The mysterious disappearance of the Egyptian journalist Reda Hilal, who went missing in August 2003 in Cairo, is still a perplexing issue. The man disappeared in mysterious circumstances, and his name has since faded, as if he never existed!
In fact, Reda Hilal was a well known writer, assistant editor of the ‘al-Ahram’ newspaper, and also a colleague of mine at Asharq al-Awsat, where he used to write a weekly article. Although I have not met him personally, we communicated via telephone since he began to write for our newspaper. Then Reda Hilal disappeared as if nothing had happened. Only a few Egyptian journalists seem to care about his disappearance, while the rest do not ask themselves: “what if the same thing happened to me?” It is sad to see that even after the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, and the arrest of the former Egyptian Interior Minister Habib el-Adly, silence continues regarding the disappearance of Reda Hilal.
The last piece of significant information to be published about Reda Hilal’s disappearance was printed in our newspaper, in August 2009. The information suggested that he was alive, in a prison in Alexandria, and Egyptian security forces refused to confirm or deny the story at the time. Today, the same question still stands: where is Reda Hilal? With successive reports about public security documents being burned or destroyed in several Egyptian governorates, among them Alexandria, one fears that the opportunity to know where Reda Hilal is, or what happened to him, is now fading away. This is a tragic situation.
The Egyptian press today is preoccupied with leaked security documents, which contain information potentially detrimental to certain Egyptian personalities. This is the season for scandals and the settling of scores, and it seems that many will be affected, rightly or wrongly. This is understandable, especially as we are dealing with the documents of an authoritarian regime that lasted for thirty years, and it appears that Egypt’s security apparatus was responsible for the rise and fall of people. Yet there is still great hope that the secret story behind Reda Hilal’s disappearance will be discovered, and of course more importantly than that, he will be released if he is still alive.
It doesn’t matter whether the Egyptian media agrees with what Reda Hilal wrote or not – he was a defender of democracy, and coined the famous phrase “Saddam’s orphans”, after the fall of the former Iraqi regime. What is important is that Egyptian journalists today seek to uncover more about this harrowing story regarding a fellow colleague in their profession. It seems that Hilal paid a far more severe price than other journalists, during the era of the previous Egyptian regime.
Reda Hilal was an excellent journalist, with a clear vision, and he knew what he wanted. The story of his disappearance is both tragic and confusing. How can a journalist, a man of conviction who has been through many battles, disappear in broad daylight in the middle of the Egyptian capital, without anyone knowing anything about it, including the Egyptian security services, and especially since Hilal’s residence was located in the Kasr El Aini district, near parliament and government buildings, and the British and U.S. Embassies?
Therefore, all we can hope for today is that the tragedy of Reda Hilal comes to an end soon, either with his release from prison, which we pray for, or with us knowing the truth about what happened to him.