The “prince of laughter” and “king of satire,” the renowned writer and upright journalist Mahmoud El Saadani has departed our world. El Saadani was born in Bagour in the Al Menoufiya governorate in Egypt’s Nile Delta; his hometown is known to have produced distinguished personalities in the fields of art, intellectual thought and politics. With the passing of Mahmoud El Saadani, the sense of humour that used to appear in the press is now going to disappear and it will wear black and mourn him just like the rest of Egypt.
This “naughty boy” filled the world with a love of justice as he continuously defended the rights of the poor and the freedom of thought and speech. He paid the price for what he believed in with his freedom and health. El Saadani did not regret a single word he had written or said regarding his opinion of a leader or head of state. He loved Gamal Abdul Nasser even though he was detained and imprisoned in his era. He disagreed with Anwar Sadat and was forced to leave the country. But when President Hosni Mubarak took office, he ordered the return of El Saadani to his homeland and his work.
The naughty boy lived a life that was filled with events, revolutions, failures and successes. He interacted with all those experiences by drawing a picture from an angle that could only be perceived and reached by El Saadani. When you interpret it and after a great deal of laughter, you start wondering how you didn’t see the irony of those events in the way that he saw it.
El Saadani had a free spirit that delved deep into the fabric of Egyptian society in which El Saadani saw the sincerity of the human spirit. El Saadani befriended people from all classes of society and never felt more at home than he did with coffee shop owners, waiters, butchers, teachers and journalists who rose from the bottom of society in search of a role or to prove themselves. El Saadani interacted with all kinds of people and influenced those around him including his younger brother Salah El Saadani who disclosed that all the characters he had excelled in portraying were mainly inspired by his brother Mahmoud El Saadani.
I remember that my first encounter with Mahmoud El Saadani was on board a flight coming from London. El Saadani was wearing a long, loose white galabeya, as if he were a butcher or green grocer! When I began to talk to him, I realized he had a wealth of lifelong experience. I can safely say that El Saadani was among a selected few who truly knew the meaning of life.
Ahmad Rajab, the well-known writer and famous satirist said that no one made him laugh as much as Mahmoud El Saadani. Rajab recalls that the best gatherings he attended were those that were also attended by Mahmoud El Saadani and Mohammed Abdul Wahab.
At Mahmoud El Saadani’s funeral, I wasn’t surprised to see mourners representing the full spectrum of the Egyptian society; mourners from the social and political elite to the average man on the street. All of them came to say: “Farewell, naughty boy. You made us laugh a lot and you taught us a lot and you never turned your back on those who needed you. We are happy with what you did as you came into this world and departed it and you were courageous all the way through!”