Mohamed Hassanein Heikal

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Mohamed Hassanein Heikal (Arabic: محمد حسنين هيكل, alternative spelling: Muhammad Hasanain Haikal, September 23, 1923-) is widely regarded as Egypt’s most prominent journalist, writer and editor. He was born to a middle-class family in Cairo.[1]

Muhammad Hasanain Haikal (Source: Al-Youm al-Sabiʿ)


Education and Career

Heikal was educated in government schools and attended both Cairo University and the American University in Cairo but did not graduate from either.[2]

He began his career as an unpaid reporter for the Egyptian Gazette and Rose al-Youssef where he covered the battle of al-Alamein in 1942 as well as the Egyptian parliamentary debates.[3] Heikal later became a reporter for Akhir Saʿa (the Last Hour) and won the King Farouk Prize for investigative journalism for his coverage of the cholera epidemic of 1947. He also covered the conflict in Palestine between 1946 and 1949, where he met Gamal Abdel Nasser and interviewed David Ben-Gurion, prime Minister of Israel, and King Abdullah of Jordan. Heikal also reported on the Greek civil war which took place from 1946 to 1949 and the coup in Iran that overthrew Mossadegh in 1953.[4] It is reported that after covering several events that took place in Palestine like the U.N. Partition Resolution of 1947 and the Palestine War in 1948, "Palestine... became Heikal's major obsession." He started writing a series of reports called "Fire over the Holy Land" and fifty years later, he continued to cover events in Palestine.[5]

Relationship with Nasser

Heikal is often described as Nasser's close confidant and friend. It is said that Heikal often encouraged Nasser to publish his thoughts, and the pamphlet the Philosophy of the Revolution is thought to be one of the products of this relationship. According to some accounts, Heikal was actually the one who wrote the pamphlet and accredited it to Nasser. It is said that because Heikal never approached Nasser for sensational news, he "gained uniquely privileged access to Nasser. His columns were seen as authoritative statements of Nasser's views, and were read eagerly not only by Egypt's political elite, but also by diplomats and foreign politicians."[6] His widely read weekly column "Bi-Saraha" (Frankly Speaking) was also assumed to reflect Nasser’s thinking on major issues.[7] In Nasser's last few years in power, Heikal was appointed as Minister of National Guidance.[8]

In the early 1950s, he was editor of Akhir Saʿa and became editor-in-chief of al-Akhbar in 1956. The following year, he became editor-in-chief of al-Ahram, modernized its facilities and transformed it into the most influential paper in the Arab world.

Post-Nasser Career

Heikal founded many periodicals like al-Taliʿa (the Vanguard) and served briefly as minister of culture and national guidance in 1970.[9] In the 1970s, Heikal broke with Sadat and criticized his policies and Egypt’s growing dependence on the United States. In 1974, he was dismissed as editor of al-Ahram and barred from publishing articles in the Egyptian press. In 1977 and 1978, he was interrogated by the Egyptian police and barred from travelling abroad. In September 1981, he was among those imprisoned in Sadat’s purge but was later released.

Heikal continued to write under Muhammed Hosni Mubarak but never truly regained his former influence on policy making. He was very critical of former President Mubarak, describing him as living in “a world of fantasy in Sharm el-Sheikh”[10] and repeatedly attacked the Egyptian government’s failures throughout the Mubarak era. On many occasions, he predicted the eventual downfall of the Mubarak regime.[11]

He founded the non-profit Heikal Foundation for Arab Journalism, and in 2007, "the foundation launched a training program in investigative journalism by inviting feted American journalist Seymour Hersh to speak to up-and-coming Egyptian reporters." It continues to offer fellowships to aspiring and promising young reporters.[12]

In September 2010, Anwar Sadat's daughter Ruqayya sued Heikal for indirectly blaming her father for Nasser's death. On the al-Jazeera show Tajribat Haya (A Life Experience), Heikal claimed that Nasser was in a meeting with Yasir Arafat and other Palestinian officials, when Nasser began to get very distraught. Sadat then offered to personally make Nasser a cup of coffee, and he did so after he kicked Nasser's cook out of the kitchen.[13] It is not clear what happened to this case or whether Ruqayya won it or not. But people began asking why Heikal, in his 40 years of writing and publishing, never revealed this story before then.[14]

