Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1393, (10 - 16 May 2018)
Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Issue 1393, (10 - 16 May 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Obituary: Kadri Hefni (1938-2018)

Humanist and expert


Kadri Hefni, best known as an expert on political psychology in the Arab world, passed away this week at 80. Hefni, a professor of psychology at Ain Shams University, specialised in Israeli society. One of his famous studies is The Israeli Character.  

Mona Anis, chief editor at Shorouk Publishing House, was a close friend of Hefni. She recalls first meeting him at Ain Shams University. “Those were the years immediately following the defeat in the June 1967 Arab-Israeli War. I was an undergraduate while he was studying for his PhD in psychology.” His education was interrupted, she said, when, as a young communist, he was arrested for five years in 1959. He resumed his graduate studies in the mid-60s. Anis said that because the 1967 defeat shocked all Arabs, Hefni decided to specialise in political psychology, focusing on the analysis of the psychological dimensions of the Arab-Israeli conflict. “He became one of the leading experts in that field and he continued to write on, and provide expertise to, the Palestinians and supervise academic dissertations on various aspects of the conflict and its resolution to his last day,” Anis says.

Hefni believed that talking with people was the best way to correct their thinking and that Saad Zaghloul was more revolutionary than Che Guevara. According to Hefni, in one of his interviews, all the revolutionary movements of the world that changed the lives and thoughts of people, began with words, with people talking.

In an exclusive interview with Al-Ahram Weekly in 2008 about the eve of the Six-Day War starting 5 June 1967, Hefni said there was nothing exceptional about the day. But the following morning, as he and his colleagues began their day’s work testing for drug addiction among prisoners, they were told to leave by an official who announced “we are attacking Israel.”

Less than a week later, on 9 June, when then president Gamal Abdel-Nasser appeared on television announcing the withdrawal of Egyptian troops, Hefni’s assumptions had been turned upside down. “This was the watershed for me and two of my friends,” he said. “They felt their dream had been shattered. We all began to base our future plans on the reality of defeat.

“No politics, no homeland, no nothing. I will become a millionaire,” he recalled one friend as saying. And he did, Hefni remembered with a wry smile. Another friend believed that resistance was the only way out of defeat.

Hefni took the Israeli attack as a personal blow. “I realised I knew nothing about Israel. I woke up not knowing who had defeated us. It was a situation he felt honour-bound to rectify.

He represented Egypt in European Arab conferences in Spain and the 1991 Madrid peace conference.

Among many honours, Hefni received The State Incentive Award in psychology in 1972.  He worked in many academic institutions and research centres in Egypt and the rest of the Arab world. 

Hefni’s main concern was education and found in the Muslim Brotherhood an enemy. He studied how terrorists think and found that most of them are highly educated and graduates of faculties including medicine and engineering.

He suggested that students of such faculties in addition to science should study philosophy and logic so that they can deal with different opinions and theories. According to him, “they think they own the only truth”. He believed that developing education was the only way to lift the nation and defeat violence and terrorism.

It was the disaster of 1967 that first set Hefni studying Israel, and ultimately led to several publications on the subject. His first book, Embodying Illusion, which dissects the mythical dimensions of the state of Israel propagated by some Jewish groups, was produced for Al-Ahram Centre for Palestinian and Zionist Studies, the precursor of Al-Ahram’s Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.

“But first and foremost he was a great humanist, a defender of human rights and a wonderful human being. All his friends and students will sorely miss him,” Anis told the Weekly.

Hefni is survived by his wife Ilham Fatim, his daughter Amal and step-children Bassem and Maha Mahfouz Abdel-Rahman.

add comment

  • follow us on