority for us all in everything that pertained to the history of the press and laws affecting journalism.

Nafie also served in the Press Syndicate, a point he had in common with Eissa. Nafie was one of the most important syndicate chiefs in that organisation’s history. I had the honour to work with him during an entire term when I was a member of the board, which lasted from the era of Salah Galal to that of the late Nafie.

This brings me to one of the brightest pages in the history of Nafie. It dates from the period when he served as chief of the Press Syndicate, in which capacity he was open to all members of that 75-year-old organisation regardless of their journalistic or political affiliations. He was abroad, receiving medical treatment in the US, at the time the crisis erupted surrounding Law 93/1995. The government wanted to tighten its grip on the press by amending some of the articles of the penal code in order to introduce harsher penalties for publication crimes and to abolish guarantees against the precautionary detention of journalists. Journalists were in an uproar. One appealed to president Hosni Mubarak in a public meeting urging him not to ratify the law, which had been drafted by the cabinet. Mubarak upbraided the journalist and then shocked us all by acknowledging that he had just ratified the law that morning and that it had been published in the Official Gazette, putting it into force as of that day.

The matter did not end there. In fact, tensions intensified between the regime and the journalistic community. Some journalists went on strike and some newspapers refused to publish. When Nafie returned he engaged in one of the most important battles in the modern history of the Egyptian press. His fight in the defence of the freedom of the press and the dignity and safety of journalists ultimately led to the repeal of the law.

As Nafie set out on his career as an economic journalist due to his passion for economics and business management, it was no coincidence that he would be appointed to serve temporarily with the World Bank in Washington in the early 1970s. He would demonstrate his talents as an administrator more amply when he became head of Al-Ahram Establishment, the activities of which bourgeoned under his leadership, making it one of the largest economic institutions in the country.

Just as I had the opportunity to work with Nafie the journalist and the syndicate chief, I also had the opportunity to work with Nafie the economist and administrator. I was one of a group of journalists at Al-Ahram whom he asked to design and launch the first foreign language newspaper published by the establishment: Al-Ahram Weekly. The first editor-in-chief of the pioneering English languish newspaper was Hosny Guindy. I served as managing editor. Following the success of that experiment, Nafie asked me to launch a second one, in French: Al-Ahram Hebdo. I served as editor-in-chief of that newspaper for 16 years, stepping down in 2010 to clear the way for a second generation of fellow journalists. Throughout that period, Nafie stood as a model for the practical application of the theories of science of modern business management, which rest on delegating responsibilities and mechanisms of follow-through accountability. At the same time, he never interfered in the newspaper’s editorial policy, which I was keen to ensure expressed an Egyptian perspective as opposed to the government’s viewpoint. Nafie accepted the lines I and my colleagues drew, and he never asked me to change them.

May God rest the souls of Ibrahim Nafie and Salah Eissa and reward them in the hereafter for all the good they have performed in the service of the press, journalists and Egypt.

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