The writer, political analyst, and human rights advocate,
Co-founder and Academic Advisor of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)

The Inspirational Journey

Mohamed El-Sayed Said was born on 28 July 1950 in Port Said, one of three siblings to a father working for the Suez Canal Authority and a mother working as a housewife. Said received his pre-university education in Port Said before leaving for Cairo, where he voluntarily transferred from the Faculty of Engineering to the Faculty of Economics and Political Science at Cairo University. He graduated in 1972 after becoming involved in the student movement, participating in the student demonstrations that broke out in November 1968 in protest of the farcical trials of Air Force commanders after the defeat of 5 June 1967. He also participated in the famous sit-in by university students at the Grand Celebration Hall at Cairo University in 1972, where students demanded that the late President Mohamed Anwar Sadat declare war and restore the occupied Egyptian territories. As a student leader, Said was imprisoned for the first time in 1972, after security services arrested the leaders of the student movement following demonstrations in January of the same year.

Mohamed El-Sayed Said completed military service in 1975 after fighting in the 1973 war. A friend of Said, the writer Taha Abdel Alim, describes in one of his articles Said’s capture by the adversary Israeli army while he was carrying out a semi-suicidal mission with other courageous Egyptian soldiers and officers; the Israeli combatants were neither able to break Said’s will nor the will of his comrades.

Said joined Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies as a researcher in 1975. He held many leadership positions at the center, including head of the International Relations Unit, editor-in-chief of the Arab Strategic Report, before attaining the position of Deputy Director and ending his career as advisor to the Center.

Mohamed El-Sayed Said’s multiple professional responsibilities and work as a researcher did not divert him from his passion for journalism. Throughout his applied and scientific career, Said continued writing articles for many Egyptian, Arab and international newspapers and magazines. Among these were al-Qāhirah newspaper, the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper, Al-Ahram newspaper and weekly, Al-Arabi magazine in Kuwait, and Al-Ittihad newspaper in Abu Dhabi.

Mohamed El-Sayed Said obtained a master’s degree in political science from the Faculty of Economics and Political Science at Cairo University in 1978. The subject of his thesis focused multinational corporations and their impact on the structure of the international system. Said traveled to the United States of America to obtain a PhD in international relations from North Carolina State University in 1984. The subject of his study was comparative development in Africa. In the United States, he worked as a researcher in the Department of Political Science at the University of North Carolina, and as a researcher at the Center for International Development at the University of Maryland.

1985 marked the establishment of the  Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, one of the first Egyptian non-governmental organizations working in the field of human rights. Mohamed El-Sayed Said joined as a member of the organization’s executive secretariat in 1988, where he had a significant impact on reshaping the organization’s structure and role, especially in applied research and the fields of culture  and international relations.

In 1989 Said was arrested and tortured over a month, in retaliation for his human rights work, specifically his solidarity with the strike of iron and steel factory workers in Helwan. He condemned the security forces’ raid of the factory and their shooting of the workers in his article for Al-Wafd newspaper titled ‘The Bully Officer Phenomenon.’ The Minister of Interior at the time Zaki Badr felt insulted by the article and issued an arrest warrant for Said, jailing him alongside the other detainees, including other journalists and intellectuals, in Abu Zaabal prison. They were charged with forming a communist organization (the Workers’ Party) with the goal of overthrowing the regime.

In 1993, Mohamed El-Sayed Said laid the first intellectual building block for the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), with his human rights partner, Bahey eldin Hassan. CIHRS came in response to the need of the emerging human rights movement in the Arab region to create and develop its cultural legitimacy through intensive research work, through a regional human rights organization primarily concerned with analyzing and studying the obstacles preventing the application of human rights in the region. CIHRS’ philosophy to this day was established by Said, who defined the institute’s pivotal role in his book ‘The Wisdom of the Egyptians,’ as follows:

The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies is an intellectual institution, endeavoring to encourage thought of entering into a new human civilization or an entirely new era for human civilization, where humans return to occupying the central position in civilization, respecting the values of equality, freedom, and justice and believing in the dignity of humans by conferring and protecting freedom of conscience and belief, and the sanctity of body, mind, and conscience. No living being may be tortured or arbitrarily detained. Promoted are freedom of expression and assembly; and the rights to health, education, food and work while affirming that civil and political rights support economic, social and cultural rights, and vice versa

In 1996, Said crystallized the intellectual reference for the institute’s Rowaq Arabi magazine, an Arab research periodical specializing in human rights. Said continued as CIHRS’ editor-in-chief until his death, and supervised the other periodicals issued by the institute; the Sawasiya periodical and the ‘Ro’a Moghayera’ Alternative Views periodical.

In parallel, Mohamed El-Sayed Said continued his work in journalism, founding Ahwal Misriya magazine published by Al-Ahram Center in 1998; he served as its editor-in-chief until 2003. In 2002, Said assumed the position of director of Al-Ahram newspaper’s office in Washington, DC. In 2007, he founded the independent newspaper El-Badil, to be an independent voice advocating for social justice, siding with minority and marginal societal forces, and promoting the concept of groups dedicated to resistance and change, as stated in the first document of its editorial policy. Said held the position of editor-in-chief of El-Badil until October 2008.

In September 2004, Said joined the Egyptian movement for change (Kefaya), which was founded in opposition to the policies of the regime of former Egyptian President Mohamed Hosni Mubarak, including his intention to hand over power to his son Gamal Mubarak. In 2005, Mohamed El-Sayed Said was the only intellectual who courageously discussed several public rights and freedoms and respect for the constitution with President Mubarak, during Mubarak’s meeting with intellectuals at the Book Fair. During the long discussion, Said called for a new constitution guaranteeing a transfer of power that was not conducted entirely under the authority of the president. The next day, an employee of the Book Fair Authority informed Said that all of his activities at the fair had been cancelled.

