A decade before Salman Rushdie's latest assassination attempt, Egyptian journalist Mohamed Abo-elgheit wrote an extensive analytic report about the novelist, presenting a character and a topic to an audience that largely knows nothing of Rushdie beyond his book, “Satanic Verses,” which many deemed offensive to Muslims globally.
In that report, Abo-elgheit looked beyond the publication that had triggered calls for Rushdie's assassination, show casing him as a human, author, and inspiration. As the August 12, 2022 stabbing incident sparked a newfound interest in the novelist, Abo-elgheit's article — written by a 23-year-old at the time — went viral, with readers seeking a comprehensive and reliable account on who Rushdie is.
For the many who know Abo-elgheit and are familiar with his award-winning reporting and investigative journalism, such appreciation for his work is not new. Even as the now 34-year-old journalist fights an advanced stage of stomach cancer that has creped to other parts of his body, he offers his readers and followers candid insights into his journey towards survival, through vivid, descriptive, and informative Facebook posts that detail his almost year-long battle.
In his August 2021 post announcing the discovery of cancer cells in his body, the Egyptian journalist described how his body tipped him off of its illness through a recurring dream, in which he saw sharp needles growing in his mouth, and which were long enough to reach his abdomen, only growing longer if plucked out. He said that waking up from these nightmares was always followed by immense pain in his throat. “My body was calling out and I was not getting it,” he wrote.
Since then, and in a series of lengthy yet gripping posts, he eloquently took his readers through rollercoaster rides of frustrations, acceptance, choices, bodily agony and appreciation for his wife and friends, who continue to support him as he is kept away — for security reasons — from the rest of his family who reside in his home country. Through all this heavy content, he weaves in medical information about his illness’ progress, adding a scientific depth which stems from his own background as a doctor.
In an August 3 post, he wrote:
العازف ذو البذلة الحمراء
يتميز القانون الجنائي المصري بوضع غريب فيما يخص أحكام الإعدام: لا موعد لتنفيذها.
بعد أن يستنفد المحكوم عليه كافة درجات التقاضي، ويصدق رئيس الجمهورية علي الحكم، يظل السجين مرتدياً البذلة الحمراء في انتظار الموت، وهو انتظار قد يستغرق أسابيع، أو أشهرا، أو سنوات قبل أن يُفتح الباب ويخبرونه فجأة أن الوقت قد حان!
لهذا الوضع جانب إيجابي، فالعديد من السجناء خاصة بالقضايا السياسية أمضوا سنوات طويلة دون تنفيذ الأحكام، وانتهى الحال بإطلاق سراح بعضهم بعد تبدل الأحوال.
لكن له جانب قاس جدا، هو مرور الوقت على ذوي البذلات الحمراء في انتظار الموت بأية لحظة.
كثيرا ما تمثلت حياتي كمريض سرطان بحياة هؤلاء. كيف يمضون وقت انتظار الموت؟ يتناسون الأمر؟ يعتادونه؟
حين أقوم حاليا بأي نشاط متوسط أو طويل المدى، بدءا من زراعة حديقتي وحتى أي نشاط مرتبط بالصحافة أو كتابة، أفكر أحيانا في مدى حماقة ما أفعل. هل يتقدم محكوم بالإعدام بطلب للدراسة بإحدى الكليات؟ هل يمارس الرياضة لبناء عضلاته؟
The Musician in the Red Suit
The Egyptian penal code has a peculiar stance with regards to death sentences: there is no date for their execution.
After the convict has exhausted all degrees of litigation, and the President of the Republic ratifies the sentence, the prisoner remains in a red suit waiting for death, a wait that may last weeks, months, or years before the door is opened and he is suddenly told that his time has come!
This situation has a positive side, as many prisoners held on political charges spent many years without having their sentence carried out, and some of them ended up being released after [political] situations changed.
But it has a very cruel side, which is the passage of time for those in red suits waiting to die at any moment.
My life as a cancer patient has often been represented by their lives. How do they spend their time waiting for death? Do they pretend to forget about it? Do they get used to it?
When I currently get engaged in any medium or long-term activity, from planting my garden to any activity related to journalism or writing, I often think about how foolish I am. Does a person sentenced to death apply to study at a college? Does he exercise, to build muscles?
An unmatched journalist
Throughout his pain-stricken battle against the vicious disease that shows no sign of responding to any of the severe treatments he is undergoing, and which have left his young body weak and wasted, Abo-elgheit did not stop producing impeccable journalism.
In the same Facebook post on August 3, between detailing how he underwent two sessions of harsh treatments and chemotherapy, he described how the publication of a CNN investigative report he had contributed to, on Russia's exploitation of gold mines in Sudan to fund its war in Ukraine, has made him smile for the first time in days.
Months before he first discussed his illness publicly, in February 2021, he announced receiving the Fetisov award for another Sudan-focused piece:
Delighted to announce that we, @nickpdonovan, @RichyK37 and my self, have been awarded with Fetisov Journalism Award @fjawards, 1st Prize in “Outstanding Contribution to Peace” for our work on financial network of the Sudanese RSFhttps://t.co/0ICi1LYJaXhttps://t.co/Ow3yWCTVWG pic.twitter.com/xHmBgVcN82
— mohamed abo-elgheit (@MohAboelgheit) February 10, 2021
Months before his diagnosis, he was also contacted by Organized Corruption and Crime Reporting Project (OCCRP) to join some 163 journalists in putting together the Swiss Leaks. Despite his illness, he contributed to the reports that were published earlier this year and exposed offshore accounts of high-profile clients from around the world, including Middle East tyrants and their families.
Versed in investigative journalism, Abo-elgheit's work is unmatched in a region widely hostile to reporters, especially those delving into sensitive topics such as security, corruption, and human rights violations which Abo-elgheit has skillfully navigated, in countries ranging from Egypt, to Yemen, Palestine and Syria.
