Egypt Essay, Research Paper
An Overview of the problems of Publishing in English in Egypt A survey by Ib Knutsen. Supervised by Dr. Hussein Amin. Course 504.Ib@aucegypt.eduhttp://ibsweb.findhere.com Contents Introduction 3 Presentation of Method 3 List of intreviews 4 Discussion of Method 5 Presentation of Results .. 6 Publishing 6 Censorship 8 Summary of the different approaches to censorship 9 – Al Ahram 9 – The Middle East Times 10 – The Cairo Times 11 Culture 11 – Language 12 – Reading Patterns 13 Discussion . 14 Conclusion 15 Appendices .. 16 – Interview with Middle East Times 16 – Interview with Egypt s Insight 18 – Interview with the Al-Ahram Weekly 19 – Interview with Cairo Times 21 – Letter from Exile, Thomas Cromwell 23 – Interview with the censor, by MET 24 IntroductionEnglish publishing in Egypt is not extensive. Only eight magazines and newspapers come out on a regular basis. Only a minority of the Egyptian population knows the English language and half the population is illiterate. Yet these are not the largest problems facing the English speaking press. Social, economical and political issues are closely intertwined in Egypt. Magazines or news publications face additional obstacles trying to cover these topics. How do the different editors approach or overcome these problems? My research question is An Overview of the Problems of Publishing in English in Egypt . There is no state censorship of Egyptian publications. Is the right of freedom of expression thus secured in Egypt? In order to probe these questions I went to the different English speaking publications and talked with their respective editors. I told them what I was working on, and tried to make the editors comment on their situation in their own words. There are several dimensions to publishing in English in Egypt. The language barrier, the Egyptian press licence, Matters of national security and custom are but some. I asked the editors explicitly to give an assessment on the significance of these, if they had not already done so. I talked with Al-Ahram, Hani Shukrallah, Managing EditorThe Cairo Times, Ms Diana Digges, EditorThe Cairo Times, Mr Hisham Kassem, PublisherThe Middle East Times, Mr Rod Craig, Managing Editor Egypt s Insight, Ms Nahed Yowakim, Editor-in-ChiefEgypt Today, Mr Scott Squire, Copy EditorI wrote their comments down in shorthand. If there were comments I was unsure of, I asked again. I spent about 40 minutes with each editor. When each interview was done, I spent an additional 15 minutes writing down a summary of the contents. I also filled out the missing parts of the shorthand text. I did my first interview with the editor of the Cairo times, Ms Diana Digges. She had prepared a number of CT issues containing articles on the topic. These were most helpful in sketching out the field. I used this information as background for my following interviews with Egypt Today, The Middle East Times, The Al-Ahram, Egypt s insight and finally, Cairo Times again. This time with the publisher, Mr Hisham Kassem. In addition, The interview with Egypt Today was brief, but consistent with the other findings. I found an interview with Mr Lutfi Abdel Kader, who heads the committee for foreign publications in Egypt, and an open letter from Mr Thomas Cromwell, editor in exile for the Middle East Times . Both of these secondary sources were posted on the internet with the permission of the Middle East Times. The MET also have a link to the digital freedom network on their homepage. I failed to get in touch with the remaining regular publication, The Egyptian Gazette. As with the Al-Ahram, the EG is also a government paper. It is, however, not considered a significant publication in Egypt. The Al-Ahram s managing editor, Hani Shukrallah, thought it valueless to be better than the EG. He commented further that We basically see what they do and try not to do the same. When editor-in-chief Ms. Nahed Yowakim of Egypt s Insight surveys what is allowed to publish in Egypt, she does not look in the EG, she looks in the Al-Ahram. Discussion of MethodI accounted a number of difficulties while collecting the data. First of all were the problem of communication. Though The Egyptian Gazette and the Al-Ahram by far were the most difficult to get in touch with, Egypt Today, Egypt s Insight and the Middle East Times were also time consuming. This was not only due to busy lines, as was the case with the government papers, but rather the busy agenda of the editors. They frequently travel, have meetings or simply are out . As a result, the data gathering took much more time than anticipated. It must be added that as soon as I did manage to get through to the right person, they were very forthcoming in setting an appointment as soon as possible. They also showed considerable interest in the project, and were very helpful to give perspectives on the topic. As I mentioned, I had trouble to the extent of not managing to get in touch with the Egyptian Gazette. I was also unable to get in touch with Egypt Today s publisher, Ms Anne Marie Harrison or the editor Mursi Saad el-Din. I did correspond with the publication over numerous E-mails, and with their copy editor, Mr Scott Squire, over the telephone. He confirmed the major points, but I have not presented Egypt Today s views separately in the paper, due to my inability to get in touch with the editor or the publisher. I do not think that this significantly alters the validity of the paper. I did speak with a majority of the publications. I spoke with all