Last month, sadly, Egypt lost one of its most prominent businessmen, Mansour El Gammal, who passed away after a brave fight with the Covid-19 virus. Besides being a loving father, El Gammal led a rich life with an illustrious career in Egypt and abroad. He was a passionate entrepreneur, served as a diplomat at the Arab League, worked in tourism and investment banking and, in his final years until his untimely passing, served as Chairman of the Board at New Giza for Real Estate Development. Following El Gammal’s passing, his son Yehia El Gammal made it his priority to remember his father in the most positive way, by spreading awareness of the pandemic and educating people on how to deal with this serious health challenge. eniGma’s Editor-in-Chief and CEO Yasmine Shihata, caught up with Yehia who was kind enough to grant her the opportunity for a thoughtful interview to remember and honour his late father.
Thank you for joining us, Yehia. On behalf of myself, my family and the eniGma family, we extend our sincere condolences for your father’s passing.
I really appreciate it. Thank you, Yasmine.
Losing a loved one, especially a father, is tough at any time, let alone during a pandemic. For those of us still trying to understand what this virus means in real life, it would be great to hear your experience firsthand.
Well, it started when my father came down with something. We didn’t know what it was until he was tested and we found out that he tested positive for Coronavirus. There are a lot of people who are suffering from the virus. Right now in the world there are over 3 million people diagnosed with COVID-19.
But how did you find out? Because a lot of people have symptoms but aren’t sure what it is.
Early testing is very important, whenever a person has a fever or a cough. It’s important that people don’t feel a stigma about the virus and about testing positive. A lot of people are scared of early testing, because of that stigma; but we need to understand that everyone is going through this and we’re all going through it together. My father always chose to face the music, and to see things as they really are. He fought the virus bravely with the help of a great team of health professionals in 15th of May Hospital in Helwan. His friend Dr. Loza, the eminent psychiatrist, was also diagnosed with the virus and went to the same hospital, and has thankfully recovered.
At first, you guys thought that he had pneumonia, right?
He had similar symptoms before, so we didn’t know it was Covid-19 until we had the test done and the result was positive. It took two days for us to find out the test results.
Where did you get the test done?
Well, he did several tests. You can get it done at home, but it’s better to get it done at an establishment recognised by the Ministry of Health. I’m very grateful for the team at the hospital; they were very professional and took good care of my father. Even Dr. Loza expressed his gratitude to them. There were ventilators available. While not everyone necessarily needs them, it’s good that they are there for those who do. We need to flatten the curve of the disease though, and early testing is necessary if you have any symptoms at all. There are many hospitals offering testing right now.
Were you able to visit your father when he was in the hospital?
No, no one was able to see him; that’s the sad part about this virus. I had to quarantine during that time, since I had been with him while he was infected. But we kept in touch with the doctors and the hospital to get updates on his health.
For you and your family, of course, losing your father was really difficult; but not being able to say goodbye must have made it even harder.
Yes, that was very hard. In our culture, we’re also accustomed to a certain protocol after death, but we couldn’t do any of that. We couldn’t gather together to console one another. I saw what happened in Iran when the virus peaked there and I saw that they were all social distancing and it was very sad, but that’s what’s necessary right now. But we also can’t go into complete panic mode, like what happened when a doctor died when she was treating patients, and people in her town refused to have her buried there. This is inhumane and ignorant. Hospitals have precautions about deaths related to the virus and they make sure that it’s safe for burial. We definitely need to educate people more about the virus.
People still don’t understand enough about the virus, that’s why you speaking out is very important. You’re an important established writer, so tell us how are you remembering your father?
He was a very loving man who loved life. He faced every problem with a smile and with hope. He never complained and he fought until the last second. I hope that his death can help raise awareness and educate people on this virus. My father was one of many victims of this virus. Actually, I never thought he would survive ten days on a ventilator, especially since he had a pre-existing medical condition. But he was definitely a fighter, and he passed away while fighting. I am pleased that the last time I saw him, he was smiling.
