Issue no.

50 25 April 2013

LE5,000,000

Published by Al-Masry Media Corp

25 April 2013

2

The EGYPT INDEPENDENT team
Reporter

Abdel-Rahman Hussein
News reporter

News reporter

Mohamad Adam

Ahmed Zaki Osman
News editor

Alexandre Goudineau
Economy reporter

Ali Abdel Mohsen

Life & Society reporter

Amany Aly Shawky

Amira Salah-Ahmed
Deputy editor

Andeel

Cartoonist/designer

Ania Szremski
Copy editor

News reporter

Dalia Rabie

Opinion editor

Dina Hussein

Translator

Dina Zafer

Translator

Ibrahim Hab al-Roman

Essam Abdallah
Illustrator

Ahmed Fahmy
Layout

Hady Aboukamar
Illustrator

Layout

Ahmed Halawa

Layout

Hatem Ismael

News reporter

Heba Afify

Production manager

Jahd Khalil

Jake Meth

Copy editor

Jano Charbel
News reporter

Jenifer Evans

Culture reporter

Copy editor

Justin Shilad

News reporter

Laura Cugusi

News reporter

Leyla Doss

Editor-in-chief

Lina Attalah

Lindsey Parietti
Copy editor

Lindsay Carroll
Copy editor

Louise Sarant

Environment editor

Culture reporter

Maha ElNabawi

Tea

Mahmoud

Translator

Mai Mohsen

News reporter

Mai Shams El-Din

Mai Elwakil

Culture editor

Marcia Lynx Qualey
News reporter

Maggie Hyde

Economy editor

News editor

Max Strasser

News reporter

Mohamed Elmeshad

News reporter

Mohamed Mostafa

News editor

Mostafa Abdelrazek

Nadine Marroushi
Economy reporter

Naira Antoun
Copy editor

Nehal Mustafa
Translator

Life & Society editor

Nevine Elshabrawy

News reporter

Noha El Hennawy

Economy reporter

Noha Moustafa

News reporter

Omar Halawa

Rana Khaled

Environment reporter

Rana Khazbak
News reporter

Salma Salah
Translator

News reporter

Sarah Carr

Opinion editor

Ahmed Shokr

Reporter

Steven Viney

Proofreader

Sunita Rappai

Tamer Wageeh
Opinion editor

Tom Dale

News editor

Virginie Nguyen
Photojournalist

Deputy editor

Yassin Gaber

Economy reporter

Sherif Zaazaa

Portraits by: Andeel, Anwar, Essam Abdallah, Hicham Rahmah, Jenifer Evans, Leyla Doss, Shinnawy

25 April 2013

EDITORIAL

3

The triumph of practice

Lina Attalah

W

hen I signed my contract with Al-Masry AlYoum in April four years ago, I was troubled by the thought of committing full time to a job in journalism. It was a time of political loss; there was no story to tell, and there were no ways of telling anything differently. I expected more failures than successes, but my brave boss at the time — the founding editor of this newspaper — provided ample space for my doubts. She left me traveling between sections, writing about politics, getting bored, then writing about art, then going back to politics, then taking a break and traveling, then coming back and trying to write again. When she left, disillusioned by the organization’s performance and how the newspaper was always treated like an unwanted child of the institution, she entrusted me with continuing it. The newspaper has since become an intellectual laboratory in which we haven’t only grappled with current news, but more importantly, how to talk about the news. How can we navigate through the rigidity of the journalistic form? How can we narrate a story through our multilayered subjectivities? How do we emancipate ourselves from predetermined notions of representation? How do we create affect? How do we engage? How do we afflict? How do we comfort? How do we become active mediators as opposed to silent vehicles of information? We didn’t develop full answers, but kept asking and investing in a practice that constantly activated these questions. At moments we did well. At others we failed. But we knew we wanted to continue, despite repeated threats of closure. One of these threats was not so long ago. In a bold op-ed published in November 2011, former Al-Masry Al-Youm Editor-in-Chief Magdy al-Gallad wrote “drink from the sea,” addressing the Egypt Independent team. In Arabic, the expression can be broadly translated into “put that in your pipe and smoke it,” and it was Gallad’s response to our public campaign against an act of self-censorship he authored, whereby he banned the third issue of our newborn weekly newspaper from distribution because he deemed an article critical about the military institution’s leadership too endangering. When he wrote an Egypt-loving piece bashing Egypt’s haters — such as Egypt Independent’s team — using a seemingly offensive headline, he didn’t know how much that sea he figuratively sent us to was, in fact, an endless ocean of possibilities. Back then, we were still named Al-Masry Al-Youm English Edition. This was the point at which we decided to change our name to Egypt Independent, and stopped printing until we acquired our own license, as we were previously printing as a supplement to the Arabic newspaper. The change was more than nominal, and the conversations surrounding it were important in framing our practice and interrogating the notion of independence in a universe where knowledge production is polarized toward certain centers of power. The story is a landmark in the short life of Egypt Independent, but also in the extended history of journalism in Egypt. It pushed to the surface the plague of self-censorship that has been ingrained in our newsrooms, even those that unfolded in opposition to the notorious and continued state control of the media. It also raised questions of institutional practice in nonstate-controlled media that has reflected, in various instances, a subversion of the dictatorship these media were created to oppose. Not only is this subversion manifested by the unaccounted for decision-making processes of editorsin-chief, but also in the reproduction of the discourse of patriarchy that this president and yesterday’s president have

numbed our senses with. In other words, decisions are often advanced with the excuse of “We are older, we know better.” This discourse was uttered once more in 2013 to declare the inevitability of the end of Egypt Independent’s experience. Abdel Moneim Saeed, the new chairperson of the AlMasry Media Corporation board, said closing Egypt Independent, which he argued had only constituted a financial burden on the institution, was a measure of his capacity as “a surgeon who has to conduct the fine operation of letting go of the child in order for the mother to survive.” It is a fine operation indeed, if only Al-Masry was indeed our mother, and if only its survival was conditional on our closure, and not a much-needed reinvigorating and rigorous review of its institutional practice. But it is also only a fine operation if closure is given its due attention, as much as openings are. In other words, a closure transcends a letter announcing it on hard copy left with the receptionist for the Egypt Independent team. A closure entails the labor dimension of how an institution should deal with layoffs. More importantly, a closure entails the key question of how we deal with the end of four years of content, two of them representing a live archive of revolutionary times marking deep changes in our contemporary history. The archive transcends the legality of copyrights and follows the promise of the Internet as a democratic and open medium. Not only it should stay online, it should be an active site of memory and production, constantly linked and relinked to new content. We do not know as of yet what Al-Masry’s plan is as the legal proprietor of our name and our content, but its intention so far has been to retain everything, in yet another unfortunate instance of the commodification of knowledge and its subjection to the motions of corporate practice. Our closure letter comes after a grace period of two months that Al-Masry’s board had given us to show that we could cut costs, raise revenues and identify potential investors who would take on the operation. In these two months, the editorial team worked day and night to do the job a commercial team should do. In the process, we learned, firsthand, about the precariousness of our news operation depending on the annual paychecks of its businessmen, just like state-run media organizations depend on the paychecks of the government. We also started innovating development models that could contribute to our sustainability. In the process, we started reaching our goals in all three areas, and submitted relevant documentation to the board of Al-Masry, represented by Saeed. But it was ignored, and dismissed in the closure letter as “no serious effort” to salvage the paper. We leave it to the masters to define the word “serious” as we fold, depart and look forward, because some conversations are doomed and others are more important. The past matters, alongside its failures, as a formative experience. But so does the future, on which we are now fixated. We strive to continue and reincarnate in a new configuration, mainly to continue championing the convoluted cause of narrative. We leave you, dear readers, with this edition through which we try to transcend the issue of Egypt Independent and talk about more grand backstories of closures as points of departure rather than ends. We leave you with the hope of coming back soon, stronger and unbeaten, ready to incessantly travel to uncharted territories of storytelling. Please direct any comment or queries to egindependent@gmail.com

4

NEWS

25 April 2013

Beyond ambition

How poor managerial skills destroyed a leading independent voice

Heba Afify

T

here was once a vision for Al-Masry Al-Youm. Publisher Hisham Kassem fought for this vision, prying it from the hands of the paper’s businessminded proprietors. Al-Masry Al-Youm, initially celebrated as Egypt’s first independent newspaper, is now struggling with accusations of editorial bias and a deep financial crisis. Kassem eventually abandoned this project, blaming poor management and an intransigent resistance to the original editorial proposition. These pitfalls are what have landed the paper in its current crises, he argues.

A collapsed editorial proposition When a group of heavyweights decided they wanted to invest in a newspaper, Kassem saw it as “the opportunity of a generation.” Here was a chance to fill the gap in Egypt’s newspaper market. “At the time, journalism in Egypt was polarized between the binary of Al-Ahram and Al-Wafd, either with or against the government. There was a gap, a vacant space for news,” says Kassem. He reiterates the vision he proposed to investors when they approached him in 2003 about starting a newspaper. “My vision was that we get in and do news — be a paper of record,” he recalls. Kassem initially refused the task. He foresaw the inevitable failure due to an ambiguous editorial line and the adoption of the same tabloid approach prevalent at the time. After the pilot issue was labeled “a moral and financial catastrophe,” Kassem says founder Salah Diab approached him again, giving him free rein to adopt his “weird ideas.” All Kassem wanted was a paper that did not mix news with opinions, focused on accuracy, and supportive of human and civil rights and freedoms, he says. He calls this quest “an uphill battle.” The owners consistently challenged Kassem’s stringent policy against the intervention of the owners in the paper’s content. Kassem recalls once rejecting a request by investor Naguib Sawiris to publish a piece insulting Mostafa Bakry, who had insulted Sawiris in his paper “Al-Osbou.” He also recalls refusing a request by Diab to run an article praising a friend’s electoral campaign. The owners also attempted to force their own poorly studied propositions on the paper, insisting their business expertise could generate valuable ideas, he says. A power struggle began to unfold from day one between Kassem and the paper’s editor-in-chief at the time, Anwar al-Hawary, who attempted to interfere in advertisements and failed at times to implement Kassem’s vision for the paper. “[Hawary] started going straight to Salah [Diab], and Salah, realizing that I wasn’t responding to his editorial requests, welcomed this open line of communication with the editor-in-chief,” Kassem says. Kassem often found the board discussing businessrelated aspects with the editorial team. He rejected this, arguing they had overstepped their jurisdiction. After one fallout six months into the start of publishing, Kassem dismissed Hawary from his position and replaced him with Magdy al-Gallad. Eventually, Kassem decided to leave the paper in 2006, aware that it was contributing to a dangerous trend in Egypt — an oligarchy of businessmen had seized control of the media and public opinion. “I thought, I took the paper to a point where it was a success story, but how long was I going to be able to sustain its editorial independence for? I doubted it,” he says. Kassem says the paper now owes its survival to the lack of a better alternative, rather than its own quality content. Still, “if the business side isn’t fixed, the paper will be a continuous hemorrhage for the owners,” he says.

The Egypt Independent team following “Ya Mosahel,” a concert organized by the staff at Darb 1718.

I don’t believe in this view: that in order to produce a good paper, it has to be bankrupt. No, I believe in the saying that there is no press freedom without a business plan
A business failure Even though the paper broke even in an impressive 20 months, Kassem says a series of poor decisions failed to capitalize on this success and dragged it into a financial crisis. The investors approached the paper mainly as a prestige project, aiming only to have it finance itself and not to turn into a profitable investment. “I don’t believe in this view: that in order to produce a good paper, it has to be bankrupt. No, I believe in the saying that there is no press freedom without a business plan,” he says. Subsequently, he says the investors adopted a policy in which a steady stream of revenue was prioritized over the continued growth of the paper. Since its inception in 2004, the revenues of the paper increased steadily until investors in 2007 decided to contract an advertising company in the hope of guaranteeing regular returns. This, Kassem argues, put a ceiling on the paper’s growth. Kassem also says the distribution and printing arrangements were costly and not well thought through. “A lot of mistakes were made, expenses rose without justification, decisions weren’t made rationally,” Kassem says. When the circulation of the paper exceeded that of state-owned Al-Ahram in 2011, Kassem says the paper failed to capitalize on this success. Crisis hits Following institutional losses in 2012, Al-Masry AlYoum decided to shut down its recently established weekly magazine, Al-Siyassy, and the English-language Egypt Independent. Sherif Wadood, former CEO of Al-Masry Al-Youm and current board member, says that in 2006, owners believed an English translation portal would be a costeffective way to maximize on the already existing news production and benefit from the perks that an English edition brings. “Our motive was to increase our reach and our brand value, which is the most valuable asset for AlMasry Al-Youm,” he says. When the English edition’s first editor-in-chief, Fatemah Farag, was hired, she immediately understood that a mere translation site was too limited and could not offer a high-quality English-language service. “The translated content was not addressing the needs of the English reader, who required more background and analysis,” recalls Wadood. This is when the newspaper decided to invest in original English content and in-house translation.“It was the normal development of the project,” he says. Wadood says the English edition was first conceived as a profitable endeavor. With no high-quality daily English-language newspapers in Egypt, he says, the market was wide open. But a combination of poor management and circumstances kept the paper from reaching its fiscal potential. The first glitch happened, Wadood says, when it became clear that the bulk of the advertising share would always be allocated to the Arabic edition of the paper, to the detriment of Egypt Independent. The year 2011 witnessed a defining schism between the two editorial teams. Following an editorial fallout between the English edition and its Arabic stepsister, Egypt Independent acquired a separate printing license and chose its new name. Even though Wadood says the owners admired the English edition for its quality, it was eventually sacrificed when the financial crisis hit. “On countless occasions, Salah Diab admitted that the content of Egypt Independent was superior to the Arabic paper,” Wadood says. “He would bring the English weekly paper to meetings and gloat.” Wadood blames the decision on economic struggles. “Although genuine praise came from everyone, the gloomy economic situation the Arabic paper was in caused them to worry about the financial well-being of the original publication,” he says. In spite of this, Wadood is adamant that one more closure will by no means solve Al-Masry Al-Youm’s current crisis.

