Ali El-Samman — an Egyptian statesman, a leading voice for peace and understanding among monotheistic faiths, and a columnist for Majalla — died Thursday evening at the age of 88 in Paris. The Egyptian consulate confirmed that Dr. Samman’s body will be transported to Egypt tomorrow afternoon and that his funeral will be held on Sunday at the Sayida Nafisa mosque in Cairo.
Born in Alexandria, Egypt in 1929, he graduated from the Faculty of Law at Alexandria University in 1953, and received a PhD in Law and Political Science from the University of Paris in 1966. Over his 60-year career, he worked with the French newspapers La Vie Africaine, Le Monde Diplomatique, and La Tribune des Nations. He served as director of Egypt’s Middle East News Agency for Western Europe from 1967 to 1974. On behalf of Egyptian president Anwar El-Sadat, he led the “Foreign Information Department for the Presidency of the Republic,” and served as foreign media advisor to Sadat personally between 1972 and 1974. He went on to hold senior government positions in other realms, including the development of Egypt’s national infrastructure.
In the field of interfaith dialogue, he served as Vice-Chairman of the Permanent Committee of Al-Azhar for Dialogue with the Monotheistic Religions, and an interfaith advisor to Grand Imam Mohammed Sayed al-Tantawi for interfaith dialogue. From 1996 to 2011, he led the Committee for Interfaith Dialogue at Egypt’s Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs. Until his death, he served as president of the International Union for Intercultural and Interfaith Dialogue and Peace Education.
Among his many books, Samman partnered with Rabbi David Rosen, a former Chief Rabbi of Ireland, to produce Three Windows on Heaven. It compiles Muslim, Christian, and Jewish teachings in favor of tolerance. In addition to writing prolifically in Arabic, French, and English, Samman appeared regularly on television and spoke at interfaith conferences around the world.
In 2004, he received a Medal from the Archbishop of Canterbury for “Successful efforts to promote peace and dialogue among the monotheistic religions.” In 2012, he received the insignia of Officer of the French National Order of the Legion of Honor in recognition of his efforts to improve Egyptian-French relations and promote intercultural dialogue throughout his life.
The entire staff at Majalla shares in grief at the loss of a towering figure in modern Middle Eastern history whom we were proud to call a colleague. To Arabs of all ages in search of a role model, we recommend Dr. Samman’s autobiography, Egypt: From One Revolution to Another (Gilgamesh Publishing, 2013).