June 16, 2004 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 180

Progressive Arab Intellectuals: Tarek Heggy –Campaigner for Reform and Modernization in the Arab and Muslim World

June 16, 2004 | By Natalie Mendelsohn
Egypt | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 180

Egyptian thinker and Petroleum Strategist Tarek Heggy was born in Port Sa'id on October 12, 1950. After studying law and business management at Ein Shams University in Cairo and the Geneva University in Switzerland, he lectured at a number of universities, both in the Middle East and abroad. In 1979, he was hired as an oil and gas agreement expert by the Shell International Petroleum Company, and in 1988, he became the first Middle East citizen to chair the Shell companies in Egypt.

Heggy resigned from Shell International in 1996 in order to devote his time to writing and managing his private company, Tana Petroleum. He also serves on the boards of many social, cultural, and health associations.

In 1978, Heggy began writing a series of books and articles (in Arabic), most of which address the need for socio-economic reform in Egypt. His first three books were a critique of Marxist theory and practice. These were followed by a series of books published between 1986 and 1995 on Egypt's political, social, and economic problems. His tenth book, 'Critique of the Arab Mind' (1998), advised Arab nations to be self-critical about their histories and cultures and more open to Western societies, and his latest, 'Culture, Civilization and Humanity' (2003), focuses on values such as democracy, economic reform, and religious and social pluralism that he sees as the keys to progress in the Arab world. Many of Heggy's published books and articles appear both in Arabic and English on his website,

Heggy has participated in many international conferences, the most recent of which was the January 2004 Stockholm International Forum: Preventing Genocide; Threats and Responsibilities, held during the 10th anniversary year of the Rwanda genocide.

Heggy also backed the summer 2004 launch of two new initiatives: Egypt's first independent political newspaper, 'Al-Masry Al-Youm,' and a think tank, the International Centre for Future and Strategic Studies . According to Heggy, "the two projects are aimed at contributing proactively to the realization of the imperative political, economic, and cultural reforms that are crucial to put Egypt on the path of progress, modernity, and in full harmony with the march of civilization."

This paper surveys Tarek Heggy's views on the need to liberalize Egypt and in the Arab world.

Businessman with a Social Conscience

In his website article "Why Do I Write?" Heggy outlines the areas in which Egypt is ripest for change. [1] He criticizes the tendency to invent conspiracy theories or blame world animosity as a means of explaining Egypt's current problems. Urging Egyptians to be more objective about their culture, he writes: "We have to curb our tendency to indulge in excessive self-praise and to glorify our past achievements. We have to learn to criticize ourselves and to accept criticism from others… Deification of officials is one of the major sources of our problem-filled reality… and the responsibility here lies with us as individuals."

The article presents an overview of changes that, in Heggy's view, will allow Egypt to cross "from a present fraught with crises, suffering, want, failure, and frustration into a future bright with hope, prosperity, dynamism, peace and plenty." [2] The areas he mentions include:


"…[E]ffective and creative modern management is the only way to achieve progress. The sad reality, though, is that there is a dearth of human resources trained in the techniques of modern management."


"…[O]ur educational system is in need of an overall revolution. As it now stands, the system only produces citizens who are totally incapable of facing the challenges of the age."

Societal values

"I write in order to instill in the Egyptian mind the values of liberalism, democracy, general freedoms and human rights as the most noble, sublime and civilized achievements of mankind."


"…[T]he tolerant and peaceful brand of Egyptian Islam has been subjected to attacks on many fronts. The attacks came from a trinity made up of the Wahabi faith, a doctrinaire approach to religion, and the omnipotence of the petrodollar that has funded an Islam fundamentally different from the gentle Islam practiced in Egypt and which has enabled us to coexist with others over the years."

The Arab-Israeli conflict

"…Anwar Sadat's historic choice to move the Arab/Israeli conflict from the battlefield to the negotiation table was the only way to reach a reasonable settlement of a conflict that has been used for too long as an excuse to delay democracy and development."

