The wonderful Middle East Institute blogger Michael Collins Dunn noted the other day the passing of Amin Huwaydi, the former Egyptian Defense Minister and Intelligence chief. But even he missed the passing of another iconic Egyptian: Mustafa Mahmoud. Who? Mustafa Mahmoud.
Mustafa Mahmoud never held a government office as far as I know, and played no role in the great international diplomacy of the Middle East. From what I can tell, his passing has received no coverage in the Western media. I never got to meet Mustafa Mahmoud, who retreated from the public eye years ago while battling cancer. But he did as much as anyone else to spread Islamist identity and ideology through the lower and middle classes of a rapidly urbanizing Cairo.
Mahmoud was the author of more than a hundred accessible cheap Islamic books which used to be available all over Cairo (and beyond). A medical doctor by training, he established the mosque and medical clinic which bears his name, which served as one of the leading examples of the kinds of Islamist social services which earned them such respect and support. He became an Egyptian media star through his long running television program, "Science and Faith." It is impossible to look around Cairo today without seeing his reflection: the Islamicized public space and public discourse, the profusion of Islamist social services, the creative Islamist use of every new media technology.
Those Americans trying today to craft a new relationship with the Islamic world might ask themselves which of these men -- the Defense Minister and Mukhabarat Director, or the media-savvy Islamic populist -- ultimately had the greater impact on Egypt and the Middle East. And they should ask themselves how American "strategic public engagement" with the Islamic world can respond to the world which Mustafa Mahmoud helped to shape.
Marc Lynch is associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University.