the private news-weeklies, the major government weekly and one of the two lifestyle magazines published monthly. The responses were very similar. The English publications in Egypt face the same problems. Their approach varies slightly. I have no reason to believe that Egypt Today or the Egyptian Gazette use a significantly different approach than the other media. I think the reliability therefore is high. Presentation of resultsThe problems of publishing in English in Egypt can be divided into three sections; The problem of publishing, the problem of censorship and the problem of culture. I will discuss each section separately. The publishing section regards the industry. I have therefore included the responses by the different editors in the description, rather than as separate sections. In the censorship section, there are variances among the different publications. I have therefore separated it in two, presenting the general concept of censorship first and the particulars of each publication last. When it comes to culture, the responses were quite similar, so I have grouped them under the different cultural sub-headings as I thought it appropriate. PublishingThe Freezone for business was set up in the satellite city of Cairo, Nasser city, to promote the development of enterprise. Business could register with the ministry of interior to get a licence to operate in the zone. In order to start a publishing company, an additional set of criteria had to be met. This was due to the national security aspect of publishing. The criteria for registering as a publishing house used to be 200 shareholders with equal shares. This made it practically impossible to attain the licence. Only one publication in Egypt managed to register according to these criteria. This is an Arabic publication, and the owner has the power of attorney over all the other shares in the company. This indicates that the remaining 199 shareholders are so-called straw men, registered as owners merely for legal reasons. In 1996, this law was revised. Now only ten shareholders were necessary, but approval of the state security and the national security was necessary. You need to be more than good friends with these to get your approval, according to Mr Hishan Kissem, Three Arabic publications were approved, but no English ones. Appeals can be brought before the higher press council. If they refuse, however, one must apply again. This process have been further limited by a new law demanding a Cabinet permission for all applications. Their decision is final, and can not be appealed. This effectively bars publications considered unwanted by the government to publish in Egypt. The English publications in Egypt are based in Egypt. Their offices are in Cairo, their journalists live in here, as do their readers. The companies who advertise in the publications are registered in Egypt. Yet the publications are considered foreign. Of the English speaking press in Egypt, only the governmental Al-Ahram and the Egyptian Gazette have Egyptian publishing licences. The government is reluctant to place an outright ban on publications in Egypt. This gives the publications the opportunity to print in another country and export the publication from there to Egypt. The most usual place to register is in Cyprus, and the name for Egyptian publications both Arabic and English printed outside Egypt has come to be called the Cyprus press – regardless whether it is published there or not. The financial situation for the Cyprus press is very unstable. They are virtually unable to get bank loans, as they are not registered as a company in Egypt. Selling equity shares is for the same reasons impossible. The foreign publications are not allowed to advertise on broadcast television, which inhibits promotion on the most powerful media channel. Economic growth, which is essential for any company, is severely limited. All companies outside the Freezone have to pay tax, including the Cyprus press. The Al-Ahram is printed in the freezone. The largest burden is currently the general advertising tax of 36%. Income generated by advertising is a major contributor to the balance of publishers. Adding a third to the price of ads make them nearly impossible to sell. Alternatively, one can let the publication cover the expense, with the resulting loss of income. Most of the English publishers have managed to avoid the advertising tax by paying the import duty on published material. This tax is between 7 10 % on publishing cost, i.e. a significantly smaller amount. They argue you can not pay domestic tax and import duty at the same time. The government remains undecided, and will perhaps only come to a conclusion when they want to remove an unwanted publisher. CensorshipConcerning all publications in Egypt are the Libel laws. These were introduced in 1993, and are described by Mr Shukrallah as absurd. It is the public prosecutor who is responsible for pressing charges. Charges are only being pressed if you attack the wrong people Simple statements as stupidity, can earn 6 months in jail whereas people who just slander can just keep on going with their Interior Ministry backing. Without a publishing licence, the news publications are in addition liable to censorship. National security concerns are at stake. It is the ministry of information that is the highest authority on press matters. They authorise a council to take care of the foreign press. Each publication must show the publication upon arrival in Egypt to this council. This is a