In an interview on October 21, 2011, military historian Issam Daraz claimed that Heikal knew secrets about Nasser's dealings with the Israeli Mossad but would not reveal them. He also claimed that Heikal's powers were so extensive that "Heikal was behind all of the decisions made in the 1967 War." Nasser, Issam argued, sometimes took Heikal's advice more seriously than he did his military advisors' even in matters of war.[15]

After January 25, 2011

Mohamed Hassanein Heikal was a strong supporter of the Egyptian Revolution of January 2011 and warned of Mubarak’s continued freedom of movement in the immediate aftermath of the Revolution even while in Sharm al-Sheikh. In February 2011, he called for Mubarak to be moved from the Sinai resort where, Heikal claimed, he was still communicating with government officials.

Heikal was one of those who called for the formation of Lagnit al-Hukama' ( the Council of the Wise), a think tank that consisted of prominent figures in Egyptian society deliberating together Egypt’s restoration.

On May 18, 2011, Heikal was summoned to give evidence on the state of Mubarak’s wealth before a judicial ministry investigating corruption. There he submitted reports by the World Bank and the CIA on the former president’s wealth.[16]

In October 2011, retired Military General Farid Haggag claimed that Heikal had insulted the military when he claimed that the air strike of 1973, which symbolized for many Egyptians a victory over Israel, was just a show planned by Egypt and the US.[17]

Regarding military rule (which Muhammad Mursi ended in August 2012), Heikal said that he was not worried about the military council wanting to stay in power. He said that quite the contrary, members of the council do not really know how to deal with the situation they found themselves in and have no political experience.[18]


Heikal is a prolific writer. His works include Autumn of Fury which was a strong attack on Sadat and his policies, as well as Road to Ramadan and 1967: The explosion.[19] He also wrote: Nasser: The Cairo Documents, The Rise and Fall of Soviet Influence in the Middle East, Iran: The Untold Story, and October War, to name a few.

In January 2012, he published a book called Mubarak wa Zamanuh.. Min al-Mannasa ila al-Midan (Mubarak and his Era... From the Mannasa [the platform on which Sadat was killed] to the [Tahrir] Square), which comes out in installments in al-Shorouk newspaper and which "portrays moments and scenes from a period that lasted for 30 years, a period that was one of the strangest in modern Egyptian history."[20]

In late March 2012, Heikal published his second book after the January 25 revolution called Misr... ila Ayn? (Egypt... Where to?) in which he "records his views on the future of Egypt after the January 25 Revolution, tackling tensions and confusions that have surfaced in society following Hosni Mubarak's ouster."[21]


