CAIRO (AP) - Mohamed Heikal, a close confidant of Egypt’s nationalist leader Gamal Abdel Nasser since the 1950s and later author of insider accounts of his country’s wars and peacemaking with Israel, has died. He was 92.
State television said Heikal, whose health rapidly deteriorated at the start of the year, died on Wednesday in Cairo. Better known among Egyptians by his full name, Mohamed Hassanein Heikal, he recently suffered kidney problems that required regular dialysis.
The popular author rose to prominence as a confidant and later a Cabinet minister under Nasser, Egypt’s socialist and Arab nationalist president who ruled from 1954 until his sudden death in 1970.
His close friendship with Nasser cast Heikal in the role of a top authority on Egyptian and regional politics at a time when much of the Arab world was shaking off colonial European rule and embroiled in armed conflict with Israel.
The leftist Nasserist ideology, which centered around what Nasser called “Arab-socialism,” commands little influence in present-day Egyptian politics, but Heikal remained relevant long after Nasser died, respected for his wide network of international contacts and extraordinary analytical skills.
Career diplomat Mustafa el-Fiqi described Heikal as “the nation’s authentic memory.”
During his years as editor-in-chief of Cairo’s Al-Ahram daily, Heikal tampered Egyptians’ distrust of the country’s tightly controlled state media under Nasser with his insider’s take on the country and the region in his eagerly awaited Friday column entitled “Frankly.”
The column, closely followed across the Arab world, became known for Heikal’s “literary journalism,” a writing style emulated to this day by some of his protégés.
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi eulogized Heikal in a statement, saying the late author “established a distinctive journalistic school that combined political analysis with a magnificent writing style.”
Heikal’s critics, however, often accused him of being an “apologist” for Nasser’s authoritarian style and restrictions on individual freedoms, as well as for Egypt’s humiliating defeat in the 1967 war with Israel.
Nasser’s successor, Anwar Sadat, sidelined Heikal shortly after he took office in 1970, removing him from Al-Ahram in 1974, though he offered him the post of presidential adviser, which Heikal declined.
A decade later, in 1981, Sadat jailed him along with hundreds of government critics just a month before the U.S.-backed president was assassinated by Islamic militants. His successor, Hosni Mubarak, released Heikal and the others but kept the author at arm’s length throughout his 29 years in office.
Heikal, who published about 40 books, passed a damning judgment on Sadat’s 11 years in power in his 1983 book “Autumn of Fury, The Assassination of Sadat.” His sharply critical views of Mubarak were evident in his Arabic-language book - “Mubarak and his age” - published in 2012, a year after Mubarak was ousted in a popular uprising.
Despite his poor health, Heikal was frequently on TV in the past few years, sharing his political views in lengthy interviews, first on Qatar’s Al-Jazeera network and more recently on the privately owned Egyptian network CBC.
Heikal is survived by three sons: Ali, Ahmed and Hassan.
Later Wednesday, Heikal’s body was taken to Cairo’s landmark Al-Hussein mosque in the city’s historic medieval district, where a prayer for the dead was held. He was later buried at the “House of Return”- the name his family has given to its private burial ground on the eastern edge of Cairo.
Muslims swiftly bury their dead in accordance with their faith’s teachings.
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