25 April 2013

NEWS

5

The politics of local English media
Dina K. Hussein and Dalia Rabie

More than a language

The preservation of English-language media outlets in Egypt today is crucial, especially at a time when the current administration and ruling party are hiding the truth from the world about their commitment to the revolution and its democratic aspirations

I

t’s Always the Fixer Who Dies” is the title of a seminal article by George Packer that appeared in The New Yorker in 2009 to mourn the death of Sultan Munadi, a local fixer who lost his life in a commando raid in Afghanistan. The raid that ended Munadi’s life was instigated to free a foreign journalist who had been kidnapped by the Taliban. The foreign correspondent was freed, the fixer died and the operation was deemed a success. This tragedy and Packer’s dramatic title are fitting curtain raisers to the struggle of local English-language media in Egypt. For decades, local journalists who had the necessary language skills helped foreign correspondents working for Western news organizations to tell Egypt’s story to the world. Yet, as Packer remarks, this fixer-foreign correspondent relationship has always been tense, punctuated by a power imbalance. This imbalance in the journalistic establishment pays homage to the classical inequalities of power that dictate who gets to produce knowledge. A plain analysis of this condition speaks of a Western journalistic establishment that possesses the power and money to send its correspondents to gaze at the troubled Middle East and provide the world with the knowledge base of this part of the world through narrating the story of the locals. Local English-language media have played a vital role in partially mending this power imbalance by allowing Egyptian journalists to tell Egypt’s story to the world, not as fixers who might or might not get their due credit, but as primary storytellers. These outlets have provided local journalists with an opportunity to tell their country’s narrative in their own voice. Additionally, these media outlets have created a unique space for local and foreign journalists, editors and translators to interact and work together to report critically and with integrity, breaking away from the rigidity of foreign-local dichotomies and the associated power imbalance. In the process, these outlets became a go-to source for international media organizations interested in covering Egypt, mediating complex realities about the country to the world. Prominent publisher Hisham Kassem, who launched the now-defunct independent English-language magazine Cairo Times, considers local independent Englishlanguage news outlets a better resource for readers who seek to understand Egypt than the New York Times, for instance. “Local journalists know the country inside and out. They have more credit,” he says. Similarly, Rasha Sadek, reporter at Al-Ahram Weekly, believes local English media have an edge because these

outlets are “locally made.” It requires, she says, “a certain degree of understanding of the mechanisms and dynamics of Egyptian society and culture to be able to accurately report on certain events. “Without this, foreign reports can often be misleading,” she adds. For David Kenner, associate editor at Foreign Policy, it is also an issue of trust. He explains that the problems faced by foreign and local media are different, adding that foreign reporters often face the problem of access. “It can be difficult to reach certain groups or parts of the country that an Egyptian journalist might be able to contact easily,” he says. He explains that it also comes down to knowledge. “A foreign journalist’s stint in Egypt is limited, and they won’t have the social and professional network that a local journalist would, by virtue of having spent his or her life in the country,” Kenner says. Local English-language media outlets also produced a journalism that informs media practice in Egypt in the way stories are covered and issues are represented. Kassem relays it to its higher professional level than Arabic media. Rania al-Malky, former editor-in-chief of Daily News Egypt, also sees this discrepancy, pinpointing a difference in the newsroom culture. “Arabic press has become more partisan, as opposed to its English counterpart, which is more professional in covering stories,” she says. But, these merits aside, local English-language outlets have faced numerous challenges over the years. While many of these challenges are financial in nature and pertain to the viability of their business models, there have also been critical political restrictions. Even though English-language publications have enjoyed a higher ceiling of freedom compared to Arabic media outlets, they have often been intimidated by censors. Cairo Times, which was the leading English-language paper in the late 1990s and early 2000s, was a pioneer in criticizing Hosni Mubarak’s regime, and often grappled with the censors. “It came to a point where I was verbally banned to print in Egypt,” Kassem says. He would fly to Cyprus and return with the copies as cargo. “We would print and they would confiscate,” he says. This tug of war continued until the powers-that-be shifted their attention to advertisers, and, Kassem says, starting threatening them. This took a toll on revenue, and, after seven years of printing, Cairo Times announced its bankruptcy. This state of intimidation of media outlets is not a distant memory, since the state’s stifling of freedom of ex-

pression has not subsided with the revolution. The struggle of local English-speaking media has intensified under the current administration for both political and economic reasons. The recent dismissal of Hani Shukrallah, former editor-in chief of state-owned Ahram Online and a journalist known for his integrity and progressive views, is telling of the current administration’s heavy-handed policing of local English-media outlets. “The deed is done: the Muslim Brotherhood has now fulfilled its resolve to drive me out of Ahram,” Shukrallah posted on his Facebook page, explaining that he hung on after decisions to cut his salary in half, force him into early retirement and cut the remaining half of his salary by two-thirds. For many, this incident is telling of a quest to control the image that English-language media outlets produce about Egypt abroad at a time when the Brotherhood administration, like its predecessors, is trying to preserve its relationships with strategic foreign allies. While seemingly different, the cases of Cairo Times and Ahram Online meet at several intersections. These lie in the fact that those on the forefront of successful English-language media in Egypt are often independent voices, regardless of their institutional affiliations, and that the precarious ecology of freedom of expression that preceded the revolution is persisting in our post-uprising times. And, most importantly, the two cases manifest an alarming lack of political commitment from media entrepreneurs toward the significance of this kind of journalism. In a note of support to Egypt Independent, professor Nathan Brown wrote that “the vibrancy of the political debate in Egypt has become accessible through Egypt Independent. “Egypt no longer speaks in a single political voice, and Egypt Independent has become the leading medium for English speakers to hear and make sense of the new cacophony,” he said. Similarly, scholar Yasmine Moataz wrote, “Egypt Independent has played an essential role in shaping, developing and nurturing debates about Egypt’s rapid political transformations.” The preservation of English-language media outlets in Egypt today is crucial, especially at a time when the current administration and ruling party are hiding the truth from the world about their commitment to the revolution and its democratic aspirations. In this environment, local English-language media play a central role in representing and narrating the truth at a time when the road to freedom is plagued by historical amnesia and the manipulation of history by those in power. An earlier version of this piece was published in Jadaliyya.

Archival

6

NEWS

25 April 2013

A third way

Stuck between the state and the corporate sector
mid a troubled political climate and an unsettled transition process, Egyptian media are struggling to endure the state’s tight grip over media freedoms and the abusive working conditions imposed by proprietors of private media. For decades, media ownership was completely controlled by the state, as print, broadcast and radio outlets functioned as its mouthpiece, spoon-feeding the public its propaganda schemes. In the mid-2000s, a new class of business owners formed what was then described as more “independent” media outlets. A wave of private channels and newspapers were opened to challenge the regime’s tight grip on media freedoms. But hopes for a truly independent media are being threatened, as private media owners continue to either intervene in the editorial policies set by journalists or abuse the rights of journalists working there. The problems at Al-Badeel and Al-Tahrir newspapers are just minor examples. Last October, a group of editors and journalists at Al-Badeel newspaper were laid off due to what was described by former Editorin-Chief Khaled al-Balshy as an editorial intervention by the owners. “Al-Badeel was a different, bright experience by all measures. Regrettably, however, it was stifled for several reasons,” said Ahmed Ramadan, one of the senior editors. Ramadan recalled that when Balshy tried to reopen the paper in 2010, he began with the website, soliciting the help of former editors and reporters. All made financial contributions to revive the website but the money was not enough. Then, in March 2011 — two months after the 25 January revolution — several interested investors emerged. “More than one group approached us to fund the project, but several of them were capitalists or part of the [Hosni] Mubarak regime. We weren’t enthusiastic about working with them, since this would go against our paper’s leftist principles,” he said. Later, he said, a group of Nasserist-leaning businessmen came forward and promised to start reprinting the paper while bearing all the costs of running the website, as well as paying the editorial team’s salaries. They also promised to invest LE25 million in the first year, but these promises never came to fruition. Shortly afterward, however, conflict emerged between the staff and the management when the new owners attempted to interfere in the editorial policy, said Balshy. “The paper’s stance toward the Syrian revolution was not very much liked by the Nasserist owners. Their intervention led me to present my resignation four times, but my resignations were always rejected,” Balshy, who was later elected as a member of the Journalists Syndicate’s board, told Egypt Independent at the time. “They believe that what’s happening in Syria is a Western conspiracy against the regime, while I believe it is a conspiracy by the repressive regime against its own people.” In this polarized context, the owners decided to invest just LE720,000, and canceled plans to start printing again. They reneged on promises to hire many of the journalists who worked on temporary contracts, Balshy said. “We felt like we were in big danger after the arbitrary measures taken by the owners. But the biggest surprise was when they sold the website to an Egyptian-Saudi investor named Mohamed al-Sabban, who is known to belong to the Muslim Brotherhood,” Ramadan said. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back, he added. “Some of us decided to leave, but unfortunately, the majority decided to stay for financial reasons.” Meanwhile, journalists at Al-Tahrir newspaper who were hired on temporary contracts went on strike last month, demanding their contracts be changed to per-

Mai Shams El-Din and Omar Halawa

A

The current rifts between journalists and a regime that is highly critical of the media on the one hand, and between journalists and corporate owners on the other, have led independent journalists to seek a third way
manent ones so they could become syndicate members. The newspaper’s outspoken editor-in-chief, Ibrahim Eissa, rejected their appointments, claiming their editors had submitted reports to him stating that the journalists were not yet eligible. But some of the editors, who are syndicate members, supported their striking colleagues. Their efforts were, however, dealt with harshly, as the administration dismissed the striking journalists and the editors who supported them. Eissa briefly resigned. The current rift between journalists and a regime that is highly critical of the media on the one hand, and between journalists and corporate owners on the other, have led many independent journalists to seek a third way. In 2011, a group of rights activists and media experts proposed to find a third route to ensure a total separation from the dual control of the state and the corporate bosses over media, but thus far efforts have faced serpentine legal constraints. These activists planned to establish an independent channel called “The People Want” through the formation of a cooperative with an initial public offering, but legal constraints dogged the ambitious project. Lawyer Reda Eissa, who was part of the initiative, said Egyptian laws prevent cooperatives from establishing media projects. “Unfortunately, there is no unified law to organize cooperatives at large. We have a law for agricultural cooperatives, another for industrial ones, another one for consumption goods cooperatives; but we cannot establish a cooperative for a media product, and we cannot establish a cooperative for a bank, for example,” Eissa said. “The Egyptian citizen who wants to establish a cooperative does not enjoy the same privileges given to his or her counterpart in a company.” The initial public offering can only be established for a company, not for a cooperative, which makes the enterprise subject to a complete takeover from any investor in the stock market. “This threatens the whole idea of having no certain media owner to control the project,” he added. Those who worked on the initiative also suggested establishing the channel by licensing an NGO concerned with media freedoms. One of the NGO’s activities would be to launch a channel. Gamal Eid, executive director of the Arab Network of Human Rights Information and one of the initiative’s founders, told Egypt Independent that even this option is invalid within the current legal infrastructure. According to the current NGOs law, the state can suspend the activity of any NGO, which makes such a project subject to closure by the state anytime. “Once the channel presents content that the state would not like, it is going to be shut down by a judicial employee. It’s very risky,” Eid said.

Archival

25 April 2013

NEWS

7

Jano Charbel

Job security, financial problems and dangers in the field plague journalists

The burdensome profession

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ournalism is becoming an increasingly dangerous and precarious profession in Egypt. Thousands of journalists risk life and limb on the streets while covering volatile events — often to find that their job security is also being threatened in the process. In numerous cases, journalists are “rewarded” for their efforts by being dismissed from their jobs. Al-Masry Media Corporation is the most recent employer to “reward” its journalists and employees with mass layoffs. Concerned with profitability, the company recently dismissed a number of its employees, with its closure of AlSiyassy magazine in February and Egypt Independent this month. While Egypt Independent is the most recent victim of closures and layoffs, a host of other newspapers and magazines — particularly independent and opposition publications — have also been shut down in recent years. Several of the remaining newspapers have raised the prices of their publications while cutting their budgets, and laying off employees en masse. Al-Siyassy and Egypt Independent follow in the footsteps of Al-Badeel newspaper (the original), Al-Dostour newspaper (the original), Daily News Egypt, among many others, which have all been forced to shut down in recent years. Khaled al-Balshy, Journalists Syndicate secretary and former editor of Al-Badeel newspaper, says that 13 papers have been closed down over the past few years. “These closures have left some 350 journalists unemployed,” Balshy says. Balshy adds that a total of 650 to 700 journalists, if not more, have been dismissed prior to and since the 25 January revolution two years ago. “More closures are expected in the near future and more job losses are expected as a result,” Balshy says.

Journalists face apparent dangers in the field only to return to offices where their careers face their own kind of risks.

