Thursday morning, July 3, 2008, Dr Abdelwahab El-Messiri passed away after a long bout with cancer. Dr El-Messiri was from the small Egyptian town of Damanhour in the Nile Delta, but when his brilliance was discovered by teachers in high school, they helped him to apply for a Fulbright fellowship to attend Columbia University, where he received a masters degree. He went on to complete a PhD in comparative literature at Rutgers University in New Jersey. He returned to Egypt to teach literature at Ain Shams University.
He is most famous in Egypt for writing the many-volumed “Encyclopedia of Jews, Judaism and Zionism.” Anyone who has traveled in the Arab world knows that for many Arabs, hatred for Zionism all too easily shades into a thoughtless anti-Semitism. But El-Messiri actively fought against this and his work clearly repudiated nonsense like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. He never allowed anyone to utter a disparaging word about Jews or Judaism in his presence, reminding them of the clear difference between Judaism and Zionism.
El-Messiri’s attention turned to politics more recently when he signed on, in 2007, to be the coordinator of Kifaya, a grassroots pro-democracy movement in Egypt. But he maintained his active interest in literature, and he recently published an illustrated bilingual English-Arabic edition of his magnificent translation of Samuel Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Read the rest of this entry »