risky business. If the council do not approve of the content, they have the power of banning the issue. A ban represents a considerate loss if the publication has already gone to print. Arrangements are being made with the censors. Blueprints of the publication are shown before it is printed, and if there are troublesome articles underway, these are shown too. The censors then remove what they think necessary. The censors are on a mission from the Information Ministry. They are under pressure. If they allow controversial material to get published, it is they who will have to take the heat for it. From the censor s perspective then, it will be better to take out as much as possible. The editors know this. They bargain with the sensors, rewrite articles and refer to the Al-Ahram. Though all the foreign press is affected by censorship, it is the news publications that are hit the worst. Shorter deadlines pressure them to act fast on events, Egypt s Insight, Egypt Today, Business Today and PC world are published on a monthly basis. They can take into account the developments of the other publications when they decide what to publish. Ms Nahed Yowakim of Egypt s Insight actually considers being a monthly an advantage, as they can take the time to wait until Al-Ahram covers a particular news story ( realise their mistake ) If they have covered a topic, it is regarded as common knowledge. Egypt s Insight can then do a full feature on it even from another angle and refer to the Al-Ahram coverage of the same topic. Summary of the different approaches to censorship The Al-AhramThe Al-Ahram is the oldest and largest government paper in Egypt. They publish an Arabic daily and an English weekly. The Al-Ahram is not censored. They want to publish serious journalism, respect government view , while avoid being seen as a propaganda sheet for the government. So they adhere to some restrictions. They are left largely alone if certain red lines are not overstepped, The major topic to leave alone is the link between big business and government. And criticism of the president, of course. But the Al-Ahram generally does not criticise members of the government. They do not dig up information about government officials either. It would be interesting , of course, but since everybody is doing business with everybody, it is better to leave it. But, if other papers have found something out and printed it, the Al-Ahram refer both sides of the story, being careful to state who says what. If the rules are broken, the editor will simply be transferred. It is not unusual to be transferred to the information ministry. Or to a correspondence job in Luxor, to cite Mr Craig. The Al-Ahram is the most influential paper in Egypt. The Al-Ahram is considered to being able to get away with a lot more than the English speaking press in general. Egypt s insight use examples from the Al-Ahram when they argue with the censors for an article. If something has been published in the Al-Ahram, the sensors can legitimise to their supervisors why they let something through. The Middle East TimesMr Thomas Cromwell of the Middle East Times has been refused re-entry into Egypt after a trip abroad. He has written an essay included in the annex of this paper. I talked to the managing editor, Mr Rod Craig. The MET shows the proofs of the publication to the censors. In return they take out paragraphs rather than articles. He describes the relationship with the censors as good. They have arguments with the censors, where they participate on an equal basis. Sometimes they win through with an article, and sometimes they lose. They have developed an understanding of what can be published. Regarding a particular article that was banned, he commented We were pushing it really. Criticism of the president is out of the question. Government officials vary, and even Mubarak has commented that The promises made by some of my ministers are about as reliable as those made by Netanyahu Criticism of the Military, Saudi Arabia and the Copts are to be dealt with utmost care. Saudi Arabia is a considerable investor in Egypt. Upon criticism, they have also threatened to expel the hundreds of thousands of Egyptians that they employ. The recent legislation in the US against religious persecution makes the Coptic issue even more sensitive. Yet, Mr Craig gets the feeling that most regimes are corrupt, and that the censorship is to prevent the uncovering of this The MET s standpoint is that a good journalist can publish anything. It is therefore a matter of sophisticated expression to avoid having statements and paragraphs removed. Though a more candid way of telling the truth, Mr Craig has confidence in his readers to put two and two together The aim of the Middle East Times is not to be censored though we do get a lot of attention when we do. The aim of the MET is to inform the public in an objective way, and going where the information takes (us). The Cairo TimesThe Cairo Times have been banned six times this year. They are in a constant conflict with the sensors. The sensors contact the Ministry of Information when they are in doubt. It is the Ministry of Information that Cairo Times really have a problem with. The banning often comes as a result of failing to show all the articles to the censors. When the newsmagazine is on the streets, it is often too late to ban it. As a result, the following issue is banned as a warning . Mr Hisham Kissem regards his publication as being number one one the government s most wanted list of publications