Burdensome profession In Egypt and the Arab world, journalism is known as “mehnet al-mataeb” — the burdensome profession. Faced with physical danger, the threat of arrests, growing financial crises, the mismanagement of news outlets, and rising unemployment, along with a host of other problems, Egypt’s journalists increasingly find themselves paying the price for these burdens with their own welfare and jobs. Prior to and since the revolution’s onset, journalists are continuing to risk their lives and physical safety while covering violent protests, clashes and uprisings. Police shotguns have claimed the eyes of several journalists, while independent journalist Al-Husseini Abu Deif was shot dead outside the presidential palace in December, and journalist Mohamed Sabry faces a military tribunal for his work in Sinai. Countless others have been beaten and arrested by security forces, assaulted by supporters of the ruling regime (outside Muslim Brotherhood offices and the presidential palace), and even been attacked by the Coptic Orthodox Church’s boy scouts. “Neither employers nor the Journalists Syndicate provide sufficient safety nets for journalists,” says Mohamed Radwan, a freelancer who used to work for Al-Dostour newspaper. Radwan is one of nearly 100 journalists who have lost their jobs at this paper. Egyptian journalists The average salaries of full-time journalists in daily newspapers range from LE400 to LE2,000 per month. For internships and training, beginner journalists are typically not paid at all. Moreover, the widespread practice of employing fulltime journalists on part-time contracts serves to deny these employees their right to bonuses, promotions, insurance coverage, profit sharing (when applicable), job stability and the right to join the Journalists Syndicate. “I’d been employed for five years at Al-Dostour, yet was not even offered a part-time contract,” Radwan says. “I was thus denied my periodic bonuses, insurance plan and end-of-service payment, along with all of my other rights.” Only a minority of journalists are accepted into the

Journalists Syndicate, Radwan adds. “The syndicate neither serves the interests nor protects the rights of the majority of Egypt’s journalists,” he says. “The syndicate doesn’t care about our grievances, difficulties and daily suffering.” Balshy says the syndicate has a membership of about 9,000 journalists nationwide, of which some 7,000 are still practicing the profession. Another 6,000 or more journalists are not syndicate members. The syndicate’s bylaws are the problem, he argues. “We must change syndicate bylaws,” he says. “It is becoming increasingly difficult for journalists to apply for membership.” He asserts that the syndicate is supposed to protect all journalists, especially beginners and those who are denied full-time contracts. “It should be a syndicate for all those who practice the profession,” he says. Balshy concedes that, given present economic hardships, it may be more difficult for journalists to acquire full-time contracts. “Nevertheless, the syndicate should strive to protect disadvantaged journalists, not merely those lucky enough to have full-time contracts,” he argues. But administrative shortcomings, financial mismanagement and other social, economic and political factors continue to hinder the provision of full-time contracts for full-time work, Balshy says, and may lead to additional closures of news outlets in near future. With regard to the closure of Egypt Independent, the secretary states, “I generally attribute the closure to the lack of English-speaking readers in Egypt, low subscriptions, high expenses and mismanagement on the part of Al-Masry Al-Youm.” Foreign journalists While the average salaries of foreign journalists and Egyptians employed in foreign-language media outlets is nearly double that of local journalists, non-Egyptian journalists face numerous difficulties. Foreign media personnel are not allowed membership in the Journalists Syndicate. Non-Egyptian journalists are can only register themselves at the state-controlled Foreign Press Association (FPA). The FPA provides these non-Egyptians with work permits and journalist IDs, which are subject to selective renewals. Foreign journalists who have fallen out of favor with the FPA have been slapped with travel bans, criminal investigations and, in many cases, are denied re-entry into Egypt. Foreign journalists also face a rising tide of xenophobia. Earlier this month, Dutch journalist Rena Netjes was arrested and handed over to police, who accused her of “espionage” and “disseminating Western culture.” She

was released, but later charged with not having a valid work permit. Wael Tawfiq, founding member of the Independent Egyptian Journalists’ Syndicate, says the group accepts foreigners in the syndicate, but only as affiliates. “They do not have the right to vote in syndicate elections or to nominate themselves. On the other hand, the official [Journalists] Syndicate does not accept foreigners under any condition,” Tawfiq says. Tawfiq says his independent syndicate claims a membership of some 600 people, nearly all of whom are Egyptian. “We don’t demand fulltime contracts as a prerequisite for membership, only an archive of published materials in a news outlet based in Egypt,” he says. In what he calls an “absence of safeguards” from employers and the official syndicate, the independent syndicate stands “for the defense of journalists’ rights through all stages of their work,” and attempts to protect members from punitive measures. However, his syndicate does not have an emergency fund, nor does it provide unemployment assistance. The official Journalists Syndicate has filed lawsuits against both the Independent Journalists Syndicate and the Egyptian Online Journalists Syndicate, both of which were established in 2011. The official syndicate claims it is the sole association legally entrusted with representing and organizing Egyptian journalists. Bleak outlook Radwan says Egypt’s press freedoms and right to free expression are being “eroded” by the Muslim Brotherhood. “Plus, we are expecting more economic problems within the media industry and in the general economy as a whole,” he says. Radwan expects higher unemployment rates for journalists and media employees, along with fewer independent and opposition news outlets. Tawfiq also expects more media outlets to close, due to both the Brotherhood’s attempts at “gagging” the media and the faltering economic conditions throughout the country. “We’ve seen how Morsy’s supporters have besieged the [private] Media Production City. We’ve witnessed an unprecedented number of lawsuits against critical journalists, the appointments of regime loyalists to the top stateowned publications and channels, and the court-ordered closures of several satellite TV channels,” says Tawfiq. He says he expects fewer job opportunities, lower salaries for full-time journalists and decreased rates for freelancers in the future. Additional English-language publications and websites are expected to soon close due to financial difficulties. These closures will leave the state with a near monopoly on foreign-language news publications.

Tareq Wageeh

8

NEWS

25 April 2013

One year, two closures
n 19 April 2012, the management of the English-language newspaper Daily News Egypt (DNE) decided to abruptly liquidate the company. The journalists and editors were told that the issue of 21 April would be their last. They were forced out of their jobs, without any severance or compensation. In the following months, a handful of the staff joined the team at Egypt Independent (EI). Exactly one year later, as Egypt Independent puts together its last issue, three of the former Daily News Egypt staff members find themselves struck with a surreal sense of deja vu. Amira Salah-Ahmed: So girls, happy anniversary! It was exactly one year ago today that DNE closed and now look what’s happening? Mai Shams El-Din: I feel somewhat indifferent — I’m even making fun of it. Is that natural or is it bad of me? Dalia Rabie: No, it’s normal. Salah-Ahmed: I think it’s just another way of dealing with it. It’s very weird that this is happening on almost the same exact day. History is supposed to repeat itself but not this soon, right? It feels like someone is playing a joke on us. El-Din: It’s the irony, Amira. I remember when I was first hired by EI eight months ago, I thought I was being hired by a well-established, secure and stable institution. Silly me. I guess this has something to do with our superpowers. Salah-Ahmed: I thought the same thing when I started at EI in October — that being part of a larger institution had some kind of security. I was surprised to see from early on that, despite being such a large organization, it suffers from the same commercial problems we had at DNE. El-Din: I have been saying this since I joined — investors consider us a source of prestige, not a potential power and revenue generator. Rabie: I didn’t see this coming either. I remember when Lina called for the general meeting, I made a joke about how ironic it would be if this paper was closing down too. El-Din: Oops, Dalia. It’s our superpowers. Salah-Ahmed: It’s bad enough to have to live through something like this once in your life. It’s just unimaginable that we have to live through it twice in 12 months. Rabie: Worst deja vu ever. El-Din: I just cannot believe we will have to see the same “we are sorry for EI, what a loss for Englishspeaking journalism in Egypt” on social media all over again. Salah-Ahmed: It really shows that the people who took it upon themselves to launch English-language media outlets have little knowledge of what’s required to keep these projects sustainable. All of them have been based on the same business models, which are proving to be old and stale and doomed to failure. You’d think that with some very prominent businessmen behind these media ventures, they’d be able to adapt to changing economic times and business needs — be able to innovate and restructure. We

Investors consider us a source of prestige, not a potential power and revenue generator

O

Amira Salah-Ahmed, Mai Shams El-Din & Dalia Rabie
cerned about the future of independent journalism in Egypt. Salah-Ahmed: So, where to next, ladies? Which media powerhouse do we want to take down now? Should we go work for the [Freedom and Justice Party] newspaper? Rabie: On to Maspero! Salah-Ahmed: Oh, much better. Maspero, expect us! El-Din: Yes! Maspero, and then off to the FJP newspaper. Salah-Ahmed: Remember last year when we were unemployed for a few months? That was fun, right? We can, you know, take “time for ourselves” and stuff. Rabie: Yes, I really need to find myself. I also really need to find some money. El-Din: I feel like this is really not the right time to have time for ourselves. It’s a very critical time indeed! Salah-Ahmed: Well, Mai. You don’t have a choice, OK? You must focus on yourself and ponder life issues, like why are we here and the meaning of the universe. Things like that. Dalia, what do you think is the meaning of life? We can chat about this over brunch in Caspers now since we’ll have free time. Rabie: That’s a good time to ponder, actually, because I really feel like life is trying to tell me something. Switch careers? Start a band? Salah-Ahmed: Life is like, stop being a journalist! Yes! A band. We can call it “Jobless Journos.” It’ll be a hit since so many people in Cairo will relate. Rabie: We can sing the news! Salah-Ahmed: I want to play the tambourine! And we can hire other former journalists to create an interpretive dance of the news, like in the background. El-Din: Amazing career choice — singing the news instead of writing it. Good suggestion, Dalia. Rabie: Sixteen people were injured today in clashes in Tahrir Square. ... Paparara pa pa parara. Salah-Ahmed: Morsy visits Qatar to ask for more money, shobi do bi do da daa. El-Din: Hell yes, that’s hilarious. Salah-Ahmed: That’s definitely one thing I learned this time around — the only thing you can really do at times like these is laugh. I think the EI management is freaked out that we’re not moping around. We’re staying energetic and positive, and laughing about it as much as we can. Last month, we threw a party. I think they think we’re crazy. El-Din: We will remain crazy and hopeful. Rabie: The joke’s on them, we’re starting a band! Salah-Ahmed: Jobless Journos, coming Summer 2013.

never got enough attention from the commercial sides, not at DNE or EI. Rabie: That’s exactly the problem, they’re businessmen. For them to keep a business alive, it has to be profitable. They’re completely oblivious to any other aspects or potential. El-Din: Again, the problem is that they do not look at us as a potential source of revenue — they think of us as more prestige for them. That is the ugly truth. Rabie: It’s sad how the editorial side always ends up bearing the brunt and paying for the mistakes repeatedly committed by the commercial side. Salah-Ahmed: The interesting thing is that this time around, we actually got a chance and time to try and save the paper. And we did amazingly well. We proved that we can sell the product to people because we know what we’re selling and to whom. Unlike the commercial side, which knows nothing about the content we produce or the audience we’re targeting. I really thought that after we miraculously managed to boost our subscription numbers and copy sales in just two months, the management would finally see what they’ve been doing wrong, and know that this has real potential that’s been unrealized for years. But it seems like the decision to close has nothing to do with the numbers. El-Din: Yes. This time, it’s obviously political. I have no other explanation. Rabie: I would say it is also very much financial. Salah-Ahmed: It’s financial, but there’s something behind the lack of will and interest in figuring out a solution to the financial troubles. El-Din: I also believe it’s political. The lack of this will you are talking about, Amira, is politicized in a way. Rabie: It’s almost as if they don’t take Englishlanguage media seriously. I mean, God forbid they would invest in actual professionals who don’t rely on sensationalism. El-Din: But tell me, are you feeling the same level of sadness you felt when DNE closed or are you more immune now? Salah-Ahmed: There’s definitely an advantage to life throwing you a curve ball that smacks you straight in the face — twice. I’m not as shocked and emotionally traumatized, maybe because I haven’t been here as long. But I’m actually more angry and frustrated than I was last year. With DNE, it was a very emotional journey, now I feel like, hell no! This can’t be happening again. I’m angry that there won’t be that voice of independent journalism, with the kind of content we produce that’s very different from Arabic media. And that’s especially true because of the timing — this year, after Morsy’s election and the Brotherhood monopolizing the scene, our voices are even more vital and crucial. Rabie: It is a very crucial time. There’s so much news coming out of Egypt it’s ironic to see news outlets closing down rather than actually thriving. El-Din: That’s sad. I confess that this time I’m not emotionally affected as much, but I’m really con-

25 April 2013

NEWS

9

By Dalia Rabie and Mohamad Adam

How one Egyptian family struggles to make ends meet amid harsh conditions

The art of survival

M

ohamed Abdel Barr starts his day at 4 am, when he wakes up for the dawn prayer. He tends to his farm, feeds his cattle and then heads to school, where he works as a janitor. He returns home at about 2 pm to have lunch with his family, after which he continues work on his farm with his son Islam until sunset. Abdel Barr’s modest one-story house is a five-minute drive off the main highway of his village Wardan, nestled in green landscape, where he lives with his wife and three sons. With the deteriorating economic situation and constant increase in prices, Abdel Barr’s family makes do with their own resources, depending on the cattle and crops growing in their farm to cover the needs his paycheck can’t. Wardan is located 50 kilometers from Cairo, and, in its serenity, is in stark contrast with the city. The village, tucked on the border between Cairo and Monufiya, is also far removed from the capital’s turbulent political climate, leaving its residents mainly focusing on their day-to-day well-being. This alone proves to be a struggle as the village faces a scarcity in government and health services, as well as household utilities. Abdel Barr’s family plans the finances of each month in advance, he explains, with both he and his wife calculating how much is needed to feed the family. With a meager salary that is barely keeping up with price hikes, Abdel Barr and his family rely on their cattle and crops for most of their supplies. The most common crops the family grows include corn, trefoil, beans and wheat. Abdel Barr’s wife, Om Ayman, explains that sometimes the family will grow a new crop at the expense of another, depending on their needs during that particular time. They also rely on their cattle for milk, from which they make their own dairy products, such as cheese and ghee. This leaves very few products that Om Ayman needs to buy at the market. She also shows off the bread she bakes in their homemade oven, which saves them the use of gas.

