Centenary of a great man

04-03-2015 02:48 PM

Samia Sidhom

The year 2015 marks 100 years on the birth of Watani founder Antoun Sidhom and 20 years on his death


It’s a very special year.
Last Tuesday 3 March 2015 marked 100 years on the birth of a great man, Antoun Sidhom, best known to our readers as the man who founded Watani in 1958. Barely two months from that date, 2 May 2015, another landmark memory looms: the 20th anniversary of Mr Sidhom’s death.

Antoun Sidhom is no longer in our earthly world, but Watani is. More significantly, it has grown and thrives through the dedicated efforts of those he left behind. His son, Youssef Sidhom, runs the corporation and is editor-in-chief of the paper; his daughter Samia Sidhom is managing editor of Watani International, the English-language version of the print and online paper. Dina Sidhom, Youssef’s daughter, is executive director of the online paper, www.wataninet.com; and another granddaughter Dalia Victor is a senior editor at Watani International. Other members of the Sidhom clan may not be as intricately connected to the work and policies of Watani, but they nonetheless actively support the work on both the practical and moral levels. Mary Alphonse plays a crucial role in the promotion of wataninet, and Nivert Rizkallah and Christine Alphonse dedicate substantial efforts for the English-language work.
For the Sidhoms, Watani is no paper; it is a mission to serve the good cause of a better, more equitable, more gentle Egypt that draws on her age-old value system and recognises her Coptic citizens as the true Egyptians that they are.

So it happened that the Watani Sidhoms sat down to debate how best to commemorate their father, grandfather, and the paper’s founder. There was a suggestion to write and invite others to write tributes on Antoun Sidhom. But no, this has been done in so many instances throughout the last 20 years. Well, maybe conduct interviews with persons who dealt closely with him or learnt from him—after all the senior Sidhom was a multi-talented man, an achiever not only in the journalism field but also as an accountant among the first to form an Egyptian accounting firm in Egypt, a dedicated social worker, and an activist who fought for Copts to attain full citizenship rights. But again, much has been written in Watani and outside Watani on that score. How about the personal aspects of his life, most of which were not known to readers but would make very warm, informative reading? Well, that was a good point, but you cannot build a full commemoration on only that. Samia proposed doing a project that would go through the details of her father’s life and how each reflected or was the outcome of his times and the events that took place in Egypt. After all, the man had lived through 80 years that saw pivotal changes in the country “and I can clearly remember how they impacted his and our lives,” she said. But this was a project that could not be achieved overnight; it needed careful preparation and planning, and can be done in good time.

There was, of course, another predicament: that of deciding how to manage the commemoration on the print paper and the online version. But Youssef Sidhom drew attention to the fact that the limited space on the print version, coupled with the upheaval of events sweeping our region, may force us to limit ourselves to one big commemoration next May. Wataninet, however, Dina said, did not have the luxury of delaying the project.

Finally, it was Dalia who came up with the winner. “Why don’t we have a special post on wataninet to commemorate Antoun Sidhom?” She suggested we launch it on 3 March and run it till 2 May. “We already have a wealth of material worth posting,” she said, “and we can invite readers and visitors to respond in whichever way they like.” Everyone applauded.
Thus the post Mi’awiyat Ragul Azeem (Centenary of a Great Man) was launched last Tuesday. It began with an introductory story by Dina Sidhom, and was seen by some 300 visitors in the two hours after it was launched. It will include a biography, a selection of opinion pieces by Sidhom, tributes written in his honour, interviews, comments, photographs both personal and public, memories and memoirs, anecdotes both serious and humorous, reader contributions and, yes, even criticism levelled at him. A digest of this material will be offered on wataninet’s English-language site.

In its final version, the post should constitute a comprehensive folder on Antoun Sidhom. Our humble way of eternalising a great man.

Watani International
4 March 2015

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