movement back in the 1920s and still a strong player on Egypt’s political scene today.
Pope Tawadros II presided over Abdel-Nour’s funeral in the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral of St Mark in Abassiya, Cairo. In addition to the family and friends of the deceased, and leading figures of the Wafd party, a large number of public and political figures were on hand to pay their last respects to the widely-loved and honoured Abdel-Nour.
Present was Fr Rafiq Greiche of the Catholic Church; Hamdeen Sabahi, Amr Moussa—both were presidential contenders in the last elections—and Mohamed Abul-Ghar of the secular People’s Stream; Sayed Badawi and Fouad Badrawi of the Wafd party; Rifaat Said and Nabil Zaky of the leftist Tagammu party; the liberal politicians Amr Hamzawi and Amin Abaza, activists Usama al-Ghazali Harb and George Ishaq; former cabinet members Hassan Massoud, Ahmed Darwish, Adel Abdel-Hamid, and Emad Abu-Ghazi, as well as the prominent film director and activist Khaled Youssef.
Abdel-Nour, who died 100 years old, was the son of Fakhry Abdel-Nour who was among the most prominent figures of the national movement which worked to free Egypt of British occupation in the post-WWI years, and for which purpose he was banished to the island of Malta in 1919 together with the movement’s leader Saad Zaghloul. When he was back home in 1920, he resumed his struggle, this time through the Wafd party which he helped found with Zaghloul in 1919, and which his son Amin described as the stronghold of liberalism and democracy in Egypt.
Egypt finally gained its independence in 1954. The Wafd party was dissolved, as were all other political parties in Egypt in 1952 by order of the then president Gamal Abdel-Nasser. However, when President Anwar al-Sadat allowed the formation of parties in 1970s, the Wafd was resurrected and resumed operation, with Amin Abdel-Nour and later, his son Mounir playing pivotal roles there.
When Amin Abdel-Nour was recently asked his opinion about the current rise of political Islam in Egypt, he gave his by-now famous reply: “Egypt is irrevocably moderate, and its people will never relinquish their moderation and freedom no matter what.”
Eyewitness to a century of Egyptian life
Amin Abdel-Nour, who died last week at 100, was a walking national archive who lived through three Egyptian revolutions, eight rulers and countless cabinets. He saw Egypt’s population grow from a mere 12 million to some 83 million, and mingled with heads of State, men of religion, artists, intellectuals and public figures.
Abdel-Nour was born in July 1912 into a prominent Coptic landowner family from the town of Gerga in Upper Egypt. His father was the famous patriot Fakhry Abdel-Nour.
Amin received his schooling at the Jesuits’ school in Cairo, the Collège de la Sainte Famille and, in 1940, married Nina Ghali who was the sister of his close friend Michel Ghali, and was 10 years his junior. Nina remained to the very end the love of his life. Together they had two sons: Fakhry who focused on business, and Mounir who earned a degree in political science and walked in his father’s footsteps to become a prominent politician in his own right.
First meeting since 5th century
Amin Abdel-Nour’s political career spanned years of effort against the British occupation of Egypt, which had begun in 1882 and ended in 1954, and work for a constitution that would establish Egypt as a democracy. He took part in more demonstrations than he could remember, many of them in Cairo and others in his native town of Gerga. In a 1938 demonstration in Gerga he sustained a head injury and had to be moved to Cairo to be hospitalised.
Abdel-Nour had a very important role to play with the Coptic Church. His good relations with the Vatican poised him to mediate between the two Churches for the return of part of the relics of St Mark to Egypt. St Mark had brought Christianity to Egypt and was martyred in Alexandria in the first century. His body was taken to Venice in 828 and there it remains till today. In the 1960s, Pope Kyrillos VI wished to have the relics of St Mark, or part of them, returned back to Egypt. And so it was that Abdel-Nour, accompanied by the Jesuit Père Henri Ayrout, headed to Rome to negotiate the matter with Pope Paul VI. The result was auspicious, and the part of the relics was returned to Egypt in June 1968, where it now lies in the crypt of St Mark’s cathedral in Abassiya.
In 1973, Abdel-Nour was again instrumental in bringing closer the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria and the Roman Catholic Church in the Vatican. Pope Shenouda III went to Rome to meet Pope Paul VI, the first meeting between the two Churches since the great schism of 451AD.
Like his father, Amin Abdel-Nour enjoyed warm, cordial relations with the Muslims of his town. The family home used to host sheikhs to recite Qur’an during the evenings of the Holy month of Ramadan, all through which he used to hold iftar (the sunset breakfast meal) for his townspeople. He made contributions towards building mosques, and helped with the tuition of distinguished pupils in town, Muslim and Christian.
My son, the Minister
Abdel-Nour was famous for his legendary wit and humour. Until the very end he enjoyed a vibrant memory and spoke about minute details of incidents that occurred decades ago.
Yet, according to Watani’s Lucy Awad who interviewed Abdel-Nour earlier this year, his eyes would get misty and his entire body language would betray strong emotion at one particular memory: that of the death of his father Fakhry Abdel-Nour. The senior Abdel-Nour dropped dead while in the middle of a speech he was giving before parliament in December 1942. Amin was among the backbenchers and, to the last days in his life, could never forget how his father fell.
The pride of Abdel-Nour’s life was his son Mounir. The father talked gleefully of Mounir’s political career as secretary-general of the Wafd, as MP and, later, as Minister of Tourism in 2011. He used to boast that Mounir was the only one who could beat him at a game of squash.
When Awad met Abdel-Nour, she was especially impressed at his happiness for having lived to be 100. Yet his lifetime experience led him to insist Egypt was on the wrong path since the 2011 Revolution, since a revolution without a leader was clueless; it was bound to fail.
Amin Abdel-Nour was an exceptional man, hard to come by. He will definitely be missed.
The picture shows Mr Amin Abdel-Nour being honoured by Youssef and Samia Sidhom on the occasion of Watani’s golden Jubilee in December 2008