Economic Modernization vs. 'A Culture of Stagnation'

Heggy bases his theories regarding economic progress (a "supremely important feature of our contemporary world") on his twenty years of experience in the international business community: "During those years, I saw the practical translation of progress in every aspect of the work environment, at both the organizational and operational levels. Thanks to a highly proficient workforce, the corporation's annual profits exceeded the national incomes of all the Arab countries combined. In an attempt to better understand the process itself, I embarked on a study of the dynamics, values and mechanisms of progress." [3]

The First Step: Breaking Out of the 'Denial Mindset'

In an article entitled, "The Culture of Denial," [4] Heggy juxtaposes Egypt's ranking at "a lowly number 120 in the UNDP Human Development Report for 2003" with the "rosy picture" of the country's economic performance as portrayed in the government media: "This is yet another manifestation of the pervasive culture of denial marking every aspect of our lives… We all complain about the absence of modern management systems and techniques,… [but] we stop short of laying the blame where it belongs, which is on the role of the state in general and of the executive authority in particular.

"Until recently, I believed [that the] the first step on the road to progress was the 'acceptance of criticism' and the diffusion of a general cultural/intellectual climate which does not adopt a defensive posture towards criticism but welcomes it as a tool of positive feedback, a climate in which self-criticism is practiced without any reservations, constraints or taboos… But regional developments over the past three years have caused me to revise my priorities, and I now believe that another step should precede the acceptance and practice of criticism, namely, the dismantling of the wall of denial behind which we have sequestered ourselves for the last few decades. For it is clear that we cannot embark on a process of constructive criticism of our mistakes and shortcomings before we overcome our insistence on denying their existence in the first place."

Modernization: No Threat to 'Cultural Specificity'

In setting forth the conditions that allow for economic modernization, Heggy lists the following assumptions, taking care to note that modern management is not strictly a Western phenomenon:

"First: That progress is the product of a value system, not of a society's material wealth or natural resources."

"Second: That the value system which promotes progress is a product of the collective human experience, and does not derive exclusively from the European or American experience. The greatest proof of this can be found in the qualitative leap forward made by a number of East Asian societies when they adopted this system, which allowed them to achieve a level of progress commensurate with that enjoyed by advanced societies in the West."

"Third: That a society's adoption of the values conducive to progress does not negate or destroy that society's cultural specificity."

"Fourth: That the values of progress have evolved out of the cumulative legacy of various civilizations, even if the greatest contribution to their development and dissemination in modern times has undoubtedly been made by Western civilization."

"Fifth: That the values of progress include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Value of time.
  • A culture of systems, not individuals.
  • Quality control, or compliance with standards of performance.
  • A critical mind that accepts criticism and engages in self-criticism.
  • A belief in pluralism as a basic feature of life, knowledge, ideas and systems.
  • Modern management techniques or contemporary values of work (such as teamwork, human resource management, delegation, marketing and modern management mechanisms)." [5]
Socialism: An Experiment That Failed

If, as Heggy claims, economic progress is measured by return on investments, then the socialist model adopted by Egypt and other countries was, he says, a failure: "This realization brought home the need to embark on a process of fiscal and economic restructuring in the aim of moving Egypt out of the framework of a command economy in the which the public sector plays a pivotal role and placing it within the framework of a market economy in which private enterprise is the main driving force behind most economic activities… The people should not be led to believe that the public sector is being privatized in order to expand the scope of private ownership; they should be given the real reason for the shift, which is that management in public sector enterprises proved to be a failure and privatization aims at placing projects in the hands of those who can run them according to efficient management techniques capable of achieving the desired return on investment…" [6]

The watershed event that led many Egyptian intellectuals to reexamine their socialist leanings, in Heggy's view, was the country's defeat in the 1967 war with Israel. "Many of them realized that what had happened was, essentially, the defeat of a regime, and that what was being called a military setback was in fact an acute expression of that defeat. After boasting for years that its foundations were firmly set in steel, the regime had revealed its feet of clay on the morning of June 5, 1967, and the myth of its invincibility lay shattered on the sands of Sinai.