  1. "Muhammad Hasanayn Haykal". (2004). In Biographical Dictionary of Modern Egypt. Accessed May 5, 2011
  2. "Muhammad Hasanayn Haykal". (2004). In Biographical Dictionary of Modern Egypt.
  3. Mattar, Philip. Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East & North Africa. Detroit, Mich: Macmillan Reference USA, 2004. Print
  4. Mattar, Philip. Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East & North Africa
  5. Talhami, Ghada. Palestine in the Egyptian Press: From Al-Ahram to Al-Ahali. (Lanham : Lexington Books, 2007), 339-42
  6. Alexander, Anne. Nasser: His Life and Times. (Cairo : the American University in Cairo Press, 2005), 74-75
  7. "Muhammad Hasanayn Haykal". (2004). In Biographical Dictionary of Modern Egypt
  8. Alexander, Anne. Nasser: His Life and Times.
  9. Mattar, Philip. Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East & North Africa.
  10. Fisk, Robert. “Mohamed Hasseinein Heikal: The wise man of the Middle East.” The Independent. 9 April 2007.
  11. “Heikal: Mubarak Should Leave Sharm el-Sheikh” Al-Masry Alyom, 20 February 2011, May 15, 2011
  12. Amer, Pakinam. "Heikal legacy celebrated with release of complete works." Al-Masry al-Youm. December 23, 2009, November 5, 2011
  13. "Ibnat al-Sadat Tuqadi al-Katib Muhammad Hassanain Haikal." Al-Haya. September 19, 2010, November 5, 2011,
  14. Hamdy, Muhammad. "Hal Qatal al-Sadat Abd al-Nasser?" Al-Youm al-Sabiʿ. September 18, 2010, November 5, 2011.
  15. Dusuqy, Mamduh. "Haikal.. Khazzan Asrar Ilaqit Abd al-Nasir wal-Mussad." Al-Wafd. October 21, 2011, November 5, 2011.حوارات-وملفات/95-حوارات%20/112023-«هيكل»-خازن-أسرارعلاقة-«عبدالناصر»-والموساد
  16. El-Badry Yousry. “Heikal summoned for questioning on Mubarak’s wealth” Al-Masry al-Youm, 18 May 2011. and
  17. Hamdy, Rasha. "Haggag: Haikal Asa' lil-Gaysh al-Misri." Al-Wafd. October 6, 2011, November 5, 2011.أخبار-وتقارير/13-الشارع%20السياسي/105237-حجاج-هيكل-أساء-للجيش-المصرى
  18. Fayiz, Wafa'. "Heikal: Al-Ra'is al-Askari Laysa Mukhifan.. Wa Kha'if Gidan min al-Intikhabat al-Barlamaniyya." Al-Shorouk. October 31, 2011, November 5, 2011.
  19. Mattar, Philip. Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East & North Africa
  20. "Muhammad Hasanian Haikal.. fi-Kitab Gadid (Mubarak wa Zamanuh.. Min al-Mannasa ila al-midan)." Al-Shorouk. January 11, 2012. January 14, 2012.
  21. "New Release: Egypt ... to Where? by Mohamed Hassanein Heikal". Ahram Online. March 31, 2012. Accessed April 17, 2012

Other References

Al-Aswani, Mustafa. "Hassanain Haikal: Al-Gaysh Lam Yanqalib ala Mubarak wa Gamilah Tawilan hatta Hakamah Alanan.." Al-Shorouk. October 30, 2011, November 5, 2011.

El Guindy, Zeinab. "Heikal: Upcoming president of Egypt needs a miracle". Ahram Online. May 20, 2012, October 29, 2012.

Fathy, Muhammad. "Hassanain Haikal: al-Ikhwan la Yaslihun li-Hukm Misr." Al-Masrawy. October 29, 2011, November 5, 2011.

Hassan, Ali. "Heikal: al-Baradei wa Moussa 'Aguzan' bila Tarikh Siyasi." Al-Youm al-Sabiʿ. Match 22, 2011, November 5, 2011.

"Heikal's enduring word". Al-Ahram Weekly. February 8-14, 2007 (Issue 831), November 5, 2011.

"Heikal Yatasa'al: Limadha Qabila Mubarak al-Mahana?" Al-Wafd. September 16, 2011, November 5, 2011.أخبار-وتقارير/10-محلية/96039-هيكل-يتساءل-لماذا-قبل-مبارك-المهانة؟

Mohamed Hassanein Heikal Interview on the Arab-Israeli Conflict (1972) The Film Archive. October 3, 2010, November 5, 2011

"Mohamed Hassanein Heikal". Wikipedia, November 5, 2011.

Nkrumah, Gamal. "Chasing the Paper Trail." Al-Ahram Weekly. July 26-August 2, 2007 (Issue 855). November 5, 2011.

Sid-Ahmed, Mohamed. "Heikal at eighty." Al-Ahram Weekly. September 18 - 24, 2003 (Issue 656). November 5, 2011.

Yasin, Muna. "Muhafidh 6 October Yu'aggil al-Muwafaqa ala 'Maqbarit Haikal al-Khassa' Raghm Muwafaqat al-Maglis al-Mahalli." Al-Masry al-Youm. October 7, 2010, November 5, 2011.

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