In 2006, Said received the State Award for Excellence in Social Sciences, and in the same year he worked as permanent coordinator of UNESCO in Cairo.

On 10 October 2009, Mohamed El-Sayed Said died at the age of fifty-nine years after a two-year struggle with illness, culminating a storied lifetime devoted to achieving social justice and defending human rights. Said lives on as one of the symbols of the Egyptian student movement and as a leader of social movements and human rights organizations aspiring for change in Egypt. He described himself as ‘a liberal among leftists, and a leftist among liberals.’

Mohamed El-Sayed Said was mourned by his colleagues at the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, who described his career as ‘a struggle that will not stop.’  Said’s obituary appeared on the front page of Al-Ahram newspaper together with tributes from an array of newspapers’ senior writers, including Rifaat El-Said, Ali eldin Hilal, Mustafa Al-Fiqi, El-Sayyid Yassin, Abdel Azim Darwish, and Wahid Abdel Majeed. Most of the articles written in his eulogy were collected in issues (89-90) of the Sawasya periodical, which was published by CIHRS. Rowaq Arabi further devoted its entire issue 53 of 2010 to eulogizing Mohamed El-Sayed Said as its founder and editor-in-chief, and presenting his studies, journalistic work, and analytical visions of the human rights struggle, in appreciation of his exceptional efforts in advocating for human rights and freedom of expression.

Mohamed El-Sayed Said’s life was replete with principled struggle and valuable contributions, leaving a rich legacy in the fields of social justice, journalism, and human rights, and underscoring the significant role that individuals can play in achieving positive change within their communities and beyond.

The Legacy of Mohamed El-Sayed Said*

Mohamed El-Sayed Said authored, edited, and contributed to numerous books, analyses, research, academic studies, and journals . His writings focused on human rights, democracy, freedom of the press, and an array of other salient political and economic issues. He also wrote hundreds of analyses or articles in dozens of Egyptian and Arab newspapers and magazines. His writings and intellectual contributions have helped build the foundation for the universality of human rights while recognizing the cultural particularities of the Arab region.

* Only the available digital copies

Selections from His Writings

  • Democracy
    Societies cannot establish democratic systems solely on the basis of fair elections. Democracy in contemporary time requires basic principles, including the rule of law, equality, and the rights of expression, assembly, and association and minimum economic and social rights.
  • Democratic Transition
    A political system's most harmful trends include complete reluctance to reform and inability to inspire society, boost it emotionally and politically, and provide it with a sense of direction and hope for the future.
    (A modestly performing society's balance (1) Article - Al-Masry Al-Youm
  • Combating Intolerance and Violence
    It is not an exaggeration to assert that we are witnessing a period where there is an outbreak of fanatical tendencies and the rise of ethnic and sectarian strife; a period in which the nation is unable to unify or integrate social or religious elements and aspects. We are the same ones that witnessed the decline of the Egyptian civilizational formation, the disruption of ethical standards, and the erosion of the sense of stability, law, and sovereignty. There is a feeling of an all-encompassing and stifling crisis afflicting all aspects of life in the country.
    The Wisdom of Egyptians 1999 - Introduction - p. 21
  • Combating Terrorism
    What if governments combating terrorism, adopted the same mentality and methods as terrorism. What if the war on terrorism waged by governments ended up producing the same phenomena that terrorism aims to spread. The theoretical and moral justification for combating terrorism is to defend the principle of the rule of law, people’s right to life, and freedom of belief, opinion, and assembly, but governments themselves may, under the pretext of combating terrorism, undermine all of these rights.
  • Torture
    Torture, the most horrific phenomenon known to humanity throughout history, and Egypt has been afflicted deeply by this phenomenon. Many people misunderstand this phenomenon and limit it to the pain it causes to the victims, without realizing that the real goal of torture is not the victims alone or individuals, but rather to further root the culture of fear in the entire society, forcing citizens to leave the country's public sphere and preventing their participation in the affairs of their country.
    The Stalled Democratic Transition in Egypt - Merit 2006 - p. 329
  • Pretrial Detention
    Pretrial detention, a legal tool planting a culture of fear in the hearts of Egyptians and eradicating most of their legal guarantees for their freedom.
  • Human Rights Culture
    Education, development and cultural channels, formal and informal, are the most influential and profound mechanisms for defending human rights over the long term. The real fight for human rights is cultural and educational before anything else.
    Human Rights - Knowledge Series 16 - CIHRS 1995 - p. 76
  • United Nations
    Until now, the rest of the world's countries, including the Third World countries, have failed to present an alternative that can save and reform the United Nations as a truly global body, such that all countries of the world participate in the decision making to set global policy, and bear the burdens and aspects of implementing this policy at the level of the entire planet.
    The Wisdom of Egyptians 1999 - Egypt Enters the 21st Century - p. 250
  • Human Rights Movement
    The existence or the extinction of non-governmental organizations depend on the enthusiasm and dedication of their supporters to the cause of human rights. They are the most expressive of the authentic traditions of the human rights movement, that is, the traditions of solidarity between peoples regardless of color, gender, race, language, religion, culture or other considerations.
    Human Rights - Knowledge Series 16 - CIHRS 1995 - p. 73
  • Citizenship
    Citizenship means that every human being is an equal partner in determining and shaping the fate of the homeland, requiring them to play a role in decision making, drawing up policies, and developing strategies that will affect the fate of their homeland and its future.
    The Wisdom of Egyptians 1999 - Egypt Enters the 21st Century - p. 269