I saw that you posted beautiful pictures of your father on Instagram. You love writing and sharing your feelings, right?
Yes, I do. I posted some pictures of my father as a young man, and writing about him helps me deal with this. I had started writing a novel about the changes that were happening in society because of the virus before my father was even diagnosed. I was telling the story generally; but when my father was diagnosed, the story took a more personal route and I started writing about it from a personal perspective. But I don’t want to make it too personal. I would rather stay away from my personal experience a little bit. Things changed; something in the world has shifted with this virus. I hope it doesn’t affect people so much that we lose our humanity; but I hope that it makes us stronger. Of course, I hope that we don’t lose too many loved ones, and that the damage will be the least that it can possibly be. Despite the huge number of deaths all over the world from this virus, we can look on the positive side, though. A lot of people have recovered and a lot of people have suffered from the virus in a mild way; they didn’t even feel it. The virus affects older people more, and people with preexisting medical conditions. We can get through this, and come out of it stronger than before. I hope there is a genuine change in society when all this is over.
Are you working on your new book?
Yes, I’m trying to. There are a lot of theories coming out right now, and a lot of writers are writing articles on what will happen when all this is over. I’m reading all of this and doing research. In the past couple of years we were affected by political changes and we never imagined that years later we’d be here going through something as big as this. It’s an invisible enemy, unfortunately.
It’s a hard thing, but the entire world is going through it together. Is there anything else you would like to tell our readers?
I hope we won’t have to go through a complete lockdown in Egypt, especially because there are a lot of less fortunate people who can’t afford that. But I would like to tell everyone to please limit their contact with the outside world as much as they can, and to stay home as much as possible. We also need to social distance from each other and stay away from gatherings of many people. We need to lower the chances of the virus spreading and to flatten the curve of the disease. We can use the month of Ramadan to quarantine more and social distance more. We don’t want to see the virus decrease worldwide and increase here in Egypt. There are also some initiatives right now that I would like people to support if they can, such as Hemaya, which helps people who have day-to-day jobs and are financially suffering during this time, and Ahalena, which also supports the same cause. There is also an initiative for mental health awareness that Dr. Mustafa Hussein started for the frontline workers who are suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Ahl Masr is also manufacturing sanitising products for those who need it most, which is very important. Ento Mesh Lewahdokom, is another organisation providing food and other donations to those who need it right now, especially healthcare workers. Finally, I would like to send my deepest gratitude and thanks to every single healthcare worker who has helped my father in any way, and all healthcare workers on the frontline who are risking their lives to save others.
How do you think this is going to affect humanity after all this is over?
A lot of people are talking about conspiracy theories and such. I don’t honestly care about that. My biggest priority right now is getting out of the situation we are in right now. I think people will have to continue to gain more awareness, and this social distancing will definitely bring us together in a way we never thought of. Life was moving way too fast before people were quarantined. I think this is offering a great chance for all of us to self-reflect, calm down and think about things and life differently. For example, pollution has decreased significantly. That’s something to keep in mind. Nature is flourishing right now and that shows us that we need to rethink things. Wars and political conflict have also decreased, because we’re all on the same side right now, facing the same danger.
While a lot has changed, what do you wish would change more and what do you want people to take away from this?
I want there to be a discussion.. It’s survival of the fittest in this world, and the fittest today is whoever is open to having a discussion; those people are the strongest in my eyes. Also, the funding of armies and weapons before all of this was way more than funding for the healthcare system and education, which is wrong. We need to think about that in a different way and have that discussion with our leaders to try and better the system. Also, the countries with the most recovered cases of COVID-19 have women as their leaders, like New Zealand and Finland. So, the stigma around women being leaders is also something we should think about.
Thank you so much, Yehia, this has been such an important talk. We would like to extend our deepest condolences again for the loss of your dear father, Mansour El Gammal, who was a great man. You are also a great man, and we hope people will hear your positive message from this experience and this interview.
Thank you so much, Yasmine.