to close down. Yet Mr Kissem thinks the problems of publishing in general in Egypt are most imminent. As for free speech, Mr Kissem banks on Globalisation CultureCultural problems arise when gathering information. These problems include the language barrier. Cultural problems can also include the motivation of government employees to speak out. It will seldom be rewarding for them to do so, and will sometimes lead to trouble. In addition, there is a cultural difference between Arabs and Westerners in regard to information. This is perceived to be due to the differences in educational system and the Arabic culture in general. There is a general suspicion towards people who ask questions in Egypt. In government, this is even more so. Answering questions will seldom bring rewards, though it might bring problems for the individual. When the people who ask questions are not Egyptians, there seems to be an even stronger reason to be careful. All the English speaking publications face these problems. Even the governmental Al-Ahram – though Mr Shukrallah observes that carrying the name Al-Ahram do make it a lot easier for our journalists. Mr Shukrallah thinks the Al-Ahram s focus with Egyptian eyes, sometimes may seem odd to the foreigner. Mr Craig has noted this difference as well. Egyptian journalists are conscious of Egypt s reputation, and this may affect their information gathering, he says. On the other hand, Egyptian journalists might see beyond this, and realise the positive aspects of transparency. They might therefore become the strongest link we have, Mr Craig continues. Egyptian journalists face harsher treatment from the government. As a result, they sometimes request having their name withheld upon being published. This is not an unusual practice in any of the publications, again with the exception of the Al-Ahram. Says Ms Yowakim: A big journalist in the Al-Ahram can publish anything, a view only partly agreed upon by Mr Shukrallah. LanguageMost of the English publications in Egypt cope with the language barrier the same way. The Al-Ahram use bi-lingual Egyptians, so they have little problems. Egypt s Insight has no bilingual journalists. They do not consider this a major problem. The most important thing is that they know what questions to ask. Mr Scott Squire of Egypt Today actually consider the language barrier an advantage. Most of the expatriates do not speak Arabic either, and this makes publishing in English an exclusive advantage. This is a view shared by Mr Kassem of the Cairo Times as well, who thinks publishing in English facilitates selling advertisement space. And, he adds, publishing in English makes it easier to win sympathy abroad. It is the only pressure against the government to leave us alone. Reading patternsMs Yowakim of Egypt s Insight thinks the educational system plays a decisive role in how Egyptians view the printed word. Due to the enormous volume of information they have to learn by heart, they stop reading for leisure once they get the chance, she says. We find that a lot of our business readers only look at the stories that carry pictures of well-known business persons or celebrities, she continues. This is a fact they take into account when they plan each issue. Egypt Today share this view. The demands of the different readership groups can be different to the extent of conflict. E.g. Features, which are generally read by the foreigners while evoking little enthusiasm amongst the Egyptian readers. DiscussionThere are a number of reasons why the press face institutional restrictions. The Egyptian printing licence seem to be in limited supply due to the governments wish to control the national information. Limiting the sources makes it easier for them to do so. Most of the publishing obstacles seem to come from this wish. Censorship seems to have a slightly different function. Censorship is a last-minute ban on paragraphs, articles or whole issues when the issue can t otherwise be stopped. It is thought that the major reason for censorship is to hide links between the government and business. The cultural problems of publishing in English in Egypt can be overcome. The language is not a significant barrier. There is a culture of suspicion towards people who ask questions. I have no reason to believe the government officials in Egypt are much different than the bureaucracies anywhere, however. A free press is regarded as an essential watch dog, for democracy. It is sometimes referred to as the fourth state power. The fourth state power can never be more independent than the judiciary, legislative and executive branches of government are of each other. Can a free press exist in a country where the links between government and private economical transactions are to be kept secret at all costs? Where the surrounding countries are capable of expelling hundreds of thousands of Egyptian workers, and threaten to do so upon criticism? The institutional problems of publishing in Egypt cover a number of aspects not necessarily reserved for the English speaking press. The laws of registering publishing companies in Egypt present impossible barriers. The tax laws regarding advertising looms with threats to curb income. The Freezone tax exemptions might well be used selectively, under the shield of national interest, national security, or protection of national institutions. The definitions of libel are extremely wide. The law is superfluous. Libel should be a matter of civilian court procedure, and not a public one. But the