Insights into his life story as written by himself shortly before death.

Thanks to his son Eng. Nabil, daughter-in-law Marzia, who translated his arabic autobiography. Thanks also to Prof. Dr. Mona Haggag for providing this material to the ArabGU.

The teacher in my primary school was extremely demanding, both in criticism and in phyical punishment, and this caused me to switch from a mathematics-loving person to one who disliked it intensely.  This event alone had a major impact on shaping my future.  I went into my secondary school years planning to go into literature, this despite my passion for chemistry and biology.  I thought it was not possible to go into the field of the sciences because I would have had to study mathematics.  Destiny, on the other hand, wanted me to realize my dream to study sciences when it was decided that there would be three branches of interest and specialization in the new system of university education in Egypt.  This was a godsend; since I was part of the first graduating class of 1937-38 from the science section.

In addition to major help from destiny, there would be another reason which would push me to select the Faculty of Science, and in particular the Geology Department.  This, I did not know until I met the Scouts teacher in my secondary school.  He had a very charismatic and respectful personality and he was also the Head of the Laboratory in the Geology department of the Faculty of Science at the University of Fouad I (later renamed Cairo University).  Due to the great impact of the Scout teacher’s personality, Mohammed Labib Sabri, he made me aware of the possibilities in Geology and I grew keen on joining that department.

In 1938, the group of students that applied to join the Geology department was one of the biggest groups that entered the faculty since it was created.  We were more than twenty people in the class.  Although the numbers did not hold, and we later dropped to 14 after one lecture by an Irish professor, Mr. Andrews.  Mr Andrews created an intentional reduction, as he insisted on speaking in a difficult dialect and accent.  He also insisted on stating, in two hours, the summary of the entire science of geology. 

There were only two permanent professors in the department of Geology: Dr. Zidansky, Head of the Department and Mr. Andrews.   All the other teachers were on loan from other departments.  Only three of us reached the second year of the program and additionally two were repeating their second year.  The graduating class in 1942 had five students, two had a special baccalaureate (one in crystallography, Mahmound El Sayed Amin, and the other in  paleontology,  Mohammed Abd El Meneem Gorab) and two were specialized in geology-chemistry,  Salah el Akad and myself, Mourad Ibrahim Youssef.  The fifth student, Mohammed Anwar was specialized in geology-zoology.

The first long geology field trip I participated in was with Dr. Mohammed Ibrahim Fares, who was at the time doing research to obtain a masters degree related to the Kena area .  On the trip, he took three of my colleagues.  It was a very impressionable trip.  We spent our first night in the only hotel in Kena, the Geblawi hotel.  Kena was famous for its multitude of scorpions everywhere.   During the night I spent in that hotel, my main goal was to travel safely from the door where the light switch was to the bed four meters away.  I scanned and studied that path many times before I would cross it running.

The next day, after spending a tough day in the mountains west of the Nile, we slept on the floor in tents that could hardly fit two people.  At the end of the field trip in west Kena, we visited the city where there was an agreement that we could rent a van that made weekly visits to deliver mail and food to the city of Kosseir.   Since this road was not paved, the van that we were supposed to use was in bad shape and as luck would have it, the van was being repaired when we reached Kena.  We traveled on our way eastward, between the mountains of El Serri and El Gear, near the estuary of wadi Kena.  Since the van was the only one available for rental, we made an agreement with some porters to move us to our destination.  At that time, in 1939,  jeep cars were not known yet.

In 1941, after I passed the first part of the Science Bachelor’s degree (it was called the third year exam) I went with two colleagues, Mohammed Abdel Menan Gorab and Salah El Akad, to train in the Phosphate Company in Kosseir.  This was during the Second World War, when the Italian workers were detained because Italy was at war against the coalition.  Since the deep mines needed continuous maintenance to avoid collapses, some of the Italian technicians were released, under strict guard, to do the required maintenance. We were trained by the Italians in mine engineering; at the time, the Faculty of Engineering in Foaud I University did not have a mining section open as yet.

During the next school year 1941-42, and before the Science Bachelor’s exam (the fourth year exam and second part), my colleague Salah el Akkad and I received from the Shell Petroleum Company (at the time it was known as the British Egyptian Petroleum Company) a letter saying that the company wanted to hire us as soon as we had completed our exam in April.  The exam papers were sent to be corrected in Britain because there were no other universities in Egypt to carry out this work. My colleague accepted to go to work directly after the exam; but I refused, preferring to wait until the results were out.  My colleague could not take the strong discrimination that existed in the Hurgada work location.  All there was at the time were homes for the workers and not much else.  As a result, my colleague resigned from the job a short period thereafter.

When the results came out in early June 1942, I applied to the Red Sea Phosphate Company as a geologist and mine engineer.  After I met with the guardian of the company Mahfouz Basha, he decided to hire me with a salary that university graduates could not dream of – 20 pounds!  In addition he gave two pounds as an inflation allowance - this since the Second World War was still at its peak.

The road to Kena passed by a kaftand then crossed the dessert as a compressed sand road, and on this road we often experienced frequent sinking in the sand and had to dig ourselves out.  Crossing the 180 kilometers desert took between five and twenty-four hours depending on our good or bad fortune.