" Ironically, that definition of war came to us from Marx and our Marxist mentors. It was Marx who first described war as an extension of politics and a solution to political problems; [it was] he who said it could only be characterized in political terms… Extensive travels, to more than two hundred cities in over twenty countries, helped me understand the reasons for the regime's collapse in June 1967… The defeat of the Nasserite regime had been a natural, logical and inevitable result of the absence of light… Democracy is the bright light that shines on the regime in power, its machinery, mechanisms and institutions. It is what protects society from the repetition of mistakes, from the ascendancy of negative aspects and from the dangers of building on brittle foundations. Only democracy can prevent the total collapse of a structure because of an error committed in the dark and only revealed by the final collapse." [7]

Promoting the Work Ethic In Egypt

One key to economic self-reliance, according to Heggy, is to promote the country's work ethic: "Our heavy reliance on U.S. aid is the inevitable result of injudicious economic and political practices over the years and by successive governments. While the present regime may not be accountable for reaching this situation, it should accept responsibility for finding a radical and speedy solution. The tables must be turned. After years in which the public was encouraged to substitute 'work' with debate and empty slogans ('ensuring the availability of goods…' 'raising the level of production…,' etc.) it is time to reclaim the art of work.

"It might surprise people to learn that even in this Third World country the 'made in Egypt' label found on our products is a bluff. A closer look at Egyptian goods available on the market will show that they are, in fact, made elsewhere. This is true for more than half our foodstuffs, clothing, machinery and building materials. We are not even self-sufficient in cement! Worse still: the sum spent by Egypt every day to buy the cement required for its construction industry is equal to its net daily income from the Suez Canal.

"How can we hope to speak of 'work' and 'production' when the vast majority of public sector managers prove their failure and multiply their losses every day? The difference between us and countries like Turkey and Greece, whose economies are steadily growing, is spelled in our lack of productivity, [effectiveness], creativity – and the simple work ethic." [8]

Globalization: Abhorrent to Some

Heggy pins resistance to globalization in non-Western cultures on "failure by the advocates of globalization to give a humanistic/cultural face to a project that has so far succeeded in portraying itself exclusively in economic/political terms. There is a pressing need to introduce a human dimension to globalization in order to allay the fears of many in the less developed parts of the world who regard it as a device to promote the interests of others at their expense, worse, as a weapon designed to destroy the structural underpinnings of their societies, whether political, economic or cultural." [9]

Despite his reservations about globalization, Heggy includes it in his enumeration of the hallmarks of human civilization, together with democracy, general freedoms, human rights, and education for the masses. He characterizes the debate over the threats of globalization as "both bizarre and humiliating." He claims that the values of progress are compatible with cultural specificity: "Those who argue against the adoption of values of progress on the grounds that they run counter to our value system and cultural identity expect us instead to embrace values that can only drag society on the road to backwardness and underdevelopment." [10]

Societal Change – Beyond 'Lip Service' to Democracy

Economic progress, which Heggy defines as 8%-10% annual growth, is contingent, in his view, on wider-ranging societal progress: "Economic prosperity alone, without modern education and public participation in political life, cannot guarantee social and political peace…" [11]

True Democracy is More than a Ballot Box

Without mentioning any countries by name, Heggy sets conditions for establishing democracy in previously undemocratic environments. There are too many rulers, he says, "who pay lip service to democracy but who see it merely as a tool they can use to reach power… The only aspect of democracy they are interested in is the ballot box, which can serve as their passport to power." [12]

"They need to focus, rather, on laying down the policies and building up the organizations and mechanisms of democratic life, as well as on promoting the role of civil society. This should run in parallel with a resolute drive to introduce political, economic and educational reforms and to replace Goebbels-style media institutions with modern institutions commensurate with the requirements of the age."

Arousing Egyptian Citizens From Their Slumber

In Heggy's view, Egyptian citizens have become passive. Most Egyptians, he writes, " are unduly conscious of their rights and privileges – not least in the area of pensions – [yet have not developed] a corresponding sense of obligation. A typical Egyptian citizen is greatly concerned with his right to public employment and its many benefits. Then comes his right to obtain housing, through the government if possible, followed by his right to a job abroad,… his right to go on pilgrimage to Mecca, to buy subsidized food and clothing, and so on, through an endless list of state-supported privileges. Never will an Egyptian citizen display a sense of obligation similar to that of, say, his German counterpart, who is fully aware that to enjoy the privileges of citizenship he must first perform such basic duties as actively participating in his country's production process, protecting his environment and contributing towards solving society's problems by giving serious thought to their causes and their possible solutions.

