This is the 777th article in the “Problems on hold” series, and it coincides with the date on which my dear father Antoun Sidhom, founder of Watani, passed away 25 years ago. Antoun Sidhom’s life and mission point at so many issues that appear to be permanently shelved, held on hold, that it is fitting to write now about this great man, reminding of his memorable life and what it stood for.
Antoun Sidhom departed our world on 3 May 1995, aged 80. His life represented the epitome of giving, hard work, and achievements on the personal, family, professional, patriotic, and spiritual levels. He left a dear, lasting imprint on all who knew him or dealt with him, not only as a role model or mentor, but because he exuded love, faithfulness, and dedication. This he relayed to all around him by simply being himself without ever preaching or demanding of anyone to follow his example.
We learned from him how love can be given to all, generously, unconditionally, and without discrimination, free of anything that might blemish it. Even in moments of anger at any misconduct or irresponsible behaviour, when his voice would rise in reprimand, no one was left with hard feeling because it was very obvious that the angry tirade was lined with love and respect, and was meant to correct what was wrong. We learned from him that no matter how hard or serious the problems we face in the office, we leave them behind as the day ends, and we head home free of all what spoils human or professional relationships, to go back the following day with no anger or bitterness.
We learned from Antoun Sidhom true patriotism. His love for Egypt drove him to found Watani in 1958. He always said that every Egyptian who loves Egypt should not be content by merely living there, working hard and forming a family, but should also be alert to everything positive or negative about it. He or she should actively attempt to change the country for the better, so as to hand it over to their children a finer, more advanced place than they received from their parents. “In this context,” he said, “an Egyptian would be driven to express honest opinions through legitimate channels, and participate with fellow-Egyptians through available channels to bring about aspired changes.” It was this passion for public service that led him to work to found a newspaper. Watani was thus born with the express mission of serving the homeland; a mission it has assiduously carried on since its first issue on 21 December 1958. Today, at 62, the paper is among the oldest thriving on the press field in Egypt, published almost uninterrupted for decades. It has progressed from an Arabic language weekly paper to a trilingual one with English and French editions, in addition to an online site that provides readers with round-the-clock content.
We learned from Antoun Sidhom that love for the homeland and love for the Church are indivisible and inseparable, and that no matter how hard Copts and their churches may suffer at the hands of fanatics or fundamentalists, the only answer is to continue to lovingly hold tight to fellow Egyptians. It is no surprise or coincidence that Sidhom chose Watani, literally My Homeland, as a name for the paper he founded, or for its motto the poetry line by Ahmed Shawqy (1868 – 1932): “My Homeland (Watani), if I have to leave you for the delight of eternal life; even in Eternity shall I yearn for you”. The motto to this day graces the header of the paper. As the years progressed and Copts went through hard days, Watani continued to carry on its mission in absolute dedication, its head held high, proud that its vocation was in tune with that of two wise, loving Coptic popes: Pope Shenouda III (patriarch in 1971 – 2012) who said: “Egypt is not a homeland we live in, but one that lives inside us”, and the current Pope Tawadros II who, when the Muslim Brothers (MB) burned some 100 churches and Christian establishments and property in August 2013, said: “A homeland without churches is better than churches but no homeland”. Incidentally, all the churches destroyed by the MB have been restored and renovated by the Egyptian Armed Forces.
On the silver jubilee of the passing away of Antoun Sidhom, we pay full respects to his soul. The Watani family stands up in loyalty and dedication for the principles of journalistic work he rooted, and looks up to him as a model of the Egyptian who loves and serves his country and Church. In a move to honour this great man, we are reprinting the editorials he wrote throughout 20 years, from 1975 to 1995, which we had compiled and published in a book in 1996. That book was named: “Antoun Sidhom .. the Watani Journey”. More than once did I wonder whether it would have been better to title it “Antoun Sidhom .. the Watani Paper Journey”, till I realised that Watani, the Homeland, and Watani the paper were one and the same thing for that great man and that great paper.
2 May 2020