If their budget runs out on a particular month, the family may resort to selling some of their produce in the market. On an average month, Abdel Barr spends about LE100 on subsidized food, LE200 on meat, and another LE100 on other food items, leaving an extra LE100– 200 for emergencies “in case something happens to one of my children.” “I get paid on the 26th every month and God helps us get by,” he says. With both Abdel Barr and his wife suffering from diabetes, their medication is provided through the health insurance on a monthly basis. He explains that every month, a Muslim Brotherhood medical convoy offers help for the underprivileged. While Abdel Barr has been paying for the medication for the past five years, he says he relied on the convoy last month who offered him medication prescribed to him and his wife. The family says the increasing cost of living really started to take its toll on them after the revolution, and especially over the past two or three months. Egypt’s economic malaise is adding the biggest burden on the already struggling poorer segments of society. Planned economic reforms, including tax rises and subsidy cuts, are looming threats of further difficulty in making ends meet. Many experts expect these decisions to hit the poorest the hardest. In a frenzied scramble to cut a hefty subsidy bill, Egypt unceremoniously raised the price of cooking gas earlier this month, for the first time in two decades. The price of cooking gas cylinders sold for domestic use was raised by 60 percent to LE8, and doubled to LE16 for commercial use from the current price of LE8. Abdel Barr cites butane gas cylinders, which he buys for LE9 after they were sold for LE5. He explains that to be able to afford it, he has to do without some “luxury items, such as cigarettes or certain types of fruit.” According to official statistics, the poverty rate in Egypt has increased, reaching an average of 25.5 percent for the year 2010/11. More than half of the rural areas’ population lives below the poverty line. According to the Central Agency for Public Mobiliza-

tion and Statistics, “extreme” poverty had decreased to 4.8 percent of the population in 2010–2011. The poverty line in Egypt was at LE256 per person per month, or LE8.50 per day, while the “extreme” poverty line is calculated at LE171.50 per person per month, or LE5.70 per day. For Abdel Barr’s family to survive, each member of the family contributes to daily chores. Om Ayman wakes up with her husband and spends her day tending to the farm and house. She goes to the market at 7 am on Thursdays and Saturdays, to either buy or sell produce. Their son Islam, who is still in school, manages to study and play football with his friends while still making time to help his parents around the farm, as well as making a little extra money by working as a cook catering to weddings in the village. “Out of all my sons, he is the one I depend on the most,” boasts Abdel Barr. With his other son, Ayman, enlisted in the military, Abdel Barr says some of his expenses have been alleviated since he manages to earn a salary working there as a cook. When it comes to months such as Ramadan, when spending may increase, Om Ayman says the family stocks up on supplies two months in advance. “We are aware of our financial situation and we spend accordingly,” she says. Abdel Barr and his wife say their daily routine has swallowed any leisure time or activity. With barely any time to spend away from the farm, Abdel Barr and his wife’s only outings involve going to weddings. They do maintain a family tradition, however, of having their two married daughters spend a day with them every week. Abdel Barr says he is intent on “raising my children right so they don’t engage in any problems.” He laments the current turbulent political situation in Egypt, saying that while his village might be away from any violence, such scenes still affect him negatively. He pins no hope on Egypt’s current politicians to improve the economic situation. “The full don’t sympathize with the hungry,” he says.

Dalia Rabie

10 ECONOMY

25 April 2013

Jobless and counting
hether the economy is growing or slowing, unemployment has been one of Egypt’s most persistent ailments for decades. Compounding this is the vague relationship between workers and employers that puts little responsibility on the latter while placing the former in a highly vulnerable position due to poor labor laws. In today’s beleaguered economy, crushed by a convergence of declining revenues, a ballooning deficit, a devaluating currency and stymied capital inflows, unemployment has risen, exposing with it an array of deficiencies that plague the labor market. Over the past two years, the battered economy has seen growth rates drop, a shortage in basic food and fuel supplies, and a funding crisis that’s led the government to turn to local banks to finance its deficit. In the process, the government has crowded the private sector out of the debt market, choking expansion and investment plans as well as limiting access to finance by troubled companies. In turn, some have closed while others have downsized. According to the Global Competitiveness Report 2012/13 recently released by the World Economic Forum, concerning the labor market efficiency index, Egypt ranked 128 out of 144 countries with regard to cooperation between labor and employer. The relationship was defined as confrontational. Salah Gouda, economic expert and head of the Economics Studies Center, attributes this confrontational relationship to the absence of a clear-cut and binding framework creating a healthy relationship for both sides. “There is no clear set of rights or responsibilities for the employer/employee. The current labor law does not protect employees from employers’ abuse, nor does it defend business owners from workers’ protests,” Gouda explains. The labor and social insurance laws date back to the socialist era, and have not changed much since Egypt embraced more open market policies. In the flexibility of wage determination, Egypt ranked very high — 55 out of 144. Though this may be viewed as positive, it, in fact, is not, as wage determination is basically left to individual companies regardless of competencies or any sense of social justice. Gouda says implementing a minimum and maximum wage is a must to address such flagrant market deficiencies. For hiring and firing, the country ranked 116 out of 144, meaning this is arbitrary to employers rather than enforced by regulations. “In the private sector, employers can easily hire workers with Form No. 2 and make them sign the dismissal Form No. 6 at the same time, so an employer can easily dismiss an employee without much hassle,” Gouda says. “In other countries, civil society organizations, labor unions and business associations are strong, and no such thing

Problem of unemployment likely to worsen in Egypt

W

Noha Moustafa

can happen.” According to the report, the index of wages in relation to productivity ranks Egypt number 112 out of 144, only proving that production and efficiency are not related to compensation or pay. Sometimes, especially in the public sector, it isn’t necessary to even work and be productive in order to receive bonuses, incentives and even profits. Also, the Corporations Law 159/1981 stipulates that privately owned companies distribute 5 percent of profits among employees — but that doesn’t happen, says Gouda. Egypt scored worst when it came to the brain drain, ranking 132 out of 144 as a country that fails to retain or attract talented people. For numerous political, economic and scientific reasons, the best and the brightest normally leave the country to pursue better opportunities elsewhere. “We have a climate that repels efficient and competent people — for example, Mostafa al-Sayed, Mohamed alErian, Ahmed Zewail, Magdy Yacoub, Farouk al-Baz and many others,” Gouda adds. Unemployment rising The unemployment rate rose by 0.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012 to 13 percent — this being the official figure, while the actual rate is predicted to be higher — up from 9 percent in 2010. About 242,000 people joined the ranks of the unemployed last year as the total jobless figure reached 3.4 million, out of a total labor force of 27 million. About 1 million Egyptians lost their jobs in 2011 as economic growth slowed, and more than 162,000 Egyptians lost their jobs in the last quarter of 2012 alone. Youth unemployment rates are predicted to be much higher in the Arab world, and Egypt is no different, with about 77 percent of the unemployed between the ages of 15 and 29. A deep divide exists, as on the one side more and more young people are searching for jobs, while, at the same time, the private sector continues to encounter difficulty recruiting skilled employees. According to reports by the Arab Labor Organization, higher unemployment among the educated is a trend now being seen in the Arab world. More than 80 percent of those unemployed have at least a high school diploma, and a third have a university degree. Urban unemployment is notably higher than in rural areas, at 16.3 percent and 9.9 percent, respectively. These figures include only registered workers, in turn excluding the massive informal economy that exists outside of a formalized framework. Six months ago, the Cabinet planned to team up with the private sector to put together a national program for employment and training, with the goal of reducing

joblessness to 6 percent by 2022, the State Information Service said. Planning and International Cooperation Minister Ashraf al-Araby was quoted as saying that Egypt plans to reduce its unemployment rate to 9.5 percent by 2017 and 6 percent by 2022. Gouda, however, dismisses this as mere talk. “It is all just ink on paper,” he says. “There are no real trainings being provided and there is little investment coming into the country to create the needed jobs,” he adds. Over the years, faced with a growing deficit and less growth than needed to create enough jobs, Egypt has come to rely on foreign direct investment to fund the kind of projects that keep the labor wheel moving. As this has all but completely dried up, unemployment has suffered further. “It is a mess,” Gouda says. Causes and effect One of the main factors contributing to higher unemployment rates is a labor force that has grown faster than the demand for it, a trend that is likely to continue in the coming years. In 1960, total unemployment in Egypt was less than 200,000. By 1976, that rose to 850,000, and by 1986, the figure stood at more than 2 million. Job opportunities, meanwhile, have barely expanded as the population swelled. Graduates have to wait for more than five years on average to find a job, which is why the rate is highest among young graduates in Egypt. Between 1988 and 1998, the labor force grew at an annual average of 523,000 workers, while employment increased at an annual average of 435,000. Between 2001 and 2010, labor supply grew at 2.6 percent, and new job seekers will increase to an annual average of 638,000. Within this context, the problem of unemployment is expected to get uglier in the coming years. Unemployment has also been a result of underperformance in labor markets, which is also the reason for a decline in income. Unemployment among people who are literate in Egypt is much higher than that among people who are illiterate. Causes of unemployment are varied and may be due to a combination of the following factors: rapid changes in technology, global recessions, attitudes toward employers, and discriminatory behavior in the workplace, which may include discrimination on the basis of age, class, ethnicity, color or race. “What we need now is a new and fair law that takes into account the correlation between employers and employees,” Gouda says. “A generation of employment opportunities and equality in income distribution are key to dealing with the dual problem of unemployment and poverty.”

Over the years, Egypt has come to rely on foreign direct investment to fund the kind of projects that keep the labor wheel turning. As this has all but dried up, unemployment has suffered further

Archival

25 April 2013

ECONOMY 11

Policies of the former regime linger, much to the detriment of the economy

Today, like yesterday

O

Alexandre Goudineau

n the macroeconomic level, the closure of a newspaper is a nonevent. It is one among countless other closures of factories, shops or small businesses in a country suffering from numerous economic ailments. If the precise total number of closures is not available, a recent survey estimated that about 4,500 factories have closed since the revolution. While this crisis is, without any doubt, fueled by political instability, it can also be attributed to the failure of the economic model set up by the former regime of ousted President Hosni Mubarak. The perpetuation of these policies under the current regime, along with the lack of an alternative economic model, will remain insurmountable obstacles to more egalitarian development in Egypt.

Unsustainable development The 2000s marked a number of controversial economic policies, as well as a period of robust economic growth — at least on paper. It was often noted, however, that the benefits of growth never managed to trickle down to the people who needed it most. Said policies mainly focused on the development of what economists call “rents”: oil and gas extraction, tourism, Suez Canal revenues and foreign direct investments. However, experts have repeatedly underlined the risks of relying too much on these revenue sources. “It is a risky strategy, especially for a country that relies so much on vital imports,” says Samer Atallah, economics professor at the American University in Cairo. “These rents are too sensitive to external or internal shocks to be our main sources of revenue.” Oil and gas production has declined in the last two years for a variety of reasons: limited or less accessible reserves, delayed payment by the government, and an ill-adapted contractual frame, among others. Tourism and foreign direct investments have also shied away from the reigning political instability, and, in turn, the rents are no longer able to cover the rising trade deficit. According to Central Bank of Egypt data, the sum of tourism and Suez Canal revenues, along with foreign direct investments, only covered 28.5 percent of imports in 2011/12 against 55 percent in 2007/08. The overall strategy is obviously unsustainable in the long run, the current turmoil notwithstanding. While tourism and Suez Canal revenues have reasonable growth potential, Egypt is bound to become a net oil and gas importer, putting more strain on its hefty energy subsidy bill. Its strategy of development through energy-intensive industries such as cement, steel or fertilizers would have been doomed anyway. “The current system is unsustainable and does not have any real local added value besides the precarious and underpaid jobs that it generates,” says Amelie Canonne, co-president of IPAM, an expertise group that pursues economic and social research on common issues to north and south countries. The economic model reflects other neoliberal experiences worldwide. “Such policies, with local differences, have been widespread in Africa and Latin America in the last decades and have failed everywhere,” says Canonne. “They create a vicious circle of economic and social crises. The worst is that the solutions to end the crises are the very same as those which triggered them.” Same game, same results? While the current financial crisis calls for a bold plan, little has been done and the announced reforms toe the same neo-liberal line. A bundle of tax rises and subsidy cuts comprise the reforms that are seen as conditions tied to the pending International Monetary Fund loan, worth an expected US$4.8 billion, though Egypt may end up asking for a

larger sum. As the government tries to push these decisions though, they are faced with social conundrums and have repeatedly been forced to rescind. That’s besides being harshly criticized for following the same tired tried and tested measures that have borne little fruit. “We believe that after the revolution, [former President Hosni] Mubarak’s economic policies should have been reviewed. If we play the same game, we will get the same results,” says Reda Issa, an independent economist. “Even the IMF asked the government to choose the right time to reform and to spare the poor. But they did not listen,” says Issa. Austerity measures will not spare companies either. “The success of the energy subsidy reform is linked to a clear vision of how to help both consumers and industries get through the difficult period,” says Atallah. However, no such plan has been put forward to help these sectors and develop others to spur recovery in the overall economy. Small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), the biggest job providers in the country, are suffering, stuck between inflation, energy shortages and low demand. “Undetailed promises were made during the [presidential] campaign, but nothing significant has happened since,” says Atallah. “Supporting the creation of SMEs rather than handing over all the markets and public procurement to foreign companies and their local subsidiaries should be the priority,” says Canonne. Real issues ignored The current financial situation has heightened the need for reforms that will increase state revenues and rationalize costs. But little has been done by the government and forthcoming changes show that there will be no straying from the way of the old regime. On the revenue side, the government has resorted to indirect taxes rather than income tax to increase its revenues. The decision to raise the tax exemption level is mainly cosmetic, as most Egyptians evade income tax. “The philosophy of the government is not to place an additional burden on the rich by making the income tax more progressive,” says Atallah. Revoking a planned capital gains tax, on profits from dividends as well as mergers and acquisitions, is further proof. According to Issa’s calculations, in the last six years, 60 percent of tax revenues came from citizens, 28 percent from the Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation (EGPC) and Suez Canal, and only 16 percent by other companies. “The government resorts to indirect taxes to increase its revenues, like during the old regime,” Atallah says. “It is time to re-evaluate.” This while the more pressing issue of tax efficiency has gone by the wayside and the massive informal sector remains well out of the tax authority’s reach. On the spending side, administration wages, subsidies and debt servicing account for 74 percent of spending, according to Finance Ministry data. They alone surpass official government revenues. However, as Canonne asks, “Are we sure those costs benefit the population? “They did not review any of the old policies. They kept the unfair tax system, they did not touch the special funds, which represent 20 to 25 percent of the budget,” Issa adds. It leaves little room to spend on basic public services such as education and health. According to Issa, debt servicing alone exceeds education, health and food subsidy expenditures. Education spending in the budget has shrunk in the last decade while the number of students has swelled. According to the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics, the share of education in the budget

has gone down from 17 percent in 2001/02 to 10.6 percent in 2011/12. The share of university spending has been halved in the same time span. Though health spending has remained steady in the last decade, Egypt ranked 161 out of 187 worldwide when it comes to the health spending share in gross domestic product, according to the World Health Organization. Now what? While the government openly chose the path of spending cuts, some experts criticize this decision. “Austerity policies have a much higher cost in times of economic and social crisis. Investing in public services, social policies, education, health [and] housing is costly, but it yields,” says Canonne. However, such opinions are rare in the country. More generally, few alternative economic models have been suggested since the revolution. The presidential elections highlighted the lack of depth of the economic programs of the different candidates. Co-organizer of the World Social Forum in Tunis, Canonne has regretted the lack of a “strong alternative development vision” from Arab civil society during the event. “A political solution has to come first,” says Issa. “No economic solution will come without security and unity.” Egyptian experts also argue the lack of political transparency and available data impedes them from coming up with an all-encompassing development plan. “In Egypt, we work in an obscure room,” says Atallah.