"The president recently spoke of the need for a 'great awakening' in the life of all Egyptians. This is certainly true. Moreover, unless there is such an awakening, and soon, we are headed towards certain disaster. But the question is, what does the president mean by 'awakening?' Does he mean the government should waken from the deep sleep into which it has been plunged for three decades of totalitarian rule, never guided by the lights of freedom and democracy? Or does he mean the awakening of the people to the duties and obligations incumbent upon them, which they neglected for many years while claiming their right to the material advantages provided by the state, never attempting to expand the circle of rights to encompass political issues, such as the right to influence fateful decisions, the right to choose leaders freely or, at the very least, the right to live in a 20th century environment where roads and basic public services are concerned? Or did the president mean an awakening of both government and citizens?

"The awakening of the government will come about the day it acknowledges that the situation in Egypt has sunk to an all-time low, in all areas and at all levels, because of its own political and economic policies. The government must also admit that the time for stop-gap repairs is long gone, and that nothing short of a radical shift in those policies… can save Egypt." [13]

The Need for a 'Culture of Compromise'

Had the Arab world followed the precepts of compromise dictated by the Koran, writes Heggy, its culture would have kept pace with modernity: " Although Islamic scripture is totally compatible with a culture characterized by compromise, Muslim history (especially its Arab chapter) has proceeded in a spirit that is antithetical to the notion of compromise. Our recent history is made up largely of losses which could have been avoided had we had not persistently rejected the notion of compromise as tantamount to submission, retreat, surrender, capitulation and even, as some of our more fiery orators put it, as a form of bondage to the will of others."

"This all-or-nothing mentality is self-defeating. Any dispute or conflict is, by definition, a struggle between people or nations with different views and at different levels of power. It follows that any resolution of their differences that is not based on a compromise is impossible, because it would entail the total subjugation of the will, interests and power of one of the parties to those of the other. Such a conflict-resolution approach is doomed to fail because it runs counter to the laws of science, nature and life itself...

"In view of the fact that I was unable to find one Arabic word that corresponds to the English word compromise, I have been forced to do two things in [the Arabic version of] this article that I would have preferred to avoid. One was to write the word compromise in Latin letters throughout the article, the other was to use the common translation of the word, the unwieldy 'halfway solution', in the title. But because I am a great believer in compromise, and because I also believe in the popular saying that 'who cannot obtain all does not give up all,' I decided to write the article anyway." [14]

Egypt's Education Crisis

Egypt's inability to compete successfully in the global economy is largely attributable, according to Heggy, to the country's educational system: "[Students] are unfamiliar with the concept of teamwork, their English-language skills are practically non-existent, and they are formed by an educational philosophy based on rote learning which actively discourages personal initiative and creativity.

"Moreover, they are raised to believe that there exists only one model of pure, absolute Truth, with the result that there is very little room in their intellectual baggage for pluralism, dialogue, acceptance of the Other, or tolerance…. But here too we follow the pattern of denial, patting ourselves on the back for our 'achievements' in the field of education while turning a blind eye to serious structural defects in the educational system which lead most international organizations in advanced countries to systematically turn down job applicants who received their education in Egypt." [15]

The picture, writes Heggy, was not always so bleak: "In the twenties and thirties, Egyptian education enjoyed its golden age, thanks to a generation of outstanding Egyptians who were pioneers in their respective fields… We might well ask what has befallen education in Egypt since and why it has sunk to its present sorry level… The seeds of the tragedy were sown when the victorious [1952] revolution placed an officer at the head of education in the country, a military man with no experience in this area and whose own educational and cultural background was very modest… From the peak level it had attained thanks to outstanding Egyptian pioneers in different branches of knowledge, education dropped into an abyss of backwardness thanks to those who should never have been entrusted with its fate in the first place…

"[A] problem of this magnitude cannot be solved by the haphazard and stop-gap solutions the present government is experimenting with and which have led nowhere… The government seems incapable of instituting radical reforms, whether because it lacks vision or because it adopts a politically biased, often demagogical, view of all matters.

"Having said that, we should not overlook the connection between the crisis of education in Egypt and the absence of democracy from our life for a long period of time. A climate of freedom and democracy encourages the growth of culture and intellectual creativity and allows the development of a better and healthier educational system. Conversely, in a climate of totalitarianism, culture and intellectual creativity wither and fade…" [16]

The Reactionary Culture Of Male Superiority

In an article in the Egyptian daily Al-Ahram titled "Women and Progress," [17] Heggy harshly criticizes discrimination against women in Arab society. In his view, the status of women and the way a culture relates to them are among "the most important dimensions that determine any society's degree of progressiveness or backwardness."

