Mohamed Sid-Ahmed (1928–2006), a long-serving contributing editor of this magazine, was born in Cairo into a cosmopolitan family whose landed wealth dated to the era of Mehmet Ali. He was a life-long activist in the communist and progressive movements, one of Egypt’s leading political writers and intellectuals, and a person of extraordinary integrity and generosity.
Through his French education in Cairo, Sid-Ahmed was introduced to Marxism and drawn into the circles of the communist movement. He joined the Iskra organization led by Hillel Schwartz in 1945. The next year, the government of his uncle, Prime Minister Isma‘il Pasha Sidqi, made communism illegal, as it has been ever since. Iskra fused with the Egyptian Movement for National Liberation led by Henri Curiel to form the Democratic Movement for National Liberation. This group fragmented in 1948 because of conflicts over Curiel’s leadership and disputes over whether the Marxists should have followed the Soviet Union’s lead and endorsed the partition of Palestine into an Arab state and a Jewish state.
Sid-Ahmed then joined the Egyptian Communist Organization, led by Sidney and Odette Solomon. That organization was destroyed when the three of them were arrested along with Aslan and Mireille Cohen in August 1950. After brief jail time, Sid-Ahmed enrolled in Cairo University, receiving degrees in law in 1954 and engineering in 1955. At the university he joined the Communist Party of Egypt, led by Fu’ad Mursi. This current of the highly factionalized Egyptian communist movement, favored by the prestigious Communist Party of France, was popular among students because it put the most emphasis on theoretical training.
The three principal factions of the movement united to form the United Communist Party of Egypt on January 8, 1958. Sid-Ahmed’s political acumen and personal qualities won him election to the party’s Political Bureau.
Along with most other active communists, Mohamed was arrested in January 1959 and sentenced to ten years imprisonment. After the two communist parties were dissolved in 1963 (there had been yet another split), the communist prisoners received a general amnesty.
Sid-Ahmed was released in 1964, married Maissa Talaat in 1965, and spent the rest of his career as a journalist, writer and commentator. He started at state-owned organs, working briefly at the daily al‐Akhbar and then moving to al‐Ahram in 1965, where he became editor of the opinion section. For a decade, working within the regimes of both Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar al-Sadat, Sid-Ahmed and other former communist intellectuals attempted to radicalize Arab socialism and push the limits of political expression to the left through projects like the monthly al‐Tali‘a (The Vanguard). Because he opposed Sadat’s turn toward the West and abandonment of Arab socialism and pan-Arab nationalism, in 1974 he was banned from writing in al‐Ahram.
Sid-Ahmed took this opportunity to travel widely, including a first trip to the United States, during which we met in Ann Arbor in 1978. In these years he began to write regularly in Le Monde Diplomatique and the Arabic press outside Egypt and became a frequent interviewee for National Public Radio. He eventually returned to writing in al‐Ahram and the English-language al‐Ahram Weekly, contributing a column on international affairs. At his death, he was one of Egypt’s most respected journalists, with a reputation for sophisticated and subtle analyses that never indulged in the conspiracy theories or anti-Semitic calumnies that had become common by the 1990s.
Sid-Ahmed wrote four books, only one of which, After the Guns Fall Silent (1976), has been translated into English. This was the first Arabic book to pose seriously the question: “What kind of peace with Israel is acceptable?” The book was considered so significant that Lord Caradon, one of the drafters of UN Security Council Resolution 242, wrote a foreword. Sid-Ahmed argued that a peace was acceptable in principle, if it was based on justice and set limits to Israel’s regional power. This was a position he had held since his teenage years. But it was an extremely bold public statement at a time when no Arab state had yet signed a peace treaty with Israel. Nonetheless, Sid-Ahmed, along with the rest of the Egyptian left, opposed the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty on the grounds that it was a separate peace that left the question of Palestine unaddressed and gave Israel a free hand to continue acts of aggression against other Arab states, such as the 1982 invasion of Lebanon.
In 1975–1976, Sid-Ahmed was among the leaders in the establishment of the “legal left” opposition National Progressive Unionist Party, becoming a member of its political committee and foreign affairs columnist for its weekly, al‐Ahali. He eventually became disappointed with what many perceived as the unprincipled behavior of the party’s leadership, but, though he became less active in the party, he never resigned.
Sid-Ahmed died suddenly in his Cairo apartment in February. He is survived by his wife Maissa, their two sons Tariq and ‘Amr, and his stepdaughter Nayra Ijjeh.