Iconic Voice of Arabic Journalism, Mohamed Heikal, Dies at 92

Probably never pitched this guy...but you could have.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I have a client, a great guy, who is admittedly a novice when it comes to traditional PR but has a solid grasp on the digital side of things.

We bonded over my former life — a decade-and-a-half in radio (among other things that I won’t share because my boss is reading). His surname is a familiar one to this story, but given his Egyptian lineage, I had no idea if Heikal was as common as its U.S. counterpart Johnson or Smith. 

It’s not, but I should have asked when I first thought of it because this guy — this other great guy seen above — was his grandfather’s cousin, Mohamed Hassanein Heikal, and arguably the most influential journalist in Arabic history.

Following his eulogy later last week, Egypt’s President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi called Heikal a “journalistic icon.” And probably never heard about him in your Journalism 101 class.

People carry the body of Mohamed Hassanein Heikal, the Arab world’s best known political commentator, after conducting a prayer from Al-Hussein mosque, for burial in Cairo

Heikal was the editor of Egypt’s state-owned newspaper, Al-Ahram. While that is notable in its own right, Heikal’s name reached global notoriety because of his association with Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser during the 1960s, and penned the Nasserist ideology of “Arab socialism.”

“To many readers, Heikal appeared as the closest man in Egypt to Nasser, during which he frequently met and maintained a good friendship with the leader,” Hussein, [Emad Eddeen, Editor-in-chief of privately-owned Egyptian newspaper Al-Shorouk] told Al Arabiya News. “His columns were a reflection of Nasser’s thinking and an indicator to where Egypt was heading.”

Heikal’s start in journalism was not in the cushy confines of a newsroom however. It was in the battlefield of the Battle of El Alamein during World War II.

heikal nasser
PHOTO: Al-Ahram Archives (Egypt)

Six decades later, he was regarded as the voice of Egypt to the Arab World and most of Europe who were interested in those sort of things, like say, diplomats, prime ministers, foreign heads-of-state, and some dude who lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Heikal had been jailed for his views, beguiled by leaders for his stories, and extolled by everyone who read his articles. His death will leave a void on his craft, and those who knew his work will have difficulties learning the stories of his focus minus his fabled voice.

You know, like most legends of journalism you have studied in Journalism 101.

He died at the age of 92 in his study, having recently suffered from kidney problems.


[PHOTO: Magdy Ebrahim/AP, STORY: Additional Source: Reuters]