Stating that women are "at least equal to men in everything and in every area of life," Heggy points to human history in general, and tribal history in particular, as the source of the inferior status ascribed to women. The idea of a superior male culture, he says, is not a religious tenet: "It is superficial and distasteful that some proponents of the superior male culture rely on religious texts, since there are other texts that emphasize the full humanity of women and the fact that one sex is no better than the other. Moreover, the lesson to be learned is not in the texts, but rather in the logic of those who study the texts."

"Lack of self-confidence," according to Heggy, is the reason men of any culture discriminate against women: "A man that does not suffer from a lack of confidence about himself, his intellectual ability, and his status has no need of a culture that places women at a lower status than his… It is clear that he who has failed in the general realm usually has no choice but to declare his superiority and rule in an artificial and ridiculous way on his own small personal circle."

An example of progress, in Heggy's view, is the recent appointment of the first female judge to Egypt's Supreme Council of Justice: "This is a big cultural step, but it must be completed. The appointment of women in all judicial functions, beginning at the bottom of the ladder, is the only guarantee for ending this cultural disgrace. In this way, in another 20 years half of our judicial system will be composed of women, and that is the natural situation… This is the situation that must be copied in every realm. A society that limits its important positions to men is a society that shuts down half of its astute intellectual abilities, thinking, work, knowledge, and production."

The fact that women have attained formal education and joined the work force proves, in Heggy's view, "that male superiority from the point of view of his intellect, abilities, and essential nature is just a 'fairy tale,' and it leads many young men to seek compensation through imaginary victory that they find in male culture, which makes them 'better' merely because they are males."

Heggy holds that the "superior male culture… is a disease that harms not only men, even if they are its source and they benefit from it in their own private circles… [but also] many of our women and girls, and they become mothers who raise their sons and daughters in accordance with this culture… Women cannot be released from the injustice of reactionary male culture… unless they themselves stand at the forefront of those who aim to change this inferior culture and replace it with a modern culture in which they are totally equal in every area…"

Heggy's forthcoming book, The Tragedy of Women in our Contemporary Reality, addresses the issue still further from historical, religious, and psychological points of view. Positive attitudes toward women, he claims, are part and parcel of any attempt to achieve progress: "It is tragic that in this day and age, when the advanced world is concerned with knowledge, development, civil liberties, and human rights, we should still be asking the shameful question: Are women equal to men?" [18]

Islam – The Constraints of Strict Orthodoxy

Different versions of Islam

Enlightened thinking, according to Heggy, is a basic tenet of Islam. However, he says, "a religious culture based on strict orthodoxy, or the textual reading of holy scriptures, was one of the reasons for the failure of the concept of compromise to catch on in our culture." In one of his articles, Heggy addresses this discrepancy in the approach to Islam: [19]

"I spent years trying to understand why the Muslims had chosen to follow the line advocated by Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali, the proponent of orthodoxy and tradition for whom knowledge meant only knowledge of religion and who cancelled the role of the mind altogether by denying the possibility of acquiring knowledge through intuition, over the line advocated by Ibn Rushd, who upheld the primacy of reason and sowed the seeds of a renaissance we chose not to reap. Why were Al-Ghazali's ideas so readily accepted while Ibn Rushd's were rejected? I believe the answer to this paradox can be summed up in one word: despotism. At a time despotism in our part of the world was at its height, it is not surprising that Muslim rulers should have found Al-Ghazali's ideas more appealing than those of Ibn Rushd. The orthodox line was also more appealing to their subjects who, under the yoke of tyranny, found it safer and less demanding to go along with the views of those who required nothing more from them than a suspension of their critical faculties. In Europe, where the forces of enlightenment were locked in a confrontation with the clericalism that stifled intellectual initiative and rational thought, despotism was in retreat…"

Heggy also distinguishes between what he describes as the Turkish-Egyptian and the Bedouin models of Islam: "While the former cannot claim to have attained the level of enlightenment, progressive thinking and freedom that characterizes the ideas of Ibn Rushd, it was nevertheless a gentle and tolerant Islam that could and did coexist with others… Although this model of Islam can in no way be described as secular, it adopted an enlightened approach to religion, dealing with it as a system of spiritual beliefs rather than as a system that ruled all aspects of life and governed the affairs of society." [20]