The first few months of work were very difficult and we worked under very harsh conditions, but these conditions were common in a desert environment back then.   I constantly thought of leaving this job in the desert, which was most unforgiving.  But with the passage of time, I adapted to the conditions.  There was, in fact, a complete adaptation on my part, and when I returned to Cairo for my one month-long vacation, I could not spend all that time in Cairo.  I asked to return to my home in the desert, after less than twenty days in Cairo.

As the second year of work was ending, boredom reared its head.  Events repeated themselves in a very monotonous way and the days were now passing with difficulty. The only holiday I had was at the beginning of every month during shift change.  Since my colleague, the late Mustafa Ezzat, and I did not have a car, and the mine where we worked was twenty kilometers from Kosseir; we spent most of our day off trying to borrow or rent a car.  Sometimes we found a car, the afternoon of our day off; or we did not find one at all; and the entertainment was basically waiting around and the failed attempts at obtaining a car. 

After two years of repetitious days, I decided to resign from the job.  Nevertheless, this job made me the owner of a small fortune back then - 120 pounds was indeed a small fortune!  This I could use to realize my dreams born when I was a second year university student.  My dream was to create a chemistry manufacturing enterprise.  At that time, and being very naive, I met someone who I felt could carry out the role of businessman and run the financial and marketing arm of the new company.  I had to give him my portion of the working capital and, what I did not know, was that my money was the full working capital. He did not put in his expected fifty percent share in the company.   In reality, I did all the work in the company - from buying to selling to manufacturing.  Since World War II was still ongoing (1944) and there were no imports to Egypt, the Egyptian market was missing a lot of important materials. As part of the new company, I settled with providing for the market need of sodium triphosphate; but I was surprised to find that it was not possible to get the most important raw material; calcium phosphate.  This material was being extracted in the Red Sea area where I used to work and was most plentiful there.

After much research and study, I learned that 80 percent of the composition of animal coal had the raw material that I needed.  After much effort, I found a merchant in the area of Beine El Nadaine who kept quantities of the animal coal that was used in the refinement of sugar.  To this day, I do not know why this man kept this useless material, other than for me to use it at the cheapest possible price.  Some manufacturing difficulties that I was able to overcome, with much patience and research, involved the heating portion of the process and the distillation process.   It was a challenge because the war prohibited the import of equipment needed to carry out these tasks.  Hence, I had to create alternatives, which I did so successfully.

In my view, success was the ability to handle, under extreme pressure, those difficult situations that occurred, as well as the disappearance of my dear and supposed partner.  My feeling of success was linked to being able to surmount the difficulties and deliver what I contracted to do.   As for the financial returns, the monies all went to my partner who was paying the salaries of the two workers, for the rental of the place of business and the cost of most of the raw materials.  The rest of the income went to my partner in return for his amazing ability to disappear when I needed his help the most.

It is this success, in creativity and manufacturing that was sufficient for someone who was from the onset an idealist.  On the other hand, there were many debts and as a result, I wanted to get out of this business. In order to get out of this situation, I applied to the position of lecturer in the Science Faculty of Farouk the First University.   The University of Farouk the First in Alexandria was open two years earlier in 1942, which was the year of my graduation.

In early 1945, I registered for a Master’s degree and started to work in the Kosseir area under the supervision of a Department Head who came from France.  I was joined by the professor who was responsible for the trip and who was very taken by the geology and geography of the area.  After returning from an important field trip, the supervising professor surprised me by stating that the work in my chosen research area was bigger than that of a Master’sthesis and it was possible to change my registration to a doctorate of philosophy in science.    I did not think that the professor was serious - but it turns out that he was; and the rules allowed it.  The professor was able to get a ruling from the Faculty administration to effect the change.

The following year in 1946, the French professor resigned and I continued the research alone; since the professor who replaced him was not specialized in the same domain.   In early 1950, I obtained the degree as a Doctor of philosophy in science and was, as a result, the first to obtain this degree without obtaining a Master’s degree beforehand.  It was the first doctorate degree to be awarded in the history of the Faculty of Sciences in Alexandria. 

In 1954, I along with seven of my colleagues from different sections of the Faculty of Science in Alexandria, were relocated to the Faculty of Science in Ein Shams University; this was done to populate the Ein Shams faculty that was created under the name Ibrahim Pasha University in 1950.  Since then I have been working at the Ein Shams University.  I also began my work outside the university in the discovery and extraction of raw materials, specifically in cement -related raw materials.  In 1955 and 1956, I was mandated through Portland Product Company, the Swiss company that owned the cement company, to extract the necessary raw materials from the Suez area.  My work continued with the search and extraction of raw materials.  

Throughout my career, I have given University teaching the biggest measure of attention and energy, as teaching and my students were always my first passion.  I supervised a large number of master’s and doctoral students and my students returned my affection with great affection.  Many of the old graduates still visited me past their retirement, and we continued to share the same affection and great memories.

Postscript:  Dr. Mourad Ibrahim Youssef passed away in July 2010