12 FOCUS FILE

25 April 2013

25 April 2013

FOCUS FILE 13

50 ON 50
-1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9Code is the law

ewspapers aren’t closed in one swift blow. Here at Egypt Independent, we’ve learned that the process is long and drawn out. Any institution, a characterization that we believe Egypt Independent has become, fights back and resists attempts to close it. We’ve reported on this in other manifestations, not

N

least the ongoing fight to end the institutions that have held back Egyptians from realizing their own demands. This process, and others, have their own lessons. Much of this final issue, before we attempt to revive the paper in another form, is self-referential, but we have reserved these two pages for more blatant reflection.

Take the gun, leave the cannoli Readers will take risks to support you I’m a pessimist because of intelligence but an optimist because of will
Life is like a cucumber, one day it’s in your hand, the next it’s in...

-23-24-25-26-27-28-29-

You’ve gotta smile
He who eats alone... chokes.

-37-38-39-40-41-42-43-44-45-46-47-48-49-50-

‫اللي ياكل لوحده يزور‬

When one door closes, another opens and you should go close it, because ... why not? Don’t trust the mother organisation with anything (especially subscriptions) Evade the punches as long as you can and then roll with them If someone is stealing your sandwich, by God, get a bite of it You win when you Photoshop the president People will rally behind a cause Death in the tarot deck signifies a new beginning It’s the people, not the place A team is greater than the sum of its parts Now, it is later than it’s ever been Ful Mahrous serves sunny-side-up eggs and chipsy sandwiches Take pride in your newspaper’s closure

Sustainability and business development are key to the media battle in Egypt today Being sacked is one’s inevitable chance to break the routine Make space for laughter

The universe is run by prankster imps Never let a media dinosaur get in the way of a good time Nothing last forever, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t matter When someone fires you or closes your business, rip up the paper and act like it didn’t happen Always choose your own title Always look on the bright side of life
Despair is betrayal

-12-

..‫ يوم فى �إيدك و يوم فـ‬،‫الدنيا زى اخليارة‬

-13-14-15-16-

We will survive this crisis because of our ability to laugh at any time without restrictions Justify your text... ... but it’s ok to drift to the margins...

-30...and if you ever become marginalized, get back on track and stick to the margins When all else fails, rationalize... madness

Pressure makes diamonds Anything is possible with the right amount of coffee Revolution is not just protests Independent media is not really independent

-17-18-19-20-21-22-

-31-33-34-35-36-

-32... but, there is always some reason in
You can finally dream of opening your butcher shop No email thread is ever long enough. It was all about the added value

‫الي�أ�س خيانة‬

All I really need is a good newspaper

‫�أدينى جرنال حمرتم و �أرمينى البحر‬

We do our best, Lina does the rest

‫نعمل اللى علينا و الباقى على لينا‬

You have to kill the baby to save the mother. There are no other options

-10-11-

When all else fails, throw a party
Get outta here, boy

‫يال ياال من هنا‬

Frying eggplant needs effort, and a strong right arm.

‫قلي الباذجنان يتطلب جمهودا و ذراع �أمين قوى‬

‫املنحو�س منحو�س و لو علقوا فى ذيله فانو�س‬
The jinxed is jinxed

Newcomers don’t have much to offer

‫قال يا قاعدين يكفيكوا �شر اجلايني‬

14 OPINION

25 April 2013

An editor-in-chief who is nobody’s boss
The vast majority of editors are on strike, and a little frustrated — a state of despair that coincides with the nationwide mood after the Brotherhood rose to power, bashing the dreams that were envisaged following Mubarak’s fall

Nael al-Toukhy

T

he equation governing the relationship between Akhbar Al-Adab and authority has always been complicated. Akhbar Al-Adab is published by a state-run institution, Akhbar Al-Youm, and it conforms to the rules observed by state-run papers, which are to stick to the pro-regime line. But since the publication has a cultural nature, this issue was overlooked at the time of its establishment. Additionally, most of the intellectuals in Egypt belong to the opposition current, in a broad sense of the word. And since its editors basically belong to that current, also in a broad sense, they had some margin of action. Journalists had a margin of discussion with editors and editors-in-chief. Several arguments between successive editors and editors-in-chief produced this unique formula of a cultural paper that is published by a state-owned institution and yet opposes the official cultural authority. It is hard to say that Akhbar Al-Adab was a revolutionary paper but it incited revolution. Any revolutionary idea could find a way to its pages. After Akhbar Al-Adab Editor-in-Chief Gamal alGhitany retired, the paper seemed to be collapsing. Another editor-in-chief came, Mostafa Abdallah, from a strictly authoritative background — that of the Culture Ministry and the Writers’ Union. Institutionally, the paper was doomed. The reporters staged a strike against Abdallah. The 25 January revolution was still a vivid experience, with all the inspiration and dreams it brought, and so the journalists raised the ceiling of their demands and called for the appointment of Abla al-Roweiny, a journalist at Akhbar Al-Youm, as their editor-in-chief. The then-ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces responded to their demand, in what could perhaps be the first example of editors picking their own

editor-in-chief. Roweiny worked as editor-in-chief for about one year, a golden year for the paper. But she was soon sent into retirement in accordance with a new law that banned extensions for people older than 60, the age of retirement. Two journalists ran for the position — Tareq al-Taher, a journalist at Akhbar Al-Adab, and Magdy Afify, an editor at Akhbar Al-Youm who had spent a long time outside the institution and Egypt. Afify won. From the outset, it seemed that the new editor-inchief was uncomfortable around the journalists at Akhbar Al-Adab. He seemed confused and unable to decipher the orientations of the paper. All he knew was that it belonged to Akhbar Al-Youm. The relationship between the editors and their editorin-chief was tense. Afify tried to assuage their fears with big yet hollow promises that writers would be given complete freedom. But the promise did not stand the test of time, with several articles getting amended or censured altogether, each time for a different reason. Afify also came at a time when there was much controversy surrounding alleged attempts to “Brotherhoodize journalism,” under the ruling Muslim Brotherhood. Soon after, Afify wrote an article titled “O Brotherhood! We are not the atheists of Quraish!” in a clear attempt to show that he opposed the Brotherhood. His Brotherhood affiliation remains a mystery. But it is clear that he subscribes to an extremely conservative culture at the linguistic, literary, ethical, religious and political levels. Tensions surged, with 10 out of the paper’s 12 editors refusing to work with the editor-in-chief. Afify still managed to get journalists who agreed to work with him to get the work done, and he got others from outside the paper to contribute to the paper, his job becoming

easier after the paper’s number of pages shrank from 36 to 24. The editor-in-chief has a serious problem with his editors. He cannot challenge such a big number of them, especially since they are appointed at the paper, nor can he submit to their demands for him to go, write only a weekly column, or appoint a chief editorial team to run the paper. On the other hand, the editors, too, are in trouble, for Akhbar Al-Youm does not have potential candidates who satisfy the conditions set in the law for the editorin-chief position, as none of its journalists has worked 15 years at the paper. This fact shows how national papers, particularly Al-Akhbar, eroded under former President Hosni Mubarak and how the new Brotherhood regime is benefiting from that. A second problem for the journalists is that the new Constitution states that state-run newspapers are now under the jurisdiction of “the National Authority for the Press and Media,” which will have the power to remove editors-in-chief and appoint others. But it has yet to be formed, and the law organizing its function has yet to be discussed. For all those reasons, maintaining the status quo may be the best solution until an explosion happens. The vast majority of editors are on strike and a little frustrated — a state of despair that coincides with the nationwide mood after the Brotherhood rose to power, bashing the dreams that were envisaged following Mubarak’s fall. The editor-in-chief is now literally nobody’s boss, with nobody helping him out and nobody reading his work. But he is also unresolvable. Everything is now quietly in place for an explosion. Nael al-Toukhy is an Egyptian journalist, novelist and translator.

Pulling the plug, again
During the past five years, the management at the newspaper had deteriorated, and, just because I was not bringing in any advertisements, they ceased paying my salary

Noha Moustafa

S

harara,” or jinx, was the only word my husband managed to utter as he plunged into a fit of giggles when I told him they were closing down Egypt Independent. He continued the household joke of me being an imminent danger to Egyptian newspapers. Considering it was my second workplace to be shut down in just a few months, he may be right. But no, it wasn’t me. Both times, it was clearly a case of bad management. To make a long and lackluster story short, I had spent 18 years at a financial daily. I learned a lot on the job, being an economy journalist. I had knowledge and experience of so many new things at the time. Remember the 1990s and after — the time for privatization, open market policies, major national projects, the Internet and information technology, content providing, and convergence. So many things were going on and I was lucky that I was able to try my hand at all of this. Above all, I had the opportunity to meet many of the good people I know now. It was good while it lasted. I can’t tell exactly when the curve started to dip down.

Maybe it was when all my friends started to leave for other jobs with better salaries and better benefits. But, when I had the chance to follow suit, I found I was expecting my second baby. During the past five years, the management at the newspaper had deteriorated, and, just because I wasn’t bringing in any advertisements, they ceased paying my salary. The funny thing is that it was the same place where I’d learned that part of the ethics of the job was to separate editorial from advertising. But that has also changed. And, finally they shut down the English weekly insert where I worked. I had seen it coming so I’d started sending my resume everywhere I could. I had so many interviews in the past three years that I lost count. Believe me, job hunting involves a good deal of rejection and can drain the confidence of even the bestqualified applicants. I came to the conclusion that I was clearly too old and overqualified for many of the jobs, which all seeemed to require fresh graduates. I also fell under the preconceived idea that being a female entailed making my children a priority over my work.

It was just so embarrassing that after all those years of experience, I couldn’t secure a job. It sapped my morale. However, finally, I landed a job — a dream job, actually. Where else would I find a job doing what I like the most? The boss was nice and appreciative. Colleagues were pleasant. I felt grateful for the opportunity, but now it is gone. Alas, I am just too old for this. Maybe, as one friend advised, I should revel in the fact that I’m unemployed and start having fun — exploring my options, writing a book, discovering what I really want in life. But I’m not the kind of person who gets up late in the morning and drifts aimlessly through the day. I loved my job. It gave me a sense of identity, self-respect and a feeling of control over my life. I keep telling myself that tough times don’t last, but tough people do, except that I just can’t help feeling bitter and a little angry. I am probably in stage two of the three stages of unemployment: shock, then depression and then, finally, adjustment.

Noha Moustafa is a writer at the Egypt Independent.

25 April 2013

OPINION 15

Hesham Sallam

Liberal illusions

W

What this viewpoint overlooks, intentionally or not, is the substance of the social conflicts that have animated waves of popular mobilization since, and even before, the outbreak of the 25 January revolution
olution and the popular mobilization it advanced were not merely the manifestation of a purely political revolt aimed at toppling dictatorship and institutionalizing liberal democratic procedures. The target of the revolution was more than just the autocratic political system, but equally important, longstanding exclusionary economic policies that continue to fall short of meeting popular expectations for distributive justice. In this context, the so-called exit from the underlying crisis lies not in simply “getting political institutions right,” but first and foremost in building a new social pact between the Egyptian state and its people, to redefine the terms of economic development in ways that are consistent with popular demands for economic and social rights. It takes a lot of diligence to ignore the fact that the past two years have witnessed the collapse of the very same liberal prescription that Saeed proposes as a possible way to end Egypt’s woes. Egyptians have gone to the polls several times, and elected a president and a parliament. Yet despite successive trips to the ballot box, anti-state popular mobilization has not subsided and has arguably intensified. At times, and quite puzzlingly for liberal elites, antistate mobilization has called for the downfall of democratically elected institutions and officials. It is perhaps because of this inconvenient reality that Saeed qualifies his claim that elections are capable of resolving the current crisis, by adding that the United Nations, and not “Jimmy Carter,” must be tasked with election monitoring — as if the credibility of international observers in the past elections can sufficiently account for why these polls have failed to quell popular discontent in Egypt. Setting aside the absurdity of this reasoning, I would argue that the failure of successive elections in Egypt since 2011 is not due to their technical mishandlings, but due to what they failed to produce — namely, a social contract that could deliver the “social justice” in “bread, freedom and social justice.” Such an argument becomes even more compelling as we watch elected officials reinvent the exclusionary economic policies of the Mubarak era, while negotiating with the International Monetary Fund behind closed doors over the future of the Egyptian economy, without much consultation with domestic constituents and stakeholders. Some may argue that free and fair elections, if properly conducted, are fully capable of producing a government that reflects the promise of January 25 revolution and its partisans. Yet this line of reasoning conveniently overlooks the distortive role that electoral politics play in pushing out of the national political arena issues and agendas that concern socially marginalized classes. The experience of the 2011/12 elections is a case in point. The failure of partisans of distributive justice, such as the Revolution Continues Alliance, to secure meaningful representation in Parliament speaks to a reality in which big money and parties of privilege — whether Islamist or secular — dominate the electoral arena, making it extremely difficult for political allies of the marginalized to really succeed in national politics. In such a context, the liberal prescription of free and fair elections confronts an insurmountable paradox: How can elections create a national political arena capable of resolving pressing conflicts over economic and social rights if those who lack and demand these rights are constantly crowded out of this same arena by default? In this respect, the power that liberals attribute to free and fair elections to resolve the social conflicts that are tearing Egypt apart today is little more than an illusion. The class compromises required for an “exit door” from the current predicament are too deep to be resolved through the electoral process, no matter how “free and fair.”
Hesham Sallam is a PhD candidate in government at Georgetown University and co-editor of Jadaliyya ezine.