Democracy: The Key to Combating 'The Bloodthirsty Version of Islam'

According to Heggy, it is not the role of security forces to counter religious fanaticism. Rather, "the only proper cure is a combination of real democracy (as opposed to just window dressing) and firm action by eminent religious figures who should use their moral authority to contain the problem, not fan the flames of extremism as so many do." [21]

Heggy refers specifically to Saudi Arabia in his proposal for "a counter offensive against the rigid, doctrinaire, even bloodthirsty version of Islam": "The time has come for the Saudi government to part ways with Wahhabism and to realize that the alliance between the House and Saud and the Wahhabi dynasty is responsible for the spread of obscurantism, dogmatism, and fanaticism, poisoning the minds with radical ideas opposed to humanity, progress, civilization, cultural continuity, and pluralism…" [22]

Increased Saudi Influence and the Growth of Terrorism

"For the average European or American… it is easy to believe that Islam, violence, and terrorism go hand in hand. But those who have a more thorough grasp of the issue know that this perception of Islam has taken hold only because a puritanical, fundamentalist model of Islam, which was marginal and ineffectual before oil wealth put it on the map, has managed, thanks to petrodollars, to make the world believe that its interpretation of Islam is Islam. The doctrinaire version of Islam propounded by the Wahabbis had no followers among the Muslims of the world before the expansion of Saudi influence following the oil boom.

Millions of Muslims in Egypt, Turkey, the Levant, Iraq, Indonesia, and throughout the world remained immune to the appeal of the fanatical, violent, and bloody message of what was a small and obscure sect bred in the intellectually barren landscape of the eastern Arabian Peninsula. All that changed with the massive influx of petrodollars into the coffers of Saudi Arabia, which used its new-found wealth to propagate the message of its home-grown Wahhabi sect with missionary zeal. Hence the emergence of militant Islam as a force to be reckoned with on the world stage, a force that now represents a dangerous threat to world peace, to humanity, and to Islam and Muslims." [23]

The Roots of the 'Mentality of Violence'

Analyzing what he terms "the widespread mentality of violence" in Islamic societies on a sociological level, Heggy concludes that "the real danger lies less in the mentality of violence that has come to permeate many, if not all, sectors of Islamic and Arab societies than in the spread of the culture that is conducive to its growth and development. This culture is what spawns militants who promote the mentality of violence and the general climate that allows it to take hold." [24]

The spread of Wahhabism and an outdated educational system are only partial explanations for the phenomenon. Political oppression, according to Heggy, is equally to blame: " Possibly the most dangerous of the many negative effects of political oppression is that it kills social mobility, in the sense that it denies the best elements in society the opportunity to rise to leading positions in various fields… As oppression kills social mobility, so does the lack of social mobility kill competence in all fields. Oppression produces followers, not competent people, with the result that widespread mediocrity becomes the norm. This produces a general climate of despair, and from this comes the mentality of violence, with its attendant devaluation of the value of human life, whether of oneself or of others.

"In other words, Arab and Islamic societies in general are today caught in an equation which I call 'the equation of destruction': autocracy kills social mobility; lack of social mobility destroys competence at all societal levels; lack of competence at all societal levels creates a powerful evil energy which is despair; despair breeds a mentality of violence, cheapens the value of human life and creates a desire for revenge…

"To disprove the allegation that the violent groups and trends which turn their backs on modernity and call for a return to the Middle Ages are the true representatives of Islam, one has only to consider how some of the principal Islamic societies were functioning at the turn of the twentieth century. Countries like Egypt, Greater Syria (which included Lebanon at the time), and Turkey were models of tolerance, their majority Muslim populations living peacefully with minorities of other faiths. Famously cosmopolitan cities like Alexandria, Beirut and Cairo were home to a wide diversity of minorities. Acceptance of the 'Other' and of modernity, as well as a hunger for the great masterpieces of human creativity were features shared by all these societies.

"Intellectuals translated Homer, the plays of Ancient Greece, the best of modern European literature and the great philosophers like Descartes, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Diderot, Locke, Hobbs, Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche… It was a time when Muslims saw no contradiction between their religious faith and their enthusiasm for the material and cultural fruits of European civilization, [and it] proves conclusively that the adherents of real Islam are not violent fanatics and that mainstream Islam has nothing to do with the Wahhabi model of militant Islam."

