Mohamed Habib, a public intellectual

Image: Arcturus


The professor at Unicamp, reference distinguished scholar in biology and the environment, he was an indispensable human figure because he fought throughout his fruitful life

“Register me, I'm Arab (...)/ Write right at the top of the first page/ that I don't hate men that I don't hurt anyone./ But… if they starve me/ like the flesh of one who despoils me, take care of my hunger/ and my anger. ” (Mahmoud Darwish, ID card).

Mohamed Ezz El-Din Mostafa Habib (1942-2022), on the occasion of his death, on January 26, in the city of Campinas, received fair tributes from Unicamp and entities external to this university. The excellence and extent of its academic production in the area of ​​Biological Sciences – which are expressed through the publication of books, articles, presentation of texts in national and international academic symposiums, etc. –, the seriousness with which he exercised his teaching, his competence as a supervisor of his students’ research, the intense involvement and moral integrity in the performance of administrative tasks at Unicamp (Head of the Department; in two periods, Director of the Institute of Biology; for two times, member of the University Council; Dean of Extension and Community Affairs (PREAC) and other university functions) were duly registered and exalted in Notes from the Unicamp academic community.

In this brief tribute text, I will seek to highlight the activities and commitments assumed by Mohamed Habib, over 50 years of life in Brazil, which qualify him as an exemplary public intellectual.

In my view, the profile of the intellectual committed to politically libertarian causes was already foreshadowed by the performance of the young Mohamed, in the late 1960s and 1970s – either as a student or as a beginning teacher – in the critical and politicized activities promoted by theater groups and amateur cinema from the University of Alexandria, Egypt. In testimony, Mohamed observed that, “today, the best cinema and theater artists in Egypt are exactly those of my generation”.

Since joining Unicamp, in 1972, from Egypt, Mohamed Habib has been committed, body and soul, to the defense of progressive and democratic causes – which some prefer to call “humanitarian” – claimed by social and political movements in Brazil and abroad. outside.

Although he proudly proclaimed his status as a naturalized Brazilian, Mohamed did not fail to identify with the statement in the opening verse of “Carteira de Identidade”, a masterful poem by Mahmud Darwich: Register me, I'm Arab.* In this sense, the immigrant who was welcomed with open arms by Unicamp and who, in a few years, would be “victorious” in a country far from his homeland, never denied his roots and solidarity with the demands of the Arab peoples who still fight for national autonomy , for the conquest of political democracy and for radical social and economic transformations.

Intellectually guided by the theoretical work and political trajectory of Edward Said (1935-2003), Mohamed carried out relevant political and cultural activities: he was Coordinator of International Relations (CORI) at Unicamp between 1998 and 2002 and, in November 2001, he was at the head of the organization of International Symposium: “The Human Rights of the Palestinian People” , an event that was attended by Israeli and Palestinian intellectuals, religious and leaders, as well as other representatives of Brazilian political and cultural entities.

Among the various public recognitions he received, the “Human Rights, the new name of Freedom” award, bestowed on him in November 1995 by the Presidency of the Republic, stands out.

As a keen analyst of international politics in the Middle East, he participated intensely in debates on the recurrent Arab-Israeli conflicts, the events of September 11, 2001 and the so-called “Arab Spring” (2010 and 2011). He was also frequently invited to debate the Palestinian issue, on radio and TV programs by business media, alternative press, democratic blogs and university, political and cultural entities.

In a polite and serene way in these debates, Mohamed dialogued with his interlocutors, without ever giving up his firm critical convictions. On the Palestinian issue, he always took sides, questioning the formulations of analysts sympathetic to Zionism and pro-Empire always present in these debates on radio and TV. Without hesitation, he defended the territorial rights of the Palestinian people and their right to resistance in the face of permanent aggressions.

In an article published by Journal of Unicamp, Mohamed emphasized that, in order to understand current problems, we cannot forget history. In this sense, a reflection by the Jewish intellectual, Hannah Arendt, demanded to be remembered: the struggle against oppression is the struggle of memory against oblivion. He said: "In fact, history clearly shows how much defenseless Palestinians have suffered and continue to suffer from religious and geopolitical aggressor fanaticism."

For Prof. Mohamed, “to the oppressed”, as the Palestinians are, “only resistance remains, which is a legal, moral and politically legitimate right”. After all, he asked, isn't that what, in 1982, the UN General Assembly approved by voting on a resolution affirming “the legitimacy of the peoples' struggle for independence, territorial integrity, national unity and liberation from colonial domination and foreign occupation by all available means, including armed struggle”?

For Mohamed, claiming that the Palestinian people have their place in history is everyone's responsibility, particularly "humanist" academics and intellectuals who have the duty to repudiate the barbarism that is manifested today by the new holocausts, by the imperial wars, the suppression of rights of peoples and nations, the overexploitation of classes, racism, etc.

I am convinced that Mohamed Habib, at the Brazilian University, was – in defense of the Palestinian cause – one of the most fearless and consistent critics of Zionism and the wars promoted by the Empire throughout the world.

Although retired from Unicamp in 2012, Mohamed maintained, as a collaborating professor, a strong bond with the University. As a public intellectual, he never wielded the weapons of criticism.

In testimony, he confessed that, as a retiree, he wanted to dedicate part of his time to music, notably to the lute, his favorite instrument; the social and political interpellations he received, however, required the postponement of these expected moments of leisure.

One of these appeals was the invitation received to join the board of directors of Adunicamp – a union whose meetings he always sought to attend – during the period 2020-2022. He readily accepted the challenge, being elected to the 1st. Secretary of the current Board of the entity. Wouldn't such a gesture be revealing of your permanent willingness to participate in the initiatives and struggles undertaken by your university professors?

For four years, he was an active president of the Arab Culture Institute of Brazil (2015-2019) which, in recent Note of regret, lamented the death of the great “master of Arab culture”. Despite his failing health, Mohamed did not turn down invitations to give lectures, participate in debates and write articles on Arab culture, the political situation in the Middle East and, lately, on environmental issues.

As a note published by PT in Campinas records, the head professor at Unicamp did not fail to take to the streets. In June 2021, for example, he was one of the speakers at the 500 candles lit in honor of the victims of the coronavirus, on the stairs of the Municipal Palace of Campinas. Organized by various religious and civil entities, the popular demonstration demanded more vaccines, emergency aid and effective actions to combat unemployment and hunger.

Recalling Brecht's words, it must be said that Mohamed Habib was an essential human figure because he fought throughout his fruitful life.

* Gaius Navarro of Toledo he is a retired professor at Unicamp and a member of the editorial committee of the marxismo21 website. He is the author, among other books, of Iseb: Factory of ideologies (Rile up).


* A reading of the moving poem ID card, by Mahmoud Darwish (1941-2008), a Palestinian poet, can be seen here:


See this link for all articles