ith the deepening of a political stalemate between the government and the opposition in Egypt and the marked deterioration of economic conditions, critics of the 25 January revolution continue to highlight what they view as the revolution’s failure to bring about a stable political order that can live up to the many political and economic challenges Egypt confronts today. In his always-illustrious column in Al-Masry Al-Youm, Abdel Moneim Saeed eloquently articulated this consensus over successive pieces in the course of the past month. He reflects on the inability of the “new” political elite that emerged in the wake of the revolution to move beyond the opportunism that marred Hosni Mubarakera statesmen and politicians to develop a meaningful vision that could allow Egypt to close off what he characterizes as a developmental gap with the rest of the world. Saeed’s latest piece, “The Exit Door,” attempts to identify a way out of the current crisis and the underlying instability, and more broadly, a way to break with recurrent patterns of despotic governance that have characterized most of Egypt’s modern history. The solution, he provocatively says, lies in property rights and elections. If citizens rather than the state owned property, the reasoning goes, they would enjoy greater freedoms and sufficient autonomy to protect themselves against state abuses. He writes: “In free, developed countries, people own their homeland, and they do not just benefit from it for a finite number of years. And for those who do not know this, the origin of liberty is property, because he who does not own cannot be independent of the state, since if the state owned his subsistence, it would also own his vote and his life.” The second part of the so-called solution is internationally monitored free and fair elections, which could resolve the current stalemate between the government and the opposition by creating a political environment in which today’s losers are aware they can be tomorrow’s winners. “Dealing with the opposition is not a secret to anyone, and whoever wants to rid himself of the aches of doubts, misgivings and mistrust only has to do what the majority of the world’s new democracies have done, [namely] the adoption of international monitoring of elections through the United Nations, and not through Jimmy Carter [the Carter Center]. In short, we need to adopt the international game of politics in order for, and this is possible, everyone to act properly once they know that power can be transferred peacefully through the ballot boxes, which do not cede to one side forever,” Saeed says. In some ways, Saeed’s perspective reflects a dominant liberal consensus that embraces the assumption that political institutions, if appropriately constructed and configured, combined with negative liberties, could in fact steer a country like Egypt away from the current crisis and toward a more stable democratic equilibrium. In other words, the major challenges at hand revolve around getting the political institutions “right.” What this viewpoint overlooks, intentionally or not, is the substance of the social conflicts that have animated waves of popular mobilization since, and even before, the outbreak of the 25 January revolution. To say that social and economic grievances have been at the forefront of popular discontent that has advanced, and continues to advance, the contention between the Egyptian people and their state over the past decade is an understatement. If we were to take this claim at face value, it becomes no longer viable to proceed on the assumption that waves of popular dissent in Egypt would disappear once the Muslim Brotherhood and its challengers agree on an alternative constitution, a power-sharing arrangement, a new elections law or an elections monitoring mechanism. That is because, contrary to the wishful thinking of large segments of the Egyptian elite, the January 25 rev-

16 ENVIRONMENT

25 April 2013

Endangered species: Environmental journalists
Local media pay little attention to green issues
wo months before word about Egypt Independent’s potential closure first surfaced, Noor Noor, executive coordinator of the NGO Nature Conservation Egypt, discussed the loss at stake. “Egypt Independent is one of the only Egyptian media outlets that allocates staff solely to cover environmental issues in Egypt,” he wrote. “Environmentalists all across the world follow Egypt Independent for news and updates on environmental issues in Egypt. If anything was to compromise Egypt Independent’s ability to cover environmental issues, this would be an enormous loss, locally and internationally.” Back in 2009, when it made the conscious decision to dedicate an entire section of the newspaper to environmental and scientific issues, Egypt Independent stuck to its pledge to tell every story that matters. For the past four years, the section’s journalists have reported in-depth on issues relating to political ecology, biodiversity, the preservation of native seeds, the struggles of farmers, habitat destruction, food sovereignty, energy, scientific discoveries, urban planning, solid waste management, industrial pollution, and the controversial drilling practice of hydraulic fracturing, while the rest of the Egyptian media has provided cursory coverage at best. Some of the environmental violations are plainly visible but many other tragedies, such as destructive government policies, are less conspicuous and can easily go unnoticed. While kilometers-long oil slicks floating along the Nile are easy to spot, detrimental governmental policies are often unknown outside of ministerial offices. Egypt Independent’s small but dedicated environment team has been committed since its inception to bringing into the public purview issues large and small that impact Egyptians and their environment. One important feature in this section has been the endangered species series. Threatened local flora and fauna such as the African sacred ibis, the Egyptian tortoise and even various medicinal plants were featured to bring attention to their potential extinction. However, now, as Egypt Independent receives news that this print issue will be its last under the leadership of Al-Masry Media Corporation, the series seems to have turned inward. It now appears that environmental journalism in Egypt has been shifted from the “vulnerable” to the “endangered” category. Traditional media outlets grant little to no coverage of environmental issues and often treat it as secondary to mainstream political dialogue as well as the revolution’s demands of “bread, freedom and social justice.” But, by engaging with environmentalists and spending time with those most affected by environmental issues — often rural Egyptians, who tend to garner little media attention — it becomes clear that environmental issues and political concerns are very closely intertwined. For many Egyptians, the majority of whom live in rural areas, being able to access clean water, land to farm and resources to build a home, as well as natural resources and food security, are essentially what the revolution was about. By extension, this leads us to believe access to natural resources is one of the most fundamental human rights issues of our time, regardless of whether the effects are indirect, through wars fought over oil resources, or direct, because hydraulic fracturing has made one’s drinking water flammable. We believe the majority of Egyptians are less interested in who rules the country than equal and free access to the aforementioned resources required to sustain life, particularly when more than 40 percent lived below the poverty line of US$2 a day under former President Hosni Mubarak in 2009, according to the World Bank. Yet many of Egypt’s environmental activists and civil society members continue to voice frustration that a majority of Egyptians and those in power struggle to discern the direct link between the politics of nature — political ecology — and the problems

Steven Viney and Louise Sarant

T

Our problems are not stories that appeal to headline journalists. There is no story. There is no catchy issue
now facing Egypt. Hence, many environmental issues often fall by the wayside, solely because they are called “environmental issues.” We believe environmental concerns are not just a luxury for the well-off to worry about, and we work hard to make our readers understand that these issues touch every level of society. For example, there is nothing luxurious about demanding access to clean water and healthy food. And what is overpopulation, other than an innate awareness that one’s equal access to certain natural resources, essential for survival, is being threatened? We believe that if issues like these were to be treated and discussed as such, Egypt would be better versed in addressing its network of issues holistically. By embracing naturalist ideas, one’s perspective of the commonly referenced but loosely understood issues that appear to be threatening the country, such as economic issues, can be broadened. Mahmoud al-Mansy, spokesperson of the Sons of the Soil NGO, has fought for farmers’ rights and access to resources since the mid-1990s, when his family fell victim to the common practice of land grabbing. He says the most important aspect of environmental journalism is that it’s dedicated to focusing on contentious issues over the long term. “Our problems are not stories that appeal to headline journalists,” says Mansy. “There is no story. There is no catchy issue.” Problems facing farmers are not well-addressed in the media, he says. “Our very existence from the day I was born is the issue. It is taken for granted that we will remain poor and suffering so the mainstream debate can continue to take place,” he says. Part of the issue is time, he adds. “Nobody is interested in covering agricultural land and water issues because it is too time-consuming, and at the end of the day, it won’t sell as many papers as the death of one urban boy,” Mansy says. “But environmental issues are systematically killing our rural youth and destroying our lives every day.” Ezzat Naiem, founder of the Zabaleen rights NGO Spirit of the Youth, elaborates on Mansy’s point, saying the key ingredient is “care.” “Although I know in journalism there is supposed to be a professional distance between journalists and the subject matter, covering issues related to the Zabaleen — not sensationally, as with the documentary ‘Zabaleen Dreams’ — requires persistence over long periods of time, with the knowledge that there is little positive gain. I believe this requires real care in the matter,” Naiem says. Amr Ali, managing director of Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Association, has been a strong supporter of Egypt Independent. “I must emphasize the importance of environmentalism journalism in Egypt, although I don’t agree with calling it environmental journalism. This type of journalism has greatly helped isolated activist groups around the country raise awareness of the important issues Egypt is facing with regard to natural resources — issues that few people were aware of before,” he says. Ali says the environmental focus helped nonprofits pressure authorities. “It helped greatly by quickly building public contempt toward certain topics, allowing for groups to put pressure on those responsible,” he says. “However, secondly, and more importantly, is the constant effort of this type of journalism to expose instances of corruption in the most unlikely of places — places that people were largely completely unaware of after the revolution.” Ali adds that in a country after a major uprising or revolution, “it usually takes years of education to instill within the public awareness of their rights with regard to these resources because it is their national heritage. “Egypt Independent was a huge catalyst in trying to fill this void,” Ali adds. Noor says the Egyptian press occasionally has a piece or section dedicated to environmental news, even governmental publications, but the difference between English and Arabic coverage of such issues is that between breaking a story and covering an issue in-depth. “Whereas, occasionally, the Arabic press will just touch on the news or report a specific event, it has yet to engage in investigative journalism when it comes to environmental issues,” Noor says. “That, I think, is Egypt Independent’s biggest contribution to the local media.”

Virginie Nguyen

25 April 2013

ENVIRONMENT 17

Mapping Egypt’s environmental hazards

18 CULTURE

25 April 2013

Five of the best
From street art to a kitsch 1970s film, books that capture the zeitgeist to a striking bio-art exhibit, our writers share some of their cultural highlights.

‘Ghost Factory’ by Ghaith El-Lawzi

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By Steven Viney

me. The novel reflects a zeitgeist of nihilism for some of those who came of age under former President Hosni Mubarak in the mid- to late 1990s. Hence, it was instantly easy to relate to. Aged 20 when I first read the book, it became my personal version of Albert Camus’ “The Outsider,” personalized simply because it took place in Cairo and featured a soundtrack of popular songs of the time, as well as a cast of shady, hopeless characters that bore strong resemblances to many of the people I met growing up. Though the book’s writing style now seems a little youthful for my taste, a few of its themes are still as pertinent as ever and offer a great archive, albeit semi-fictional, of what life under Mubarak was like. The young characters in the novel are either born wealthy or end

haith El-Lawzi’s 2005 semi-autobiographical novel, “Ghost Factory,” was the first modern Egyptian book — also published in English — that really struck a nerve deep within

up in nowhere jobs, often strung out on drugs, and sometimes dying unnecessarily young — something I witnessed over and over as a youth in Cairo, either due to car crashes or some idiosyncratic occurrence. The book also unveils a much darker side of Mubarak’s regime, featuring villa parties where ministers engage in extreme debauchery with young women, often forcibly. It shone light on the city’s huge hotel prostitution industry, the drug business fueled by the government, and all sorts of corruption and pitiful behavior within the lifestyles of the wealthier classes. It was the first time I had seen the Cairo I knew written about so blatantly. For anyone who now longs for the Mubarak days, I recommend reading this book to understand exactly what it was like to have been a 20-year- old under Mubarak in 1999, let alone in 2010, when things had reportedly become far worse.

The Alexandria street art gallery
hortly after Mubarak’s ouster in February 2011, I found myself in the seaside town of Alexandria on the hunt for cultural stories. Around that time, an interesting new street art project was taking shape along the once-barren walls of the Lycee al-Horreya Theater. Organized by the Goethe-Institut Alexandria and local curator Fatma Hendewy, a team of local and foreign street artists worked day and night to transform the weathered walls into a kaleidoscope of color as they each painted massive murals spreading several meters wide. The two-part project featured commissioned works by Alexandriabased artists, including Aya Tarek and Amr Ali, in addition to fantastic murals by some of Europe’s leading artists, including Mercedes De Gary (Spain), Ma’Claim (Germany), and MICKRY 3 and TIKA (Switzerland).

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By Maha ElNabawi
In this magnificent outdoor public gallery of sorts, with murals up to 4 meters wide, each piece is perfectly packed with symbolism, high-quality aesthetics and electrifyingly vibrant colors, which all culminate in a myriad of stunning expression. For those lowbrow art lovers who find themselves dazed, confused, and awestruck by the ever-changing murals on Mohamed Mahmoud Street in downtown Cairo, it is highly recommended that you take a little trip to Alexandria to view this entirely fresh body of street art and colorful expression. After visiting the outdoor gallery again a few weeks ago, I noticed that several new pieces have emerged in the time since the original murals were magically painted. The gallery continues to spread, organically, through the tattered graffiti of younger generations reminding us again that walls do talk when people have something to say.

