On a cold and gloomy December day in London, a city that is not his, but in the comforting company of a dedicated loving and courageous wife and affectionate and supportive mother and sister, Mohamed Aboulgheit, a prominent investigative journalist in his 30s, went into a coma for two days before his family announced his death on the morning of 5 December, after a two-year heroic battle with cancer that started in his stomach and went on to attack other parts of his body.
In his last appearance, via video conference, to accept an award that he was granted on the last week of November from the Egypt Media Forum, Aboulgheit appeared weak – beyond frail. From his hospital bed and with a tube attached to his body, the weak but always kind and gracious voice uttered a few words to express gratitude for the award and to ask for prayers for health. However, shortly after this, the 35-year-old man wrote what was meant to be his last post-and-testament on Facebook and Twitter to thousands of followers and hundreds of friends all over the world.
It was the last of a set of beautiful lengthy pieces of poetic prose where he has been for long – especially during his determined battle against a ferocious cancer – sharing reflections on life, love, pain, hope and despair. ‘My White Rose’, was Aboulgheit’s last. And it was dedicated to Esraa Shehab the woman of his life – short as it turned to be, but so rich as it certainly was.
Having tried every medicine, including those on trial, and having been repeatedly told by doctors in so many words to brace himself for the final countdown and, as a graduate of the school of medicine, having had enough knowledge to realise that short of a miracle – he did not believe much in miracles – Aboulgheit was fully aware of the inevitable path ahead.
And at this very last mile in this life, he chose to write about how the power of will, and that of love for his ‘White Rose’, has helped him to get through the thick and thin of agonies of life over and over again, not only but especially during the battle for his life and that of the small family that he and Esraa had consolidated with Yehiya, the now seven-year-old boy.
The very personal details of their first encounter, their vows of love and those of marriage, their highs-and-lows and their awe over the cancer shock and their shared serenity of sorrow over the increasing likelihood of his early departure to ‘the light’ on the other side, as he called it, are as heartbreaking as they are heartwarming.
Written in Aboulgheit’s trademark eloquent, soothing and passionate style, ‘My White Rose’ is not just a celebration of the love and bond of this young and devastated couple; it is rather a celebration of life as it comes – with challenges, gifts, defeats, chances, joy and tears.
Of joy and tears, Aboulgheit shared much when he poured his heart and mind out in this series of long Facebook posts where he put an intimate face on the fight against cancer for those who are lucky enough to have been spared, but more perhaps for those who are going or once went through the pain of one more blood test or a pet scan.
He then poured his heart out for those preparing for a drastic surgery, waiting for recovery, hoping for a remedy, going through the line of chemotherapy, failed hopes of recovery, hoping for a miracle, expansion of tumours, failed hope of containment and finally their solemn look at death in the eyes.
Then, try to have a deep breath, think positive, act hopeful and try to live. He would write about going for a nice dinner, making the Louvre visit, listening to a new pop song, writing a book review or going gardening. And, finally, bow to reality, admit that the chances are dismal and carry on through the remaining few weeks or days with this solemn look at his death in the eyes.
The volumes have been collected and are being edited for publication in a book that Dar Al-Shorouk is putting out for the next Cairo International Book Fair, early February 2023. Aboulgheit, as he thought and lamented, is not going to catch because, as he wrote on the 1st of December, “February now seems so far away” – and Cairo was far anyway.
However, Aboulgheit’s journey prior to his cancer diagnosis, shocking in part as it was given his otherwise ‘clean’ family history and his careful lifestyle, was never short on joy or on tears.
There was always plenty of both. This man who was born to a conservative family of Upper Egyptian origins in the 1980s grew up under the skies of a country that was always promising but never really delivering the aspirations of vastitude that its sun and Nile could seem to be promising.
Like those of his generation who had their heart in the right place and who were guided by their good souls and bright minds, AboulGheit dreamt of a day where the world would be kind to the weak and poor on this land that he so loved.
He saw the wounds of the weak and the poor in the public hospitals when he started his training around the last years of the first decade of the new millennium, after having studied medicine.
Then came the moment of January 2011 and there came his choice to get out of the Emergency Rooms and into the newsroom. Uninhibited, as he typically was, and dedicated and determined, as he naturally was, Aboulgheit soon found his way around the inroads of journalism. On print, on TV, on blogposts, on podcasts or on whichever media, AboulGheit showed an exceptional talent – not just in writing but, perhaps as having been a student of medicine, in dissecting, analysing, diagnosing and confronting.
He wrote well, but his talent in journalism is not just about style, it is certainly about content and above all about passion – not just for the vocation but for that ultimate purpose of shedding light on things that need to be treated for the sake of those who deserve more justice and more freedom. The pursuit, however, was never easy. The commitment, for sure, was firm. And the pursuit of an alternative road was imminent.
Moving beyond the euphoria but not beyond the dream that he had subscribed to during the January Revolution, Aboulgheit, along with Esraa, decided it was time to move on. They did move from Cairo to London and started afresh. But life was not kind, yet again. All dreams had to hit a stop and the radiant pictures posted on social media of the small family of three with bright eyes, timid but big smiles and positive vibes came to a stop despite the resilience of the fight against cancer.
It really did not take long for Aboulgheit to find his way to death exactly as he knew he would. The setting, however, was not a Cairo hospital, the funeral was not at an Old Cairo Mosque, those standing to pay their last respects were not the once jubilant faces of 11 young men, then approaching their early 30s, who appear with him on the cover photo of his Facebook account. They too had their ‘move on’ moments, one way or the other, as their shared moment had found its end.
Aboulgheit will be missed but he will also be celebrated not just for his high-quality journalism but for having dared to look pain and despair in the eye, to bow to their grave and devastating power but to also dare look them in the eye.