Since the first of his weekly appearances on Al Jazeera, Egyptian journalist and writer Mohamed Hassanein Heikal has been the cause for much debate. His rich experience accumulated during his lifetime is attractive to a large number of the audience, particularly those who still yearn for the "beautiful past" which Heikal personally symbolizes, especially in terms of his close relationship with the former Egyptian leader, Gamal Abdul-Nasser. For others, however, the long televised discussions of Heikal represent no more than an individual subjective reading without any hint of self-criticism. The show seeks only to idealize one of the most critical, contradictory and ambiguous phases of modern Arab history.
Such debate, which began before Heikal”s appearance on Al Jazeera, has increased since the broadcasting of the show. The question that haunts me every time I see Heikal on Al Jazeera is that irrespective of the political content, is this long analytical narration on our TV screens practical or even requested in this age? Those who watch the series will note the progress in technical matters such as studio layout, lighting, shooting angles and so on. However, the fact remains that close ups of Heikal”s fingers fidgeting with a pen, or the flashbacks that represent the historical events to which he refers, or the various shooting profiles of Heikal”s face, are collectively nothing but desperate visual attempts to mitigate for the audience the full hour of watching and listening to the lectures of one person. In this modern age, this hour seems more like a lifetime.
When the announcement came regarding the broadcasting of Heikal”s series, it was thought that it would be quite the media adventure. The idea was that the program would represent the central figure”s history and writings in a different manner, and that the viewer will unite with Heikal”s imagination through his voice, his words, his gestures, his self-assurance and his white hair. It seems that the producers of the program lost sight of this idea. Heikal in this program has become a traditional storyteller in an age where Arab storytellers have vanished from the neighborhoods and coffeehouses, let alone the television screens.
The other problem is that these types of programs lack any kind of debate that may have been otherwise achieved by an interview or documentary. Here, Heikal is the only one who knows the truth and we are forced to accept his words without questions or responses.
The show of which we speak called "With Heikal," is exceptional as it lies somewhere between the printed and visual media yet at the same time is unable to gain the appreciation of either. Television should provide that which printed media could not. For those who want to learn about Heikal”s thinking, his writings are available. The television show should present Heikal from another angle, and this has not been achieved by Al-Jazeera”s "With Heikal."