‘The Black Dot’ by Waleed Taher

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By Jenifer Evans
capable of sorting out the problem themselves. Although it was published in 2010, it seems to have revolutionary connotations. In the face of the mysterious dot, the group comes together, bounces around ideas to figure out what to do with the thing that is taking up their space, disagrees and gets nowhere, but ultimately triumphs through perseverance and creativity. It is hard not to see it as an allegorical dot. There is a fair bit of text alongside the illustrations, but it’s poetic and fun to read. Also, it’s not too difficult to read if you’re not great at Arabic.

aleed Taher’s square children’s book “The Black Dot” is about some children who wake up one day to find a huge black dot in their playing field. Upset, they try to guess what it could be, then try to get rid of it, then try to utilize it. The whimsical drawings of stick people are washed out, smudgy colors that look like they could have been made by a child. They are basic, uneven, elaborate, out of control and funny. This exuberant childishness is often evident in Taher’s work. In “The Black Dot,” no grownups appear in the story at all — the children are completely

‘Al-Nadaha’ by Hussein Kamal
t may not be a great film, but as far as I’m concerned, viewing experiences are rarely as rewarding as when you’re watching “Al-Nadaha” (1975). Although its onscreen English titles read “For Whom the Wind Calls,” a more direct and accurate translation would simply be “The Siren.” True to its name, the film is a hypnotic and seductive work. Dissatisfied with village life, young Fatheya yearns to “see the world,” by which she means “Egypt,” which is how the residents of her remote village refer to the distant megapolis that is Cairo. It’s not an uncommon desire; villagers are often driven to insanity by the call of the siren and, when it grips Fatheya, the only solution is to quickly marry her off to her former neighbor Hamed, now a doorman in the big city. Although based on a novella by acclaimed author Youssef Idris, the film’s storyline is almost secondary — you watch “Al-Nadaha” like you live a dream. Calmly melodramatic, repetitive in its theme music, kitschy in its depiction of “progress” and populated by stereotypes and the world’s sleaziest scientist, the film isn’t as concerned with realism as it is with depicting the world through the eyes of the bewildered Fatheya, who spends her first night in her husband’s Cairo room experimenting incredulously with the light switch. Watch it once the way it was meant to be watched, then put the sound off, pick some good music, turn the colors all the way up and fall into it.

By Ali Abdel Mohsen ,

‘Ioconography’ on the Sixth Floor
ll the art projects shown on “The Sixth Floor” should be picks. As with the Hal Badeel (Alternative Solution) arts festival held earlier this month, the artists, along with the curator, collaborated on every possible detail to bring the group show to life. They cleaned and fixed the creaking walls of the old Viennoise Hotel, and took on shifts to welcome the many visitors. Throughout the week, you’d find visitors and artists hanging out and chatting. And, of course, the artists produced their projects. All 15 works were fully developed projects, rather than a random response to a curator’s invite. I choose to highlight one that swept me off my feet. At the far end of the flat hosting the exhibit, a dimly lit room hosted the work of Heba El Aziz, “Ioconography.”Its aesthetic simplicity was heartening. Circular glass lenses hung on the wall. In each lay a photograph

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By Mai Elwakil
of an Egyptian icon, for better or for worse. From comedian Adel Imam and the late songstress Om Kalthoum to King Farouk and even Gamal Mubarak, but also the late Pope Shenouda III, Mubarak-era Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq and journalist Ibrahim Eissa. Each photo gradually decolorized, taking on different hues of greens, blues, grays and an occasional spray of red. As I kept going back to take yet another look, Aziz’s icons continued to transform. Aziz is one of the very few artists working with bio-art in Egypt. She is a bio-painter, who uses glass plates and photographs as her canvas, and bacteria she carefully cultures as her color palette. Like all forms of life, that of the icons included, the bacteria changes over time. It is a live temporal art and watching it develop, I developed some attachment to it, fascinated, as it captured a cycle of life.

25 April 2013

CULTURE 19

Maha ElNabawi

‘Crop’ challenges the traditional dominance of photographs produced by the state

Manufacturing image

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n early September 2010, a group of influential global leaders met at the White House in Washington, DC, to talk about peace in the Middle East. As part of diplomatic protocol, the arrangement of the leaders was carefully orchestrated into a symbolic “flying V” as they walked down the red carpet toward the media photo op that followed. US President Barack Obama led the way, flanked by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jordanian King Abdullah II, while former President Hosni Mubarak trailed in the back. A couple of weeks later, the presidential “flying V” found its spotlight when the state-run newspaper, AlAhram published a blatant and seemingly unabashedly doctored photo of Mubarak leading Obama and their counterparts. The original image, first published by Getty Images, was later altered by Al-Ahram to both bring Mubarak to the front of the group and to place his left foot forward instead of his right — the headline read “The road to Sharm el-Sheikh,” referring to the Egyptian Red Sea resort that hosted the second round of the Middle East negotiations. The manipulated image quickly became a scandal within both the local and international journalistic communities — it was yet another clear-cut example of just how far state media were willing to go to defend the ruling regime. But, unless you are one of Al-Ahram newspaper’s 16,000 or so employees, you’ve most likely never had the slightest glimpse of how political the image production process has been inside the institution. Well, until now that is. For the first time in the institution’s 138-year-existence, two young filmmakers found themselves in the right place at the right time, with the right cinematic idea: “Crop.” Co-directed by Egyptian filmmaker Marouan Omara and German video artist Johanna Domke, “Crop” is an experimental documentary shot entirely within the power center of the country’s images and news — Egypt’s oldest and arguably most influential government media mouthpiece: Al-Ahram. In a nutshell, the 49-minute documentary film reflects upon the images in the 25 January Egyptian revolution, while placing it in relation to the “image politics” of Egypt’s leaders, from former presidents Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat to Mubarak. Since Nasser nationalized the paper in 1968, Al-Ahram has been widely known to be something of a mouthpiece for the state. As the film suggests, when Mubarak was ousted and presidential elections were taking place, it was believed that a major power vacuum took place within the institution for several weeks. “It still took about four months of phone calls, paper pushing, chasing stamps and bribes of course,” says Omara. “We shot around the beginning of June 2012 — there was major reshuffling going on in the newspaper at the time, so there were gaps in authority, which allowed us to get the legal approval to shoot inside.” From the top-level executive office toward the smallest worker, the camera seamlessly glides the viewer through several floors, from editors’ rooms to the sales floor, the printing press, the kitchen, and even the loading dock. Amid the typical cacophony of Cairo noise, the film befittingly opens with a black screen and the ethereal voice of the film’s fictionalized narrator, who is a photojournalist at Al-Ahram newspaper. According to the directors, the narration is based on a montage of testimonies from around 23 journalists, photojournalist and media theorists who have worked within AlAhram and Egypt’s state or independent media over the past few decades. “By creating a fictional character out of the many interviews we carried out, we intended to pay tribute to all of them and not elevate one specific person,” explains Domke. “We created a story in which everybody will be able to recognize a part of himself. We found it very important that the narrator is not visually

In what became an infamous instance of official spin, Al-Ahram edited photos to place Mubarak leading other world leaders.

The bottom line is the majority of Egypt’s population was cropped out of the frame ... proving that the world we see through the media lens bears no honest representation to society at large
presented, as it would define the narrator as one person.” Through this technique, the directors metaphorically challenge the role of images. By framing images within Al-Ahram’s building, the film examines the fallibility of images and the impossibility of objective truth within photojournalism. At the same time, this rather simple documentary engages viewers to challenge how we perceive images and who is or is not included in the frame of Egyptian state media and, subsequently, society. One of the main underlining themes is the concept of censorship, which is to be expected. But what the film chooses to emphasize is the debilitating self-censorship exhibited by many workers within Al-Ahram’s institution. The documentary subtly highlights the importance of an active, independent media and citizen journalism in combating state propaganda. As the film continues, the narrator presents facts regarding each president’s use of images. The narrator attests that Nasser understood the importance of media, images and, most of all, how to naturally pose like a leader. Sadat, on the other hand, attempted to play the same spotlighted role, but, instead, he was often perceived as an actor on a stage that transparently hosted big media events to win adoration from the public. His media stunts included images of him as a Pharaonic figure with a pole in his hand, a simple man from the countryside with traditional clothing, a family man with his beautiful wife and children and, of course, his famous bathroom pose — taken by his private photographer, Farouk Ibrahim. In this, the former president posed like a “regular man,” shaving in front of the sink wearing only his boxers. The latter image actually caused a great deal of harm to Sadat’s public perception since Egyptians were simply not used to seeing a president posing in his underwear. Having learned from Sadat’s mistakes, Mubarak kept a distance from the media and the public. There were no extravagant events celebrating the great new leader, as in Sadat’s era. Newspapers would only print pictures of Mubarak at official ceremonies — typically, he would only appear in controlled environments. And more, his image would be doctored in controlled environments. The film also mentions that during Mubarak’s era, AlAhram published a picture of him on the cover nearly every day of his 30-year reign. The only thing that changed over the course of time was that he was aging, which the photo department in Al-Ahram dealt with by retouching his face to “reward him his dignity.” Towards the end of the documentary, the narrator mentions the discussions in Al-Ahram about the institution’s protocol of framing. For example, those living in the City of the Dead in Cairo were too poor to be represented, a veiled girl could not be shown in the newspaper, and farmers were too far away and too traditional. The bottom line is that the majority of the Egyptian population was cropped out of the frame of images for close to 60 years, proving that the world we see through the media lens bears almost no honest representation tosociety at large. But, when the 25 January revolution broke out and thousands took to the street armed with their camera phones, Egyptians consciously or unconsciously challenged and utterly disrupted the state-manufactured images of society. The people (at large) took media into their own hands. The film presents the idea that during those 18 days and since, the Egyptian people began fighting the images that had been imposed upon them. They were shaping, and continue to actively shape, their own images, void of gatekeepers controlling the images we see, how we see them and when we see them. For Omara, this is the most crucial aspect of the 25 January revolution. In a way, expression has been liberated and there is no turning back, despite the endless political setbacks. Thankfully, technology and the Internet are forces far bigger than any political institution. Overall, the film provides an excellent account of modern Egyptian political history, in addition to a plethora of stunning and captivating images from Al-Ahram. But what the young directors truly succeed in is presenting the film as a convenient metaphorical vehicle to describe the utter enervate and bureaucratic nature of Egypt’s state institutions. In one scene, we see several employees approaching a reception desk of sorts where they punch in their time cards as they enter and leave the building. While Al-Ahram’s office is surprisingly immaculate and advanced, there is something striking about how the institution continues to use analogue and paper-based systems at a time when technology reigns king. While we may have removed Mubarak, the film challenges the idea that we actually removed his state, which continues to function through robotic, centralized and censored mechanics, seen in almost every branch of government. As the film ends, it suggests that no matter how the past was portrayed and no matter what the future brings, a major silver lining presented itself in the wake of the 25 January revolution: a populous vision of the way in which humans and technology can act together to generate our own self-determined images — ones that mirror our reality, instead of the scripted, manufactured frame presented by state-controlled media. We are no longer caught in the suspension of disbelief, but rather, with technology, we can create own collective memories and, hopefully, dictate our own identity. The film fittingly closes with the last stage of Al-Ahram’s production — a delivery motorbike out on the streets playing singer Abdel Halim Hafez’s song “Soura.” Hafez sings: “Image, image, image/Everybody deserves an image/Whoever leaves the frame will be left out of the image.”

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20 SCIENCE

25 April 2013

Mohamad Adam

For a new generation of physicists, change was necessary but unwelcome
colossal egos, killed new ideas, under the belief that they couldn’t possibly be true. Nature, however, was stronger. By end of the 19th century, nature couldn’t bottle in all of its anger against the hubris of physicists, who believed they understood all of its laws, anymore. A message in the form of black body radiation was sent their way. The phenomenon describes the emission of radiation from black bodies, which have the ability to absorb any radiation they are exposed to without reflecting it. At laboratories, results referred to changes in the intensity of radiation emitted by black bodies, which were different from results found by equations explaining the same relationship. This represented a crisis of sorts between the worlds of experimental and theoretical physics. Scientists occupied themselves for a long time with the possible reasons for the difference. Planck reconsidered the equations until he arrived at one that could explain black body radiation properly. Reaching the equation was a shock for him and other scientists, many of whom called his work a “mathematical fiction.” But Planck’s theory opened the door for reconsidering energy and radiation. Scientists then believed energy could acquire any value. The new theory proposed that energy should take specific values. A war of words soon erupted, as Planck’s theory, if proved correct, would destroy the idea that physicists could explain all physical phenomena. It would also open the door for reconsidering the basics of physics. The elders of the field told their younger brethren, “You’re playing about with mathematics. We shall find in our physics the true explanation for this phenomenon.”And, so, the 19th century ended in controversy, with the old physics being threatened by a newer, more openminded version. Over the 20th century, the notion that “physics is finished” was destroyed, as Albert Einstein explained another physical phenomenon. His use of the principle of energy quantum by Planck opened the door for new methods of understanding the subject and ushered in the “new physics” revolution. These developments ushered in a new scientific age, the effects of which can be seen now in smartphones, laptops and iPads. Imagine, then, if Planck had listened to von Jolly’s advice and abandoned physics. Imagine if Einstein had surrendered to the same generational conflict. We might still be living in the era of steam trains and carrier pigeons.
This piece was translated from Arabic by Nehal Mustafa

Coming of age

he events depicted in this article are inspired by various real-life accounts and herein are recounted to examine the hypothesis that the young would be better off if they listened to their elders. At the age of 16, Max Planck, the Nobel laureate in physics in 1918, decided to set aside his pursuit of music and start studying physics. He asked professor Philipp von Jolly at Munich University for advice but the professor’s response was disappointing. Von Jolly told him not to study the subject, arguing that nothing remained to be discovered. Despite some depression provoked by his professor’s words, Planck studied physics, resigned to the fact that he wouldn’t be discovering anything new but satisfied with examining the basics of the science. That was the spirit controlling many physicists by the end of the 19th century. Many believed they had discovered everything there was to discover and all universal phenomena could by explained through one of the three branches of the sciences: classical mechanics, electromagnetism and thermodynamics. Physicists of that age, along with their

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Physicists of that age, along with their colossal egos, killed new ideas, under the belief that they couldn’t possibly be true. Nature, however, was stronger

2013... it’s not the end of the world baby.

