On 28 August 2014, Judge Nabil Mirhom passed away. Mr Mirhom was head of the State Council—Egypt’s highest administrative court—and member of the Coptic Orthodox Melli (community) Council. He played a significant role in drafting several laws related to the Copts and the Church.
Mr Mirhom was one of those exceptional individuals who never failed to leave a lasting impression. His love, magnanimity, dedication and sense of humour came through vividly. He lost his eyesight in 1995, and fought to remain in duty as judge despite efforts by a number of colleagues to dismiss him because of his disability. But President Hosni Mubarak decided that he should stay on and, in June 2008, appointed Mr Mirhom President of the State Council, illustrating what has been proved time and again that physical disability is no impediment to successful performance on the job.
That was back in 2008. At the time, two of Watani’s young reporters conducted an interview with Mr Mirhom. The talk was from the heart, and we again print it today since it gives insight into the man’s beautiful character.
One in a long line
“It is through the mind, thought, and build-up of knowledge that man is able to lead and judge, not through the senses.” These were the words Nabil Mirhom used at the outset of the interview he graciously gave to Watani in June 2008 on the occasion of his being appointed chairman of Egypt’s highest administrative court, the State Council.
Mr Mirhom was the last in a long line of people worldwide whose physical handicap never hampered their contribution to society. When he lost his eyesight in 1995—he was then a judge with the State Council—he bravely accepted the challenge and, helped by his wife, went on to reach the highest post in the administrative judiciary. In his words: “Although Taha Hussein was blind he became in the 1940s and 1950s doyen of Arabic literature, minister of education, president of Cairo University and head of the Arabic Language Academy. Lack of eyesight never hindered his deep insight, thoughtful mind, and wide knowledge; he became one of the most prominent enlightenment figures in Egypt’s 20th century. David Blanket was also blind but he was England’s Home Secretary under Tony Blair,” he said.
Mirhom was born in Mansoura in 1939. His family moved to Cairo in 1946. In 1960 he earned a law degree and was appointed to the State Council in October of the same year.
Life, an expression of beauty
“I greatly love reading,” Mr Mirhom said. “I love literature, read poetry and have learnt many passages off by heart. I love all art. I believe life itself is an expression of beauty, and life without beauty is dull and tasteless. I also have a preference for mathematics, and use mental math to solve complicated problems.” Mr Mirhom looked utterly amused at our surprise and, to prove his point, quickly told each of us on which day of the week our date of birth had been. He boasted that he had figured out a simplified arithmetic procedure to calculate the date of Easter day, and was willing to publish it one day in Watani.
Law always intrigued Mr Mirhom since he was very young. “I used to read my father’s law books. In fact, I used to read a book a day until the day I lost my eyesight.”
When he was appointed to the State Council Mr Mirhom enjoyed perfect sight and was absolutely dedicated to his work. He says he used to spend entire evenings reading and studying law references.
“It is said that ‘behind every great man there is a great woman’ and the Bible says that God said ‘I will make a helper suitable for him’,” he said. “When I got married in 1966 I went on working hard; my wife was understanding and extremely supportive. All my superiors bore witness to my dedication at work.
“I will be your eyes”
“But more than 20 years of incessant, hard work took their toll. I began to feel pain in my eyes. I visited the doctor who appeared upset by what he saw when he examined my eyes. He told me that I suffered from retinitis, which greatly threatened my sight. He recommended complete rest and relaxation, and regular medication. The latter was the easy part, but I loved working and reading too much to take a rest. In 1995 I completely lost my sight.
“The day I found I was unable to read I burst into tears. The situation would have been unbearable if it were not for my wife. She directly put matters into perspective when she said: ‘You have lost nothing. All the laws, judicial and administrative matters are in your head. As for your eyes, I will be your eyes at home and your colleagues can be your eyes at work. I can read to you whatever you like, and you can resume your work with the same efficiency and success’. This is what happened indeed. I never surrendered and never felt disabled. All those who worked with me have described me as a person who confronts challenges, and is persistent, strong, and objective.”
We left with Mr Mirhom’s words ringing in our ears—and hearts: “The only disability is that which renders a person unable to create.”
10 September 2014