Magdy Mehana: Pushing the envelope

Last month, Al-Masry Al-Youm published Fel Mamnoo ("Forbidden"), a collection of articles written by the late journalist and television presenter Magdy Mehanna. Mehanna, who passed away on 8 February, 2008, was an independent newspaper columnist and the host of a popular television talk show.

Fel Mamnoo, which bears the same title as his column and television program, serves as an expression of hope about Egypt’s current situation.

The book begins with a series of articles about the author, his work as a journalist and his struggle with cancer, the latter of which caused him tremendous physical pain but also worked to soften the rougher edges of his personality.

The book is divided into nine chapters covering various political, social, religious and regional topics. Most of Mehana’s articles are critical of the government, expressing his concerns about Egypt’s future and the increasing influence of presidential scion Gamal Mubarak in national politics.

Mehana addresses several leading political figures in his articles, including President Hosni Mubarak himself; son Gamal; Parliamentary Speaker Fathi Sorour; National Democratic Party (NDP) Secretary-General Safwat el-Sherif; and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Mufid Shehab.

The author then moves on to consider the contentious issues of social, judicial and constitutional reform. In this section, entitled Eslah Ma Yomken Eslaho ("Fixing what can be fixed"), he calls for a "new and honest government" of the people, by the people, and for the people.

Mehana goes on to expose the chaos that reigns in the current political order, issuing dire warnings about the looming inheritance of power from the NDP’s old-guard to a new elite associated with Gamal Mubarak, which, he says, is slowly assuming control of the country’s leading political posts. On 1 June, 2007, the daring journalist sent a letter to the younger Mubarak in which he asked the latter point blank to refrain from running in upcoming presidential elections, since such a contest was bound to lack both transparency and impartiality.

Mehana’s writing style is simple yet devastating; accessible to readers of different backgrounds, yet unyielding when it comes to the writer’s political opponents.

He then moves on to discuss political Islamist groups, including Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood opposition movement, which he supported. Although he often criticized the brotherhood’s blending of religion with politics, he nevertheless called for recognition of the group as a legitimate political organization. In this section, his writing style becomes noticeably more radical and opinionated. 

On 1 September, 2008, a number of prominent literary figures officially launched the Magdy Mehana Friends Association, in cooperation with independent daily Al-Masry Al-Youm. The association aims to support young Egyptians in need of financing with which to launch small businesses, and young couples in need of housing. The project started out with a fund of some LE2.5 million, a figure that has grown considerably since its inception.

Mehana is remembered for having given a voice to the oppressed. Although he ultimately lost his battle with cancer, he won, in many respects, his lifelong fight against corruption, nepotism and tyranny.

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