Taha Sa'd 'Uthman

by Joel Beinin
published in MER234

Taha Sa‘d ‘Uthman (1916–2004), a life-long trade union and leftist political organizer, passed away at the age of 88 last November. His funeral in Cairo’s ‘Umar Makram mosque was attended by over 1,000 people representing the spectrum of Egypt’s progressive forces -- trade unionists, lawyers, human rights activists, feminists, parliamentarians, intellectuals and leaders of the “legal left” National Progressive Union Party (NPUP).

Taha Sa‘d’s career as a labor organizer began after he received his high school industrial arts diploma. Although he was often a textile industry foreman and manager, he identified with ordinary workers. In 1939 he helped found the Shubra al-Khayma Mechanized Textile Workers Union and became its general secretary. This union and its successors were communist strongholds, as were the textile workers of Cairo’s northern suburbs generally, among urban industrial workers.

After World War II, Taha Sa‘d became a leader of the Workers’ Committee for National Liberation (WCNL) and secretary of the editorial board of its weekly, al-Damir (The Conscience). The WCNL linked the national struggle to expel the British occupiers to the social demands of workers and peasants. It was informally affiliated with the New Dawn Marxist group, the core of the future Workers’ Vanguard organization, which in 1957 became the Workers’ and Peasants’ Communist Party, the largest of the three currents that fused as the Communist Party of Egypt in 1958. Taha Sa‘d was one of the prominent working-class organizers of this tendency.

Arrested many times for his political activities, Taha Sa‘d was also a prolific author. The last of his 28 volumes of labor and political history, Living Hell, 1959–1964, chronicles his incarceration along with almost all of Egypt’s communists during the era of Gamal Abdel Nasser and the many tortures and brutalities they endured.

A sad note on the current state of democracy and politics in Egypt: the government-sponsored, English-language Al-Ahram Weekly mentioned in its obituary that Taha Sa‘d had been a communist, whereas the Arabic-language organ of the NPUP, al-Ahali, did not.