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Prolific Egyptian Political Writer and Insider, Heikal, Dies

Mohamed Hassanein Heikal, seen in this Sept. 23, 2014 file photo, poses for a picture on his 91st birthday, at his office, in Cairo, Egypt.

Mohamed Heikal, one of Egypt's most prolific political authors and a confidant of the country's socialist president in the 1950s and 1960s who was later jailed by his successor, has died. He was 92.

State television said Heikal died on Wednesday in Cairo. Better known among Egyptians by his full name, Mohamed Hassanein Heikal, he had recently suffered kidney problems that required weekly dialysis.

The popular author rose to prominence as a confidant and Cabinet minister under Gamal Abdel Nasser, Egypt's socialist and Arab nationalist president who ruled from 1954 until his death in 1970.

His close friendship with Nasser cast Heikal in the role of a top authority on Egyptian politics and the region at a time when much of the Arab world was shaking off colonial European rule. The leftist Nasserist ideology, which centered around what Nasser called "Arab-socialism," commands little influence in present-day Egyptian politics.

In this Sept. 19, 2015 photo, Mohamed Heikal jokes with friends days before his 92nd birthday at his house, in Cairo, Egypt.
In this Sept. 19, 2015 photo, Mohamed Heikal jokes with friends days before his 92nd birthday at his house, in Cairo, Egypt.

During his years as editor-in-chief of Cairo's Al-Ahram daily, Heikal tampered Egyptians' distrust of the country's tightly controlled state media with his insider's take on the country and the region in his eagerly awaited Friday column entitled "Frankly."

Nasser's successor, Anwar Sadat, sidelined Heikal shortly after he took office in 1970 and a decade later, in 1981, jailed him along with hundreds of government critics. Hosni Mubarak released them soon after he became president following Sadat's assassination in October 1981 — though Mubarak kept Heikal at arm's length throughout his 29 years in office.

Heikal, who authored some 40 books, passed a damning judgment of Sadat's 11 years in power in his 1983 book "Autumn of Fury, The Assassination of Sadat." His sharply critical views of Mubarak were evident in his Arabic-language book — "Mubarak and his age" — published in 2012, a year after Mubarak was ousted in a popular uprising.

Despite his poor health, Heikal was frequently on TV in the past few years, sharing his political views in lengthy interviews, first on Qatar's Al-Jazeera network and more recently on the privately owned Egyptian network CBC.

Heikal is survived by three sons: Ali, Ahmed and Hassan. His funeral is due before sunset Wednesday, in accordance with Islamic tradition.