The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Legendary 1970s student leader passes away

I received an SMS, saying Ahmad 3abdallah Rozza, the legendary 1970s student leader, has passed away.
Rozza was a political science student at Cairo University, in the beginning of the 1970s, when the leftist-led student movement was witnessing a revival, after being suppressed under President Nasser for two decades.

Students, then, spearheaded mass demos in 1971-73, calling for war against against Israeli occupation forces in the Sinai peninsula, and campaigning for social and political justice for Egyptian citizens.

At Cairo University, the students formed the "Higher National Committee for Egypt's Students," which acted as an independent national student union, parallel to the government-controlled one. The committee, chaired by Rozza, led the famous January 1972 demos, which witnessed 20,000 students and workers taking over Tahrir Sq., in the heart of Cairo. Before security forces moved in to smash the occupation, teach-ins and discussion groups formed spontaneously went on for long hours; citizens from the neighboring buildings passed food, water, and cigarettes to the students in the square. The global students' revolt, the Vietnam war, and the launching of the Palestinian revolution were sources of inspiration for the young radical and his mates. Rozza was arrested several times, and earned fame with Sadat showering him personally with slurs in public, in his famous "I will not negotiate with Rozza" speech. Rozza did not belong to any of the political groups back then, but his charisma drew him a following that made him the Egyptian Daniel Cohn-Bendit.

Rozza traveled later to Britain for his doctorate, which he wrote on the Egyptian students' movement. Like many other student activists, he gradually drifted away from the lights after his graduation. He became a political commentator, writer, researcher, academic, and ran an NGO in 3ein el-Seera that cared for youth issues... still kept a low profile.

Many of the 1970s activists, who struggled hand-in-hand with Rozza, are still around and taking a leading role in the pro-democracy movement, like Kamal Khalil, currently detained in Tora, and Aida Seif al-Dawla, the anti-torture campaigner. Aida called me an hour ago, clearly disturbed, to say how devastated she was by the news. "I feel the regime is finishing us off, one by one," she sighed at the end of the conversation. "Seems like our hearts have become to weak to handle our country."

I received a follow up from Nora Younis:

Rozza felt hopeful with the political mobility and ran for the Nov 05 parliamentary elections. He used Sadat's quote in his campaign and printed it on flyers. Sharkawi was one of the active Youth for Change leaders to help Rozza lead his street campaign and rallies.
Moreover, he lived 40 years with and for the people but he died alone. He was found in his office after 48 hours of silence. His friends got worried about him and broke into the office to find the body.

tragic -

Tragic indeed...

Our friend Dr. Samer Shehata, also sent me an email expressing how sad he was at hearing the news, especially when he had seen Rozza one week before his passing away:

I was fortunate to have met Dr. Ahmed Abdalla a few times, the most recent of which, was only last week. Of course, I knew him long before meeting him through his writings. His book “The Student Movement and National Politics in Egypt, 1923-1973� remains the single best work on the subject and like all of his labor, is infused with both scholarly learning and personal experience and conviction. His book on the Army and politics in Egypt is a classic and his more recent writings such as “Egypt before and after September 11, 2001� - are invaluable for anyone wishing to understand what lies beneath the current situation. More than anything else, in Ahmed Abdalla one saw something so rare: an “organic intellectual� committed to social justice and working in the real world and in the realm of ideas in order to achieve it. His passing is a loss for all of us.

Ahmad 3abdallah (Pic from Baheyya blog)