The death of Egypt Independent

Jenna Krajeski writes: In 2010, I moved to Cairo to try something new. I had taken a job with an education N.G.O., and saw the work—which I knew from friends to be frustrating but fulfilling — as a fresh start. Development, I thought, was useful; I wasn’t sure I could say that about journalism. It took about a week in Cairo for me to change my opinion. I quit the N.G.O.

For the next year, and through months of the revolution in Tahrir Square, I was on the staff of Al-Masry Al-Youm English Edition, the online-only version of a local Arabic-language newspaper. The papers shared a name and the same management, but they didn’t have a lot else in common. The staffers of the English edition were young — mostly under thirty — and around a quarter of them were foreign; their paper was both a platform for news and a protest against the journalistic old guard. They saw the established Egyptian media as rife with flaws—a rigid hierarchy, sexism, laziness, nepotism, and self-censorship among them — which impeded the free society they wanted to live in.

What the journalists at the English Edition lacked in mentors, they made up for with camaraderie, determination, and optimism. Earlier this month, when the management of Al-Masry Al-Youm announced that the English Edition (now called Egypt Independent, and weekly in print) was closing, they derided that optimism as naïveté.

Egypt Independent’s bosses cited a lack of resources—a believable claim, given the business situation for most newsrooms today. But there was more to it. A letter signed the “Al Masry Al Youm Institution” (the media company, Al-Masry Al-Youm, owns both the Arabic paper of the same name and Egypt Independent) and posted on Egypt Independent’s Web site reads “…the false hopes that the print version of ‘The Egypt Independent’ will create the desired impact on the Egyptian society were nothing but a huge waste of financial resources, labor, and time.”

For the young journalists, it was a blow. Since January, they had been learning to keep themselves afloat. They raised money, courted investors and advertisers, and canvassed for subscribers. The management “disregarded everything we’d done and completely killed the operation,” said the editor Lina Attalah, when I reached her on Monday via Skype. “The facade is financial, but there are politics in economic moves.” Attalah was tired; she had spent the day arguing for severance pay for the staff. (Al-Masry Al-Youm maintains that the decision is purely financial, and plans to publish English translations of their Arabic content online under the name Egypt Independent.)

Egypt Independent isn’t just a newspaper in English; it’s a crucial, local voice at a time when Egypt needs trustworthy representatives. An article intended for the last issue of Egypt Independent, by Dina K. Hussein and Dalia Rabie, explains the value of “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.” They speak the language and know the customs; they have sources. Perhaps most important, they truly — not just intellectually — care. When one of these news sources closes, it’s not only Egyptian society that rocks off balance. Independent, reliable news on Egypt will be harder for English-speakers in the rest of the world to find. [Continue reading…]

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