Israel and Its Right to Exist

Changing Attitudes Toward Sadat

"A grave strategic mistake" is what Heggy calls the failure of Arab countries to recognize Egyptian president Anwar Sadat's "foresight, wisdom and political acumen in adopting the line he did towards the Arab-Israeli conflict, especially in the last four years of his life… Not content with their virulent campaign of defamation against the Egyptian president, Arab leaders met in Baghdad in 1978 (the historical irony will not be lost on the reader!) to announce their boycott of Sadat and Egypt. One of the victims of their relentless war of words against Sadat was the Egyptian minister Yousef Al-Sibai'ie, who was murdered for no other reason than that he had accompanied the Egyptian president on his visit to Jerusalem in 1977.

"The situation is very different today. Many of those who participated in the anti-Sadat campaign at the time are now trying to follow in his footsteps, albeit far less effectively. Most of his former detractors today admit they were mistaken not to support, with no less virulent a critic of his line at the time than the Saudi monarch's brother, the Prince of Riyadh (who said in 1977 that he wished it was in his power to shoot down the plane carrying Sadat to Jerusalem), issuing a statement [recently] admitting that Sadat was right and that all those who opposed him were wrong. Despite all this, most of us are still unable – or unwilling – to venture beyond the wall of denial behind which we have cloistered ourselves for so long, or consequently, to recognize a simple truth that is staring us in the face: Sadat was right, his detractors were wrong." [25]

The 'Vast Majority' of the Arab World Favors an Israeli-Palestinian Settlement

Heggy begins an article devoted to the Arab-Israeli conflict by distancing himself from those who do not recognize Israeli's right to exist "and whose ultimate aim is its destruction." [26]

"Despite our complete rejection of their logic and the premises from which they proceed, and our conviction that they have set themselves a goal that is not only unattainable but one that will bring about unimaginable loss and destruction, we will content ourselves here with merely expressing our profound disagreement with their viewpoint, without resorting to the mud-slinging tactics they do not hesitate to use against whoever disagrees with them. We want to state for the record that, on the one hand, their logic is seriously flawed and that, on the other, they are, thankfully, in the minority. The vast majority in the Arab world, at the grass roots level and at the level of political movements and organizations, favors a settlement along the lines of the Arab initiative endorsed by the latest Arab summit in Beirut… In other words, the majority of Arabs would like to see a final settlement based, either in absolute or relative terms, on the following five points:

  1. The creation of a Palestinian state on all or most of the territory occupied by Israel in June, 1967.
  2. The establishment of a capital for the Palestinian state in Arab Jerusalem, and an end to Israeli control over important Muslim and Christian holy places.
  3. A unanimous Arab recognition of Israel, an end to the state of hostility and the establishment of normal political, economic and cultural relations between the Arabs and Israel.
  4. Removing all Jewish settlements from the Palestinian state, which are a tinder-box waiting for a spark.
  5. Solving the issue of Palestinian return in a manner acceptable to both parties, not on the basis of the absolute right of return but on the basis of a set of compromise solutions (and indemnity agreements) agreeable to both parties."

Rejection of the 1947 U.N. Partition Proposal: A Strategic Mistake

Further evidence of "denial" in the Arab world, according to Heggy, is refusal to admit that its rejection of the U.N. partition plan was a mistake: "This rigid denial of reality can only be ideologically motivated (whether by pan-Arabism, Nasserism, socialism, or by the ideology of the Moslem Brothers)… Although everyone would be more than happy today to accept the partition plan offered by the United Nations in 1947, the solid wall of denial we have built to shield ourselves from painful truths prevents us from openly admitting that we committed a strategic mistake in rejecting the plan." [27]

Views That May Invite Trouble

A Palestinian armed struggle, in Heggy's view, is justified only if the Israelis "are not ready to conduct peaceful negotiations." [28] He writes: " I believe the right to armed struggle is subject to limitations, the most important being that it be directed against the occupation forces, a limitation that was strictly observed in the first Palestinian Intifada. Overstepping the limits and focusing on suicide operations against civilians inevitably swells the ranks of Israeli refuseniks opposed to a peaceful settlement; it also erodes international sympathy for the Palestinian cause and alienates global players who might otherwise have played a more forceful role."

