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Guindy at work:Egypt

Hosny Guindy, first editor-in-chief of Al-Ahram Weekly passed away seven years ago. He is remembered by his friends and colleagues
Guindy at work

Al-Ahram Weekly ‘s challenge is not to shrink from the ideals, principles and moral integrity initiated by its founding editor-in-chief Hosny Guindy, writes Gamal Nkrumah
The sentimental insider is no longer among us. His legacy, however, weighs on my mind. Egypt is changing rapidly and radically. Over the past decade, the number of democratic nations in Africa and elsewhere has dramatically increased. The spread of electoral democracy in much of Africa south of the Sahara has been accentuated with the end of apartheid in South Africa.

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It was during the end of apartheid in South Africa that the Weekly was born with Hosny at the helm. His style of leadership disrupted many comfortable assumptions. He was a great believer in the superiority of liberal democracy as a political system. Yet, he was of a generation that instinctively felt that certain overbearing aspects of government in Egypt and the Arab world were bound to survive the wave of liberalisation then sweeping Africa, South America and Eastern Europe.

An added layer was involved in Guindy’s thinking that Egypt needed more time to fine- tune its democracy, since his sometimes apprehensive leadership of the Weekly coincided with the coming of the so-called “information revolution.”

Egypt was then knocking at the door of the “knowledge economy” that profoundly influenced the make-up of the media in the 1990s. Hosny understood that past ways of doing things were becoming anachronistic and doomed to failure. However, he was cautious about embracing the brave new world offered by the information revolution. Perhaps he reasoned that Egypt’s full integration into the world of the knowledge economy would come sometime later, when he was no longer in charge.

He wanted to leave something behind him that had both substance and sustainability, something that his hand-picked staff could build upon and improve. He was an accomplished master at working in the system he was raised in. The question facing Egypt and the Arab world over the next generation would be how to emulate the most positive experiences of democratisation in the developing nations that had undergone fundamental changes. It was a question that Hosny shrewdly preferred to avoid, though he left the door ajar for reform to move in gradually.

Yet, the Weekly ‘s first editor-in-chief treated this chain of events — democratisation and the onset of the knowledge economy and the information revolution — as more than just a happy coincidence. He foresaw the ripple effects of such developments, and he realised that a considerable part of the enthusiasm shown by his young staff for this new English-language publication was a widespread desire for greater democracy and freedom.

Times were changing, but not quickly enough. Hosny may have felt that he would not be there when the pace of change really quickened. Some staff members began to ask how far they could go in expressing their opinions in what was, after all, a national paper. His answers were often non-committal, though always principled. He set the parameters, but left details to conjecture. As head of the Weekly ‘s foreign desk, I understood that I perhaps had more room to manoeuvre than others.

Hosny was not unconcerned by the judgment of later generations, and he was not unaware that impatience among the staff would probably echo in negative verdicts on his policy decisions. However, he knew that he could not take a relaxed attitude to questions touching on national security and the national interest.

His measured answers could prove frustratingly elusive. He had nothing against the free flow of ideas. He was, however, acutely conscious of the non-democratic pressures that could sometimes hinder people in his profession.

The new focus on democracy and human rights led to challenges, and those challenges were, and are, substantial. This was not necessarily a bad thing: Hosny knew that workers in the media could not afford simply to sit tight in the hope of securing a more favourable working environment. Any prospective journalist in the age of the information revolution would need to have formidable knowledge of state-of-the-art technologies. He or she would need to master the increasingly complex tools of the trade, and also to address any shortcomings in the working environment.

The greatest challenge facing those Hosny left behind was to continue to produce, on a weekly basis, a newspaper that would live up to readers’ expectations as the country’s leading English- language publication. The past seven years without Hosny have been sometimes laborious and lean, but those he left behind him soldier on.

Seven years on, it is difficult to fathom what Hosny would have made of the gigantic strides Egypt has taken in democratisation and the enhancement of personal freedoms. Yes, he would have been the first to note that the country still has some way to go. But it is also likely that he would not have spelt out his beliefs into print. In fact, he rarely wrote, except on very special occasions.

Now that Ramadan is upon us, Hosny, a Coptic Christian, would undoubtedly have insisted that a giant Ramadan lantern be installed in the Weekly ‘s offices. He was unequivocal in his insistence on the significance of Muslim- Christian solidarity as Egypt moved towards a more democratic dispensation. Ramadan he saw as a moment of triumph for inter-faith solidarity, though he might not have said so in his articles, whether in the Weekly or elsewhere.

Hosny had no time for the sometimes expressed grievances over the political and social inequality between Christians and Muslims in Egypt. Economic inequalities, discrepancies in living standards, and glaring differentials in income between rich and poor were for him more serious social divides.

He was mindful that Egypt was passing into a perhaps more precarious political age and he characteristically treaded gently. The 1990s exposed a deep well of resentment over inequalities in economic power, and, for a majority of people, affluence is nowhere to be found.

It is true that at one point in the paper’s history it appeared that most of the leading columnists were politically on the left. However, the paper was never the exclusive domain of leftists. Hosny wanted a diverse range of opinions to be aired in the paper, removing any risk of political gridlock.

He had good reason to be proud of his record.


August 16, 2010 - Posted by | global, history, social |

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