Koert Debeuf Column

In Memoriam: Bassem Sabry (1982 – 2014)

FLI Koert Debeuf Bassem Sabry

Bassem Sabry dies age 31. Koert Debeuf: “We lost the most important face of a group of Egyptians that fights for a different Egypt. An open Egypt, where everyone can have his place but where no-one can impose his conviction upon the others. He was the main voice of the real liberal Egypt.”

Yesterday, on April 30, we buried our dear friend Bassem Sabry in Cairo. He died in an accident. He was only 31. Since the revolution in 2011 Egyptian activists have buried many friends. But somehow the news of Bassem’s death left many people more devastated than ever before. Me too.

Bassem was the best Egypt had to offer. Talking to him felt like entering an oasis in times of destruction and insanity. When leaving his conversation and his oasis the desert looked greener, more hopeful. For outsiders it’s perhaps hard to grasp how difficult it is in revolutionary times not to be taken by waves of emotion and populism. Bassem always stood firm, keeping the right intellectual and emotional distance. He had this rare capacity of always focussing on what really matters: a free and democratic Egypt where human rights are the main pillar.

I was always amazed on how Bassem succeeded in writing the one brilliant analysis after the other, working full-time in producing movies, organizing his party, advising top politicians, explaining Egypt to ambassadors and international visiters and always taking enough time for his wide circle of friends. I felt privileged to be one of them.

The first time he sat at the dinner table in my apartment we were discussing the presidential elections of 2012. No-one had an idea of who would reach the second round. Suddenly, Bassem said: ‘What if the second round is between Morsi and Shafiq?’ We all looked shocked. That would be the nightmare scenario for Egypt’s revolution. So we pushed the idea away. But the nightmare scenario became reality. Bassem was right. Again.

We not just lost a very dear friend. We lost the most important face of a group of Egyptians that fights for a different Egypt. An open Egypt, where everyone can have his place but where no-one can impose his conviction upon the others. He was the main voice of the real liberal Egypt. Of a progressive Egypt based on ideas and facts instead of slogans and rumours. He had the potential of a future prime minister or even a future Taha Houssein, the main liberal voice of Egypt in the 20th century.

Bassem Sabry was for me the most important representative of a generation that made me never lose hope in a better future for Egypt and the entire Arab world. Luckily he was not alone. On his funeral I saw many people determined and capable of pushing the dream of Bassem and so many Egyptians forward. There is enough reason to be hopeful that one day that dream will become reality. But yes, the liberal dream lost one of its brightest sons.

Bassem, our common project to create a think tank in Cairo was almost becoming reality, after three years. I promised you to give you a tour in Belgium. And just one week ago we planned to have dinner, to catch up. I cancelled it and postponed it to next week. Now there is no next week. And even no next month. There is only one promise: your friends will do whatever is in their strength to realize your dream for Egypt. Even though without you it will be a lot harder. We will miss you dearly, my friend.

by Koert Debeuf, 1/5/2014

FLI Koert Debeuf PortretKoert Debeuf lives in Cairo, Egypt, where he represented the EU parliament’s Alde group for many years. Currently he is Project Coordinator “World Leaders on Transitions towards Democracy” at International IDEA. He is a former advisor of a Belgian prime minister. Reporting from post-revolutionary Egypt, his columns are a window on events in the Arab world. Koert Debeuf is also author of ‘Inside the Arab Revolution’.

For more columns of Koert Debeuf, click here.

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