This unique quality of journalism has earned him the UN Correspondents Association Award as well as the EU-Samir Kassir Awards.
His personal chronicles
For over 155,000 keen followers of Abo-elgheit's Facebook account, his writings are a treat that offer updates on his health and his fight against cancer, as well as rare insight into an experience and journey rarely discussed in the region, of a cancer patient struggling to survive against a crushing disease.
Discussing health problems in public remain uncommon in the Middle East, especially by men, as it showcases vulnerability and weakness – emotions that are seldom spoken of openly.
صديقي Mohamed Aboelgheit يُحقِّق على أرض الواقع المقولة التي كنَّا نردِّدها طوال حياتنا على سبيل المجاز: الكتابة حياة..فهو يتوسَّل بالكتابة بالفعل كي يحيا!محمد يُسجِّل نزالاته مع السرطان، يحملنا معه على مركب الآمال والآلام في كل تدوينة جديدة، لنخوض معه رحلة إنسانية شاقة لاهثة الأنفاس، لا نكاد نصدِّق أنه ليس مجرد راويها فقط، إنما هو هو الشخص الذي يحكي عنه، هو هو الذي يكابد كل هذا وحده ويتسامى عنه حتى يرصده بهذا الوعي المُرهَف المدهش!لم أقابل محمد ولا مرَّة وجهًا لوجه، لكني قابلته إنسانيًا عبر كتاباته المُشبِعة الحقيقية، ودقَّقت له من قبل أحد التحقيقات التي كتبها لأريج وفازت بجائزة دولية، وفي كلٍ وجدته ذلك الإنسان الرائع المبدع الحساس لكل ما يحيط به والقادر علىامتصاصه وإعادة إنتاجه بشكل غير مسبوق!
My friend Mohamed Abo-elgheit is realizing the saying which we've been using all our lives as a metaphor: writing is life..
Through writing, he is pleading to keep on living.
Mohamed records his fights with cancer, carrying us with him on a boat of hopes and pains with every new post, to go with him on a difficult and breathless humane journey; one which we can hardly believe that he is not just its narrator, but he is the person who he talks about, the one who suffers all this alone and transcends above it to document it with such mesmerizing sensitive awareness!
I never met Mohamed in person, but I met him humanely through his saturated and authentic writings, and I've previously fact-checked an investigation he wrote for ARIJ [Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism] for which he won an international award. In all this I him that wonderful, creative human being who is sensitive to everything that surrounds him and able to absorb and reproduce it in an unprecedented way!
Drawing thousands of reactions within hours of publishing each post, from prayers to expressions of gratitude, many have expressed that such documentations are rare for Arab readers, and brave.
Hesham Aslan, a write in Almodon, wrote in April:
بعد الدعوات بالشفاء للصديق العزيز محمد أبو الغيط حابب أقول، بالأحرى أسجل لنفسي من باب أننا جميعا نعيش ونتعلم، إن ما يفعله هذا الكاتب الاستثنائي بنصوصه السردية الطويلة حول يومياته مع المرض، أنه يعيد صياغة مفاهيم كبيرة لجدوى الكتابة وأثرها على صاحبها وقارئها والإنسانية بوجه عام، أو أنه على أقل تقدير، أحد قليلين خرجوا بتلك المفاهيم من الحيز النظري لوسع الواقع الملموس في أبلغ وأوضح المتاح للقدرة البشرية وأعلى حالات اختلاط الموهبة في توهجها بصدق سؤال الكتابة لدى كاتبها، كيف تمنحنا هذا الجمال من قلب أشد حالات الألم الشخصي فيما تمنح نفسك حياة؟ كيف توسع عالمك جاذبا إيانا نعيش فيه مع أبطال حكايتك وأحداثها؟ كيف باتت طرقات المستشفى كواليس مسرحا لا نستطيع صرف أعيننا عن خشبته؟ نراقب مداخلات شخوصه مشدوهين، بينما يفيق الواحد فجأة على كون الكاتب هو صاحب الألم يعري السخرية ليفهم الجميع كم هي شيء حزين حين تظهر حقيقتها. لطالما شعرت بالحرج بينما تتوارى تمنياتي ودعواتي بالشفاء في تعليق وراء دهشتي مما تكتب وتفعل. محمد الكاتب اللافت منذ عرفته قبل سنوات لم تعد قليلة، وقت تزاملنا في جريدة الشروق، هو وجه يتجلى من وجوه الإلهام ومعانيه الحقيقية والكبيرة. صباح الخير يا كاتب يا كبير.
After prayers for the recovery of my dear friend Muhammad Abo-elgheit, I would like to say — rather, I would like to record for myself, since we all live and learn — that what this exceptional writer does with his long narrative texts about his diaries with illness, is that he reformulates great concepts of the usefulness of writing and its impact on its owner, reader and humanity in general. Or, at the very least, he is one of the very few who took these concepts out of the theoretical space, and into the expansive realm of reality, in the clearest and most expressive form possible within human capacity, mixing talent in its finest as he casts the question: how do you give us such beauty from the heart of harshest cases of personal pain, while giving yourself life? How do you expand your world, drawing us to live in it, along with the heroes of your story and its events? How did hospital corridors become the scenes of a theater that we cannot take our eyes off of? We follow the interactions of his characters in astonishment, and suddenly wake up to the fact that the writer is the owner of the pain.
I have always been embarrassed as my best wishes and prayers for a recovery hide behind comments of my astonishment at what you write and do. Mohamed, the remarkable writer since I knew him a few years ago, when we joined Al-Shorouk newspaper, is a face that emerges among the many faces of inspiration, with its true and great meanings. Good morning, great writer.