I tried to get close to Mr. Heikal… I got close to Mr. Mahmoud el-Sa’adani… I was friend to Mr. Kamel Zoheiri… I dealt closely with Mr. Muhammed Ouda and Mr. Philip Gallab… I became friends with Bahgat Othman, Sa’ad Hagras and Ra’ouf Ayyiad… I knew Mohi ed-Din el-Labbad… there were many stories and humors between Alfred Farag, Bakr esh-Sharqawi, Salah el-Laithi and me… there were also many others I knew in the field of journalism and writing.
As to the university life and cultural, though and arts domain, I was a student to many prominent professors that I was lucky enough and they were kind enough to change my status from a student to a friend. However, those who did not befriend me due to the age and standing gap between us, were kind and generous enough to have deep sincere cordiality towards me.
I still remember my professor and friend late Dr. Ahmed Abdel-Rahim Mustafa; professor of contemporary and modern history in Ain Shams University. He earned his PhD from Britain and was a colleague there to Dr. Hekmat Abu-Zaid. He also introduced me to his and my professor; Ahmed Ezzat Abdel-Karim; head of Ain Shams University and founder of post-graduate studies’ seminar in History department; the one who was feared among his students, even if they were holding degrees of professor, assistant professors or lecturer. He used to rebuke any of them if they pronounced a foreign word incorrectly or if they deviated in the research discipline away from the well-established scientific rules.
And it was my professor Dr. Sayed Mustafa Salem – may he enjoy a long life – who introduced me to Dr. Ahmed Abdel-Rahim – may he rest in peace. Dr. Salem got his master’s and PhD theses in the contemporary and modern history of Yemen. It was not a coincidence to dedicate himself for the academic life in Yemen. He worked in Sana’a, established research centres, wrote tens of references and supervised tens of researchers in master’s and PhD degrees there. He stayed there for more than 40 years and he is still able to give more.
In the university, I knew about science, research and interest in public work. I was elected head of the faculty students’ union, then a representative for the post-graduate students in the university students’ union. Being in that place, I was one of those who met President Sadat on Thursday, September 20th, 1973 in Burg el-Arab rest house in the presence of gentlemen Mamdouh Salem, Kamal Abul-Magd and Ismail Ghanem. That meeting extended from 9 in the morning to 3 in the afternoon. Mr. Heikal was the one behind organizing this meeting, but this is another story to tell later. I was working in the university until I was jailed in January, 1977 and charged of inciting over January, 1977 incidents.
At the university, I went farer than history department and studentship limits. I got to know many other professors in other departments, especially those of sociology, psychology, philosophy, eastern studies; Hebrew, Farsi and Turkish, and geography. Despite it has been more than 45 years since I was a student there, the connection is still deep and warm between me and some of them as they honor me with expressing their usually positive opinions in what I write and I do appreciate that for them, although we adopt different ideologies and political and social stances.
I remember when we were students at the second year in history department. That year was for studying the history of the middle ages. We used to study the history of Byzantium and Europe in the middle age. We also studied the history of Islam, especially the Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphates. We studied the Fatimid Caliphate and Almohad and Almoravids Caliphates in Morocco as well. We also studied the Crusades. I remember that we had very prominent academic professors teaching us like Dr. Muhammed Abdel-Hadi Shae’ira teaching us the history of Morocco and Andalusia, Dr. Abdel-Monim Maged teaching us the history of the Fatimids and Dr. Hassan Shalabi teaching us the Crusades.
As to studying the history of Byzantium and the Church, we had the knowledgeable giant professor IsaaK Ebied whom we had no idea if he was Christian or Muslim. He kept teaching us about Christianity and Islam until he once told us how he was arrested and charged of belonging to muslim brotherhood in 1959 and that he kept, for three days, trying to prove to the authorities that his full name is Issak Tawadros Ebied. Only then we knew he was Christian.
I do not want to continue narrating the details of that time. However, I cannot forget the sittings we used to have over the university garden grass near al-Za’afaran palace and the faculties of arts and law; that grass garden extending under the trees with the shady leaves. It was the place for the sittings gathering professors, lecturers and students; male and female. We used to have those discussions while eating beans and falafel sandwiches we had from Nagaf restaurant in Abbassiya. We used to discuss national issues and plan for demonstrations, sit-ins, protests and how to tackle confrontations with the university administration and security.
We used to have strong students’ unions whose members were both active in public activity and scholarly excellent. We had very active committees in those unions in culture, art, scouting and travelling. We also had a theater, play courts, groups for acting, playing music and folklore dancing. We had cultural and political clubs where we used to host big thinkers and artists and stay from evening until dawn arguing and discussing with them.
It was the place where interaction between university and society used to take place. Now, I wonder: how did everything change in the university? How did religious extremism and groups adopting hard-line religious ideologies spread and take control of the university? When did it happen that they intimidated the students, professors then the administration?... when… how… who… what… and why?
We need honest answers for these questions… however, honesty is always relative because it is a testimony given by different parties over certain incidents… I cannot deny that I myself have an answer that is also subject to be disputed and criticized according to discipline rules, and to be compared with other testimonies.
Another crucial question: how did the university lose that creative environment where we used to learn, study and get busy engaging in our country problems? It is the place that witnessed the stories of our first love, when we used to communicate with our lovers through eyes, signs, gestures and invitations to drink a soft drink in the cafeteria or at the shop of Mr. Gamal; that blind man with the sharp tongue who used to recognize our voices and know the paper and coin currency using his fingertips. He was also able to know if it was counterfeit or genuine… or not even money.
If corridors, plants, fountain and benches – especially in the last rows – in that place could talk, they would have told much more stories.
This article was published in Almasry alyoum newspaper on July 28, 2015.
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