Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Refaat Elsaied

What we had between us, me and Refaat Elsaied, was and will remain pure human… it is something that includes distinction, frankness, stubbornness and sometimes obstinacy and mutual irony.

I used to meet him almost daily when we used to go frequently to the periodicals’ hall situated on roof of the old Egyptian National Library and Archives in Bab El-Khalq when the employee responsible for this department neglected by the library administration – despite its utmost importance as historical documents – used to take bribes of any kind; a Belmont or even Florida packet of cigarettes… or a five or ten piasters… and when the new comer, thinking himself an elite scholar of master or PhD degree, refuses to pay the “bonus” – the polite name of the bribe – and decides to depend on himself, the man used to leave him until the new comer scholar gives up, following this with an apology for A’am[1] Abdelmoniem saying “forgive me Hajj Moniem… I didn’t mean to be rude”… as that employee was familiar to the dialogue that starts with a specific sentence from that new comer: “I want to review the newspaper of al-Moa’yed or as-Siyasa – for example – for the years so and so”… the employee answers: “go into the corridor to the right and walk a little… and search there”… and as the public may continue this dialogue: “I bet you will never find what you want”… after two or three times of such thing, the new comer starts to know the “rules” of the place… and so, he exchanges the morning or evening greetings along with paying the “bonus”… in minutes, he should find the required folder in front of him.

At that place, I met Refaat Elsaied; meaning forty-six years ago. I was writing a research about Sheikh Ali Abdel-Razik and the crisis of the book “Islam and fundamentals of governing”. I found extensive literature in the newspaper of as-Siyasa and went scribing the published literature including the minutes of the session of the elite scholars’ body… that session when the man was denied his scholar degree… Refaat, meanwhile, was collecting literature about the Egyptian political life in the time over which he wrote the history of the communist movement… we used to go together from the roof of the library in Bab El-Khalq to walk on foot through Hassan Al-Akbar Street and then exchange invitations to have some sandwiches and drinks.

At that time, Refaat was contributing to the editing of “al-Taliyaa” magazine among a bunch of figures representing the Dialectical materialism philosophy, atop of them was Mr. Lotfi al-Kholi whom one yearns – despite the long years since he died – to see him holding the cigar between his lips while his voice is booming out and his laughter is roaring… there were also more others whom we learnt a lot from them… for example and not exclusively: Abo-Saif Youssef, Khairi Aziz, Samir Karam, and others who used to publish their political, cultural, and intellectual contributions in al-Taliyaa adopting a Dialectical materialistic; meaning Marxist approach.

On the other side, we had “al-Kateb” magazine which represents the Arab-nationalist ideology… atop of it was thinker Ahmed Abbas Saleh along with another group of leftist Arab-nationalist thinkers, however, they were not Marxists or communists.

We also had “al-Fekr al-Moa’ser” magazine headed by Mr. Dr. Fouad Zakaria and which used to represent the liberal approach… in additions to many other magazines for theater, culture, cinema, international politics… meaning, there was a real environment of diversity that included clear ideological orientations and that had a real genuine debate in between them.

In such environment, Refaat, I, and others used to discuss, disagree and intellectually oppose but we used to eat, drink, and have fun together bearing no grudge or malice.

Then we came to the time when then-president Sadat decided to establish a multi-party political life… and so, he decided to establish the political platforms inside the Arab Socialist Union; the one political group since the beginning of the sixties… many proposed to establish political platforms and part of the Nasserists decided to have one, atop of those was the great patriotic political struggler Kamal Refaat along with Kamal Ahmed, Mohammed Salmawi, Salah Dessouqi, Abdelhamid Attiea, and I… while the other part of the Nasserists refused this whole thing of platforms and parties for two reasons… first: to them, the Nasserist ideology does not accept parties since they represent a bourgeoisie political form… and second: since Sadat, along with all his policies, was representing the anti-revolution to the ideology and principles of Nasser and July 23rd revolution, accepting to go through such experience was regarded as a deviation and violation for their beliefs.

I remember when Kamal Refaat assigned me the task of writing the program of the Nasserist Arab Socialist platform. I sat in the office of Ahmed Lotfi Waked next to that of Kamal Refaat in the publishing house they used to own. I wrote the program and printed it, then we, Kamal Refaat, Kamal Ahmed, and I, went to submit it to the committee of the political activity future. There, we met Refaat Elsaied and others… and when Sadat refused to allow the Nasserists’ platform, a common platform representing all leftist ideologies was decided to be established… coordinating sessions taking place in the office of Khaled Mohie-Eldin were held and attended along with him by Fouad Morsi, Ismail Sabri Abdallah, Abo-Saif Youssef, Ali Talkhan, Mohammed Shatta, and Refaat Elsaied while Kamal Refaat, Abdelhamid Attiea, and I used to represent the Nasserist Arab-National side… we agreed to give the name “the Unionist Progressive National Gathering” to the common entity with the acronym “TOTO” that used to represent the first letters of the Arabic name of the party as it was the case with communist parties… like “HDTO”; Arabic acronym of the “Democratic movement for national liberation”… and “NHSHM”; Arabic acronym of “Towards a unified communist party”.

During those discussions and what followed in the party, conferences, seminars and even in some scientific seminars, especially in the departments of history at the faculty of arts at Ain Shams University and the faculty of girls, I used to meet Refaat Elsaied… we used to argue, disagree, oppose, and go stubborn… but I give my word that he, regardless of any disagreement, did not hesitate to provide any help or do any favor he is asked to do… he was also generous to anyone in need, polite, broad-minded, and diverse regarding his cultural resources as he had contributions in poetry, prose, literature, art, heritage, and history… he also had a long history in managing political maneuvers in order to make it work in favor of the communist movement he used to belong to, and he did not hide this.

Many wrote about Refaat Elsaied hailing his stances and writings against political Islamization and his rich writings in the history of communist movement… but what is more worth to write about extensively is Refaat’s role in the movement of the Egyptian Left as a whole; meaning the Marxist, Nasserist, and Arab-Nationalist Left along with all their diversities… as I think such role was important and sometimes crucial. It included positive and negative things just like all human works… may you rest in peace, comrade.

Translated into English by: Dalia Elnaggar

This article was published in Almasry alyoum newspaper on August 23, 2017.

To see the original article, go to:

#almasry_alyoum #ahmed_elgammal #refaat_elsaied

[1] A’am (Arabic: عم): the colloquial word used to address a usually elder man whom one does not know.

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