Veteran Egyptian journalist Heikal dies at 92

Former editor-in-chief of Al-Ahram was adviser to president Nasser, one of Arab world’s leading political commentators

This file photo taken on February 6, 1999 shows Egyptian journalist Mohammad Hassenin Heikal (R) and comedian Adel Imam attending the funeral of Egyptian writer Lotfi al-Kholi, a leading promoter of peace with Israel. (AFP / AMR NABIL)
This file photo taken on February 6, 1999 shows Egyptian journalist Mohammad Hassenin Heikal (R) and comedian Adel Imam attending the funeral of Egyptian writer Lotfi al-Kholi, a leading promoter of peace with Israel. (AFP / AMR NABIL)

CAIRO, Egypt — Veteran Egyptian journalist Mohamed Hassanein Heikal, one of the Arab world’s most prominent political commentators and a former adviser to president Gamal Abdel Nasser, died Wednesday aged 92, state media reported.

Heikal served as editor-in-chief of state-owned daily Al-Ahram from 1957 to 1974, and under his tenure it was considered the region’s newspaper of record.

He had been ill for three weeks, and suffered fluid in his lungs and kidney failure, Al-Ahram reported on its website.

Heikal, who was born in the Nile Delta province of Qalubiya on September 23, 1923, authored more than 10 books on the conflicts and political intrigues of the region.

He was a close associate of Nasser, who ruled Egypt from 1954 until his death in 1970, serving as his information minister and for a brief period of two weeks also as his foreign minister.

Egyptians mourners carrying the coffin of the Egyptian journalist Mohamed Hassanein Heikal during his funeral at the al-Hussein mosque in Cairo on February 17, 2016. (AFP / KHALED DESOUKI)
Egyptians mourners carrying the coffin of the Egyptian journalist Mohamed Hassanein Heikal during his funeral at the al-Hussein mosque in Cairo on February 17, 2016. (AFP/KHALED DESOUKI)

He initially backed Nasser’s successor Anwar al-Sadat, but was jailed in September 1981 after falling out with the president, who signed the first Arab peace treaty with Israel.

He took to the sidelines during Hosni Mubarak’s three-decade rule, but would sometimes give interviews.

Speaking to British newspaper The Independent in 2007, he criticized the autocrat, who was toppled in a popular uprising four years later.

“Let us face it, that man was never adjusted to politics,” he said of the former general, who succeeded Sadat after his assassination in 1981.

In December 2015, Heikal called on President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi to hold a political dialogue to tackle the country’s crises, ranging from an economic downturn to militant attacks and political unrest.

Sissi, the former military chief, had overthrown the unpopular Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013, unleashing a bloody crackdown on Islamists while contending with a jihadist insurgency.

The crackdown has extended to secular opponents.

“There are many people who accept what is happening, because the alternatives are bad, and they have experienced the alternatives,” Heikal said in an interview with an Egyptian television host.

But “there has to be a dialogue between all national forces…with representatives,” he said.

A statement from Sissi’s office eulogized Heikal as having “enriched Egyptian and Arab journalism with his writings.”

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