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Mohamed Aboul Gheit: Story of hope, talent and freedom of journalism

Last Monday came with shocking news for most Egyptian journalists and activists: Mohamed Aboul Gheit passed away. The 34 years old writer, investigative journalist and symbolic figure of the 25 January Revolution in 2011 had suffered for about two years from virulent stomach cancer.

Aboul Gheit was born in 1988 in Assiut in southern Egypt. Writing and journalism represented the absolute love of Aboul Gheit, although he graduated from the medical faculty.

He was arrested during the Egyptian uprising in 2011 and, after his release, he established a web blog called “Gedaria (Fresco)”, where his talent shone. An article titled “The poor first, sons of dogs”, published on his blog in June 2011, brought attention to his talent. He criticised the elite for conflicting over cultural and ideological issues, forgetting the demands of the poor who sacrificed themselves during the revolution without gaining credit.

His erudite writing allowed him into the Egyptian private liberal newspapers, starting his career in Al Masry Al Youm and then Al Shorouk dailies. Soon, his articles shone, winning Moustafa Al-Husseiny Prize for the best article by a young Arab writer in 2013 for his article, “As if nothing was there”, on the Egyptian police violations and the necessity for reform.

One year later, he was awarded the Samir Al-Kasir award for press freedom, presented by the European Union for his article, “Season of the alive dead”, in which he criticised the violence between the Muslim Brotherhood and other  Egyptian opposition.

Although Aboul Gheit did not oppose the military coup in 2013, he was persecuted by the new military authoritarianism that eliminated the freedom of the press in Egypt. In addition, his father-in-law, Professor Sayed Ali Shehab, was arrested and sentenced to death for joining the Muslim Brotherhood, and Aboul Gheit denounced authoritarianism and state violence.

The new military authority of Egypt then succumbed to the pseudo-scientific fantasy of a device to treat viruses, including HIV and HCV, invented by a military expert. Aboul Gheit investigated the story, unveiling that the so-called expert, Ibrahim Abdel Aaty, has no scientific qualifications and was prosecuted for claiming to be a medical professional.

READ: Egypt under Sisi provides immunity for the army and a whip for the people

Months later, Aboul Gheit fled to London and joined Al Araby TV. He became a notable international investigative journalist in London, after years of studying and training.

His investigative documentary, “The End User”, broadcast by DW in November 2018, was awarded the Ricardo Ortega award, presented by the UN Correspondents Association. The investigation revealed that 10 western countries broke the armament ban in Yemen providing weapons to the warring parties.

Another reward for Aboul Gheit was the Fetisov Award in 2020, which he received for making an outstanding contribution to peace through his investigation in 2019 that covered the financial networks of the Rapid Support Forces, a militia formed by the ousted Sudanese Omar Bashir that committed war crimes in Darfur and assaulted the demonstrators during the Sudanese uprising in 2019.

Aboul Gheit had never forgotten Egypt, despite the threats of persecution of his family there, especially his father-in-law, who was kept in jail even after the Cassation Court acquitted him. Several fact-checking and solution journalism platforms, such as “Matsadaksh” (Do not believe), were founded by Aboul Gheit over the past few years, forming a rare window for a free press in Sisi’s Egypt.

Aboul Gheit was an inspiring figure for the Egyptian intelligentsia with his commitment to freedom and justice and his alignment with the poor. He gave a helping hand to dozens of Egyptian journalists to find training and work opportunities to develop their skills and establish a career. He kept an equal distance from different parties, but earned the respect of all for his professionalism, neutrality and rationality.

Aboul Gheit had the last hope before death, for his father-in-law to be released from jail in Egypt to stand with his daughter, Aboul Gheit’s wife, who is now alone with their orphan son, abroad.

Two days after his death, the Egyptian Dar Al-Shorouk announced the publication of his first book, entitled “I’m Coming, Light”.

In his book, Aboul Gheit recounted his suffering from cancer and his adherence to hope until the last day, and he conveyed his stories of searching for a light at the end of the dark tunnel.

Today, his friends celebrate his first book. They feel the spirit of Aboul Gheit and his charming smile in his beautiful words. Their only consolation is that their friend, Mohamed Aboul Gheit, has gone to the light and a better life.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.