By Ahmed Aboulenein
CAIRO, Feb 17 – Mohamed Hassanein Heikal, the Arab world’s best known political commentator, died on Wednesday at age 92, Egyptian state television reported.
The leading Egyptian journalist rose to prominence as editor in chief of Egypt’s Al-Ahram, widely regarded as the newspaper of record in the Arab world during his tenure.
Heikal was a close associate of President Gamal Abdel Nasser, one of the army officers who overthrew the British-backed monarchy in 1952, and his insight into regional affairs was highly respected by many Arab leaders.
Heikal’s daily columns often offered the best clues on the thinking of Nasser, a charismatic figure who challenged the West and was a champion of pan-Arab nationalism. He served as a minister of national guidance under Nasser.
After Nasser’s death in 1970, Heikal played a key role in ensuring that his successor Anwar Sadat consolidated power as president, advising him to push out Nasser loyalists.
Heikal later fell out with Sadat after Al-Ahram criticised the president. He was arrested along with hundreds of other figures seen as a threat to Sadat’s policies, including the 1979 peace treaty with Israel and economic liberalisation.
He was released after President Hosni Mubarak came to power following Sadat’s assassination by Islamist militants in 1981. Heikal kept a low profile abroad until the 2000s, when he returned to Egypt and became a regular commentator, hosting his own television programme and resuming his well-known columns.