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Abdel Rahman Badawi: philosopher, scholar, thinker and poet. (Obituary).

In April 1973, Colonel Muammer Gadaffi encountered a group of Libyan university students who did not greet him by mindlessly chanting slogans of support. Instead, the philosophy students challenged him, arguing for freedom of thought and the right of individual expression. Humiliated, the Colonel ordered the arrest of their Egyptian professor, existentialist philosopher Dr Abdel Rahman Badawi, who had headed the university's philosophy department since 1967. His personal library as well as hundreds of valuable books in his office were publicly burned. It was not Abdel Rahman Badawi's first brush with authority, nor would it be his last.

President Anwar Sadat, who had been impressed and inspired by Badawi's writing, in particular Existentialist Time, published in 1945, secured his release from prison. But Badawi's 17 days in a Libyan jail reinforced his belief that the Orient was no place for a freethinker after the 1952 military coup by Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt--on which Colonel Gadaffi and other Arab dictators modelled their own "revolutions".

During the remainder of his stormy life he would only stay in the Orient out of necessity, usually for work, but his thoughts, he insisted, remained in the West. During professorships in Kuwait (1975-1982) and Libya (1967-1973) he seldom mixed with `the natives' and spent all his free time in Europe. Born in 1917 to a rich rural family in the village of Sharabass, 95 miles outside Cairo, Badawi was educated at Saidiya, a top European-styled elitist public school, second only to Victoria College in Alexandria.

Following his graduation with a first in philosophy in 1938, the Egyptian University (King Fuad)--where he studied in French, English and Latin--offered him a fellowship. He was supervised for his masters and his PhD by French professors including Alexandre Koyre--who supervised his thesis Le Probleme de la mort dans la philosophie existentielle which, as a book, was to inspire generations of Egyptian thinkers and intellectuals.

A passionate disciple of German philosophy, especially Heidegger, Badawi published 150 books, 75 of which were encyclopaedic works on philosophy, translations and analysis of Greek, German and Islamic philosophy. He wrote, with equal ease in English, Spanish, French, German and Arabic. He also read Greek, Latin and Persian.

In his 1940 book Greek Heritage in Islamic Civilisation, he predicted tragedies--such as that of 11 September--resulting from the unavoidable "clash of civilisations", which he saw as inevitable and irresolvable some 57 years before American sociologist Samuel Huntington reached a similar conclusion.

He believed the nature of Islamic civilisation "could only be defined by measuring its reaction to Greek civilisation," concluding that the former was unable to produce an understanding of the spirit of the latter. Badawi believed that understanding the contradictions between the basic philosophies of Islam and the West, was the real key to understanding the continuous conflicts between them.

Like Nobel Prize winning novelist Naguib Mahfouz, Badawi was a product of a unique age of enlightenment that began around 1805 with Mehemet Ali Pasha's (1769-1849) renaissance of learning, based on a French-designed enlightened education system.

The renaissance culminated in the 1919 Middle Class revolution and the triumphal return of its leader Saad Zaghloul Pasha--from his British-imposed exile--after a landslide election victory in 1922 that severed relations with the Ottoman empire. Egyptian women's demands for equality and the vote were secured by 1923. Meanwhile, the establishment of a liberal, multi-party Westminster-style democracy, encouraged the growth of a prosperous, artistic and intellectual cultural life, to rival that of London, Paris or Berlin. Badawi found himself at the centre.

A mine of contradictions: he admired Hitler for the way he delivered his speeches which, Badawi said, persuaded 38 million Germans, to democratically elect him, thus sharing responsibility for what happened later. Yet he translated, and introduced his students to, many anti-Hitler works including those of Bertold Brecht whom he admired as a genius. Three years ago he was diagnosed with cancer prompting the Egyptian government to arrange his return from Paris for treatment early this year. He died in Cairo last month, aged 85.
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Publication:The Middle East
Article Type:Obituary
Geographic Code:6LIBY
Date:Sep 1, 2002
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