Heggy concludes the article with an acknowledgement that he may be "inviting trouble" by stating these views: "This will not deter me, however, from calling on Arab public opinion and on those responsible for shaping it to turn their backs on meaningless slogans in favor of reason and common sense. It is all too easy to play to the gallery, to tell people what they want to hear. But the task of any intellectual who is consistent with himself is not to pander to his readers but to write what he believes can contribute to creating a future better than the dark days our region has lived through for over half a century by suspending its critical faculties and allowing meaningless slogans rather than rationality to shape its destiny."

A Proposed Step-By-Step Plan For Solving The Palestinian-Israeli Conflict

In an article posted on the liberal website Elaph, Heggy outlines the following diplomatic agenda:

"First – Persuade Yasser Arafat to appoint Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) prime minister and hand over most of his power to him.

"Second – Yasser Arafat condemns 'the arbitrary use of violence by both Palestinians and Israelis,' i.e. the targeting civilians, and acknowledges to his nation that the suicide operations resulted in significant deterioration in the lives of Israelis and Palestinians, and that as far as he is concerned [Islamic] Jihad, Hamas and Al-Aqsa Brigades should completely stop their attacks on civilians.

"Third – Two weeks after announcing the above, Yasser Arafat announces that he must go to Cairo (for health reasons) and transfers all his powers to Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen). He goes to Egypt for an extended period of time.

"Fourth – Abu Mazen resumes negotiations with the Israelis to implement the road map, and possibly return to the accords reached at Taba at the end of the Clinton presidency.

"Fifth – Egypt would oversee this whole plan, and inform the U.S. [that this is the case], so that both the U.S. and Israel realize that this peace plan is an utterly Egyptian plan.

"Sixth – As the Palestinian/Israeli negotiations progress, Egypt will announce that by merely reaching an agreement that satisfies both sides, Egypt will lead the region, through education and information, into a new comprehensive environment: the culture of peace." [29]

*Natalie Mendelsohn is a Research Associate at MEMRI

1 "Why Do I Write" at

2 "Tarek Heggy in Brief" at

3 "Progress: Between Stagnation and Change" at

The original, article, in Arabic, appeared in the Egyptian government daily Al-Ahram, February 22, 2003.

4 "A Culture of Denial" at

5 "Progress: Between Stagnation and Change" at

6 Culture, Civilization and Humanity, Frank Cass Publishers, 2003, pp. 104-5.

7 Essays on on Contemporary Egypt [sic]Problems (Causes and Remedies), Chapter 4, "The Revealing of Light of Democracy and the Darkness of One Single Opinion" at

8 Essays on on Contemporary Egypt [sic]Problems (Causes and Remedies), Chapter 2, "The Art of Work – An Art We Have Lost" at

9 "A Culture of Stereotypes" at

The original, article, in Arabic, appeared in the Egyptian government daily Al-Ahram, April 12, 2003.

10 Culture, Civilization and Humanity, p. 45.

11 "Progress: Between Stagnation and Change" at

12 "The Institutions of Democracy are More Important than Democracy" Al-Ahram, June 5, 2003.

13 Culture, Civilization and Humanity, pp. 232-3.

14 "Our need for 'A Culture of Compromise'" at

The original, article, in Arabic, appeared in the Egyptian government daily Al-Ahram on September 29, 2002.

15 "A Culture of Denial" at

16 Essays on Contemporary Egypt [sic]Problems (Causes and Remedies), Chapter 7, "What is to be Done?" at

17 Al-Ahram (Egypt), August 15, 2003.

18 ibid.

19 "Our need for 'A Culture of Compromise'" at

The original, article, in Arabic, appeared in the Egyptian government daily Al-Ahram on September 29, 2002.

20 "Islam Between Copying and Thinking" at

2 1 Culture, Civilization and Humanity, pp. 195-6.

22 "Tolerant and Intolerant Islam" at

23 "Tolerant and Intolerant Islam" at

24 "The Future of the Moslem Mind" at

25 "A Culture of Denial" at

26 "The Arab-Israeli Conflict – Between Reason and Hysteria" The original article, in Arabic, appeared in the Egyptian Coptic weekly Watani on July 7, 2002.

27 "A Culture of Denial" at

28 "The Arab-Israeli Conflict – Between Reason and Hysteria"

29, May 25, 2004.

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