25 April 2013

LIFE & SOCIETY 21

Heba Helmy

Five signs it may be time to end a relationship
upper hand in your relationship, or take a firm stance and say “no.” A controlling partner may try to manage everything about your life and will often underestimate your good qualities. A bossy partner also tends to pinpoint which improvements are needed to develop your character while overlooking your attempts to acquire positive attributes. Accordingly, no matter how much you try to satisfy this type of partner, it may feel like an unreachable goal. Do not allow your character to be compromised. Let your motivations to change come from within. Betrayal While you are trying to silence your mind about your relationship worries, you could well suffer a breakdown in terms of your life choices. One of the most devastating aspects of this whole experience is feeling unworthy and incapable of sustaining a healthy relationship. Instead of putting the burden on your shoulders, it’s essential to know that betrayal says more about your partner’s ethics and sincerity than your self-worth. If you find it hard to forgive and you are not the one to be blamed for this experience, it may be time to free yourself from the endless cycle of feeling empty and anxious. Confront your fears, restore trust in yourself to be able to trust people and start all over again. Philandering You may have been swept off your feet by this type of partner, and that’s understandable. But hang on to your emotions. Even if he or she is showering you with compliments, you may come to realize that he or she will not actually commit. So look out for red flags in the relationship from the beginning to discover if he or she is a viable partner, someone who isn’t going to wear a playboy hat and later break your heart. If, after going out on a handful of dates, this partner is saying you are “the one,” you may need to pause your heart and use your head. While these overtures may make you feel over the moon, it may be time to ask yourself how this person could know this so quickly. Such a partner may, for instance, say he or she wants to introduce you to his or her family, but never fulfill the promise — pretending to take the relationship to the next level but actually offering nothing but words. This type of partner may see you as part of a long queue of potential lovers, rather than a person to really commit to.

A clean break

e all know that being in a relationship is exciting, but learning to evaluate whether your relationship is thriving or just surviving is a must. If you are not both on the same page, your relationship probably isn’t working and it may be time to pull the plug. According to psychologist Amina al-Gammal, if you spot one or more of these five behaviors in your partner, it’s an indication that he or she is not investing much effort in the relationship, and you may want to break up and move on. Your future will thank you. Indifference Showing indifference toward a relationship makes it lose its spark and can cause withdrawal and the silent treatment. No one wants to give if it’s not reciprocated. Working on a relationship all by yourself will eventually make you feel frustrated and bored from trying so hard. While you may be keen to maintain emotional closeness, it is vital that your partner is keen on working things out as well. Don’t put yourself in a vulnerable position. Find the right moment to speak up and confront your partner if you’re feeling uneasy in a mature manner, without picking a quarrel. If he or she doesn’t value your feelings and your attempts to improve your relationship, and is unwilling to discuss the issue, it may be time to move on and look for a partner who deserves your efforts. Poor communication Communication is the backbone of any relationship. Once partners stop communicating, understanding and sharing feelings, and being intimate, they no longer have a healthy relationship. A partner who communicates poorly may be self-centered, with a need to be in control of the relationship. This person may perceive himself or herself to always be right and may judge without giving others a chance to express their ideas or perspectives. This dynamic often leads to a constant state of denial. The partner may respond to criticism by always blaming the other partner, and debating with the aim of winning the argument to impose his or her own beliefs. The secret to successful communication with this type of partner is seeking a problem-oriented approach, to look deeper into the roots of your arguments and come up with satisfactory solutions for both of you. If your partner does not respond positively to the situation, it
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A bossy partner tends to pinpoint which improvements are needed to develop your character ... no matter how you may try to satisfy this type of partner, it may feel like an unreachable goal
may be time to end the relationship. Bossiness Living under your partner’s thumb is basically allowing him or her to mold your character into the person your partner wants you to be. You should decide from the very beginning, whether you want your partner to have the

Amany Aly Shawky

Lifestyle reporting tends to revolve around class
What matters to a certain community wouldn’t necessarily matter to another, taking into consideration the various backgrounds and educational levels
ated to the job inflicts a certain responsibility toward readers — the truth about street vendors, reasons behind power cuts, increases in generator sales and the domination of department stores in downtown. “We live in a classist community,” says May Abdel Azeem, founder and managing editor of What Women Want. Egypt is a number of societies each living in its own bubble, Abdel Azeem explains. “What matters to a certain community wouldn’t necessarily matter to another, taking into consideration the various backgrounds and educational levels,” she adds. Reporting for lifestyle is challenging, as one always needs to keep the balance between what is light and entertaining and serious topics, so both needs are addressed, she says. “It all boils down to how well the writer knows his readers and how saturated those readers’ basic needs are,” she says. For many lifestyle magazines, matters can be more money driven. Advertising is the name of the game, and articles can sometimes be specially tailored according to the ads coming in and the clients advertising with the publication. “I was asked several times to write in favor of certain products simply because the owner advertises with us [our magazine], although I may think otherwise,” one young journalist, who has asked to remain anonymous, says. Money versus integrity, in some cases, is another challenge lifestyle reporters may face during their careers. “Lifestyle magazines face many challenges,” says Rola Kamel, founder of Identity Magazine. Good journalists tend to prefer to report for newspapers, as magazines may appear less serious, Kamel says. “As for readers, they prefer local Arabic newspapers when reading about politics,” the managing editor says. Kamel also voices frustration about favors expected by clients who advertise with the magazine, and condemns their lack of knowledge about the readership. “Nowadays, young readers expect short, concise, entertaining and informative pieces, which lessen the chance of bigger, analytical, serious pieces,” Kamel says.

Staying relevant

eporting for a lifestyle section in a magazine or a newspaper can be a challenge. For most publications, the lifestyle section is a window on beauty, fashion and hairdos, while others see it as a mirror reflecting society’s needs. In a typical lifestyle piece, expensive fashion meets wealthy people shopping for expensive things. After years of reporting for lifestyle, one realizes the power of words in making fashion novices famous, bashing restaurants, praising menus, recommending hangouts and killing jewelry collections. Being the first to eat at new restaurants is a luxury only a lifestyle reporter knows. With all this lavishness around the corner, it is alluring to stay confined to a certain social class, promoting one posh lifestyle. Temptation is grand but the journalist’s sense of duty and the integrity directly affili-

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22 TRAVEL

25 April 2013

FLAG of no country H
ow much do you know of the sensible nuances between Egypt’s coastlines? How much travel literature did you read about what kind of a tourist you would be if you were a Red Sea vacationer, as opposed to a Mediterranean Sea visitor? Where does the limit of our knowledge of these getaways lie? In many ways, it lies at the beach — or a few kilometers further and deeper, to engage with the wonders of underwater life. But the beach is only the beginning of some uncharted human experience, a house for which is the high sea and, more precisely, underwater fiber-optic cables — at their best, so it would seem, until they get cut. This is the invisible infrastructure that permits the voyages we make everyday, dozens of times, in the sea of the Internet, that virtual universe reconfiguring the act of tourism in multiple ways and interrogating the logic of seeking information. Today, you travel every day, in the sea of cyberspace. Look at the Earth as if you were above, or drive through, like with Google Street View. When the Internet started, becoming increasingly available at mass level in the 1990s, the rhetoric in the media and popular discourse often referred to its power to shorten geographic distance — the possibility to cross all boundaries and visit other worlds thanks to the marvels of technology. The illusion was that all humanity belonged together and that we are all virtually connected, as if through magic. The magic of the Web was also celebrated as a democratizing scientific advancement, capable of giving access to information “horizontally” to the people, without mediations operated by hierarchical institutions appropriating the authority to distribute this information. One such mediation is that of travel agencies that package exotic experiences to mesmerize vacationers. Yet with all the advances that the Internet brought, it is still relying on the same infrastructure laid out 150 years ago. And all the magic of the endless voyages that the Internet has promised us will disappear the moment the cable is cut. Like the international waters they are housed in, these cables are transnational. One cable cut troubles a whole continent. One such cable, FLAG, short for Fiber-Optic Link Around the Globe, was laid in the mid-1990s to connect Europe, the Middle East and Asia. It begins in North America and ends up in Japan, and goes through a number of countries in the middle, including Spain, Italy, Egypt and India. These cables are symptomatic of how data travels, and paying

Take to the Sea
cables were 1929: Trans-Altantic cut following an earthquake near Newfoundland. SEA-ME-WE 3 subma2005: The rine cable was cut 35 kilome-

attention to them has allowed us to reorient ourselves toward the material conditions — the physical infrastructure — of what we take for granted as a virtual world. While being invisible and enigmatic to the tourist’s bare eye, this underwater infrastructure is a reflection, a literal undersea reflection, of the classical power dynamics in the pipeline of information. A case in point is presented by Neal Stephenson of Wired magazine, who in 1996 took on a legendary journey, traveling across the world following the laying of the longest cable on earth. In his stop in Egypt he looked for the ruins of the Great Library of Alexandria.

2006:

“I didn’t know the exact route of SEA-ME-WE 3 and was intrigued to learn that it will be passing through the same building in Alexandria as SEA-ME-WE 1 and 2, which is also the same building that will be used by FLAG. Because this place, soon to be the most important data nexus on the planet, happens to be constructed virtually on top of the ruins of the Great Library of Alexandria.”
Further delineating the power dynamics of the fiber optic cable system, Stephenson wrote:

ters south of Karachi. An earthquake near Hengchun rendered inoperable numerous cables between Taiwan and the Philippines that connect Hong Kong, Southeast Asia and China. Vietnam and Hong Kong.

stole an 11-kilometer 2007: Pirates that connected Thailand, of the three Suez Canal 2008: Two cables, two cables in the

“ ... In a nicely Pharaonic touch, one of the six ducts going into the ground here is the sole property of President Hosni Mubarak, or (presumably) whoever succeeds him as head of state. It is hard to envision why a head of state would want or need his own private tube full of air running underneath the Sahara. The obvious guess is that the duct might be used to create a secure communications system, independent of the civilian and military systems (the Egyptian military will own one of the six ducts, and ARENTO will own three). This, in and of itself, says something about the relationship between the military and the government in Egypt. It is hardly surprising when you consider that Mubarak’s predecessor was murdered by the military during a parade.”
This possibility to access information about concealed experiences through alternative itineraries tells of a past present with us in these places. In one place that’s 2 inches thick and 28,000 kilometers long, and ties all continents in one go.

2010: 2011: 2012: 2013:

Persian Gulf and one in Malaysia were cut in separate incidents. The SEA-ME-WE 4 submarine cable, which connects South East Asia and Europe, was reportedly cut in three places, off Palermo, Italy. Tohoku earthquake and tsunami damaged a number of undersea cables that land in Japan. The EASSy and TEAMS cables disconnected about half of the networks in Kenya and Uganda. The SEA-ME-WE-4 connection from France to Singapore was cut by divers in Egyptian waters.

Courtesy of telegeography.com

Issue no.50 25 April 2013 ..........................................................................................................................................................................................................................................

24

ear Lina, I am writing to you with a conflicting urge of writing and not writing, and thinking back to a conversation we had with some urgency in February 2011. I asked, “How do you write at such a time?” and you had responded, “Writing is a form of action, it’s activism. You just write!” In this wondering of things starting, things ending, and imminent change, learning to live with the threat of not taking “the institution” for granted, I wonder about the larger implications of our work — questions to which I don’t have an answer and which reside between language, often articulated in the margins of a readership. What is civic society? What does a newspaper contribute? What does an art institution contribute? How are they different? A newspaper is an art institution and is a cinema. Is there a political delineation, a place to which we all belong? Is this space of an imagining, idealizing and thinking young left of a culture-at-large, real? That is not to say that I am able to answer any of these questions myself, or I’ve exhausted listing my questions. Most of the time, I am grappling with ones that are similar to the ones that are on your editing table determining the future of your work — similar to ours as artists and art institutions. I pause at prefacing my worry with the symbolic trauma: What does it mean to “terminate” Egypt Independent?

Chaotic thoughts to the editor D
Language and institutions: There is the looming question of audience and language that renders what is outside the “mother tongue” as supplementary, collateral or excessive, an implied leaning that this space is reserved for a select few, a general assembly that is bound by sharing a language. I think about English when I think about writing, I think about English when I think about art, and I think about English and Egypt Independent. I think in English, but I think Arabic, not in Arabic. I wonder about this in context of what you are trying to do, the forcing of a language onto my tongue and into discourse, onto a way of thinking. I hesitate as I wonder about the force of language, choice and what it means to be an international institution, locally, in the world. We presume language as a means of communication, rather than a form of institution; we presume language in how we live. In a conversation in Yemen with a taxi driver, the driver poignantly asked: Why does Europe not have an Arab Spring? And proceeding to unravel was a conversation on Occupy movements and European uprisings, but beyond that, the financial system, capitalism, the world, money, war, the Internet, information and the future. What is the relationship between economy and what we do, in the at-large sense, and in the micro sense? The moment of perceived threat of your termi-

nation is my frenzied wondering in figures: How much money do you need to raise keep running? How many people are on a payroll? What does it cost to maintain a server? What’s your budget to have a print run of X-thousand and to distribute countrywide and beyond? My own thought itinerary worries me. When did I start thinking in figures and facts? Writing is not subject to that — writing as thinking, writing as doing. The form that Egypt Independent will take, with you and your team, will change. It won’t disappear. It will gain intent in resistance, grow more robust, and find more cause and deliberation in what it will become. It is not just a paper or an office. It is a space of language that has allowed for certain ruminations, for thought to evolve and finding a way of “doing” as writing you say is a form of “activism.” It has, and continues, to make room for thought that parasitically drives taxi-ride conversations in Yemen. In that sense, if art at large is a form of language, then your contribution inspires making form and making institutions possible. For now, I’m staying hopeful. Think: Egypt. Think: independent. Love, Sarah

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