largest problem might be the one of publishing industry in Egypt in the long run. Mr Kassem observes that it will be impossible to sell off parts of the present governmental press. Nobody will want to buy shares in a company that is ineffectively run, without being able to streamline it. Egypt has only seven daily newspapers. The small island of Malta has four. In relation to population, they have a 1300:1 better coverage of newspapers. The significance of each newspaper in Egypt therefore accounts for about 200 Maltese newspapers. Being careful, of course, that this only serves as an illustration for the misrepresentation of the Egyptian publishing industry. On other accounts, the Maltese example is inadequate. The political weight each of the seven newspapers in Egypt carry is enormous. The national security implications are no less significant. When the inevitable privatisation wave catches up with the publishing industry, they will face huge problems. International papers and interests will be able to start both English and Arabic papers, and run in free competition to the national papers. The nationalised papers can not be sold off, and few will want to buy shares with the present management. They will have problems adapting to the new environment. The Egyptian government will have to consider this when they make new laws for publishing. It is not only a matter of national security to control the publishing industry in the short term. It is actually a matter of national security to have a national publishing industry at all. ConclusionThere are obvious problems of publishing in English in Egypt. Language is regarded as being a minor problem. The main obstacles are the institutionalised barriers to publishing. On the other side is Egypt s dependency upon trade and tourism. They receive a substantial amount of aid from the US. The English publications are one of Egypt s many faces abroad. It would create substantial international furore if Egypt were to ban them All the independent papers think the freedom of speech has loosened up in recent times. Mr Kassem banks on globalisation, to get the final liberalisation. I think the freedom of the press will evolve parallel to the evolution of the political system. In fact, the press plays a crucial role in the dynamism of the evolution of the political system in Egypt. Holding named higher government officials responsible of their actions – which would be unheard of only a couple of year s ago – is now usual in the papers. The Government is becoming conscious of this responsibility. Government officials are scared of the Al-Ahram, The Cairo Times and the Middle East Times. Sooner or later this responsibility will have to be institutionalised by law. And law that is enforced on an equal basis, for all its citizens, is the fundament on which all democracies are built. AppendicesThe Middle East TimesThe largest foreign weeklyMr Rod CraigManaging EditorNovember 1998Printed in Athens, Greece Readers: mainly expats, embassy personell and international. We aim for a wider circle. The Middle East Times used to cover the region, and we might start that up again. Cairo is the capital of the Arab world, and thus most important. Few of our journalists master Arabic to a fluent extent, and we are dependent on the goodwill of translators and some bi-lingual native Arabic speakers. Say there is something secret going on, and the journalist covering the event does not know Arabic. If the translator figures the information might damage Egypt s reputation, he or she might withhold some of the information. News stories depend on the weakest link, and this is might be the Arabic journalist. On the other hand, the Arabic journalist might have a more open view and thus become the strongest link. The problem is, you don t know the difference. I am just raising the issue here. I am not talking about anyone in particular, nor about the Middle East Times. There is a different mentality between Arab and Western journalists. Just like there are differences between American and British, and I am sure Norwegian journalists have their special properties as well. Journalists have different ethics and standpoints. Yet the differences among western journalists are not as widely apart as Western and Arabic. First of all, the western concept of free speech is interpreted differently here. Arabic journalists are also very conscious of Egypt s reputation, and this might alter their reporting. But, of course, there are exceptions. Some Arabic journalists have studied in the west, and seen how the press works there. Others simply want change. Their knowledge of Arabic thus makes them the strongest link in publishing. Arabic journalists sometime ask to have their name left out, as they know they will get into trouble. One actually got thumbed . But it s not just here journalists are getting into trouble. Whenever they are a nuisance, journalists are harassed. The function of the press I think is first of all to inform the public. Journalists are, or should be, representatives of the public. They should therefore probe questions in order to bring light to different topics relevant for the public. They generally should not have opinions by themselves. This happens of course, but a journalist should strive to be devoid of feelings. Jorunalists should be driven to wherever the information leads them. Just like the policeman is for the law. Arab journalists have another role. They don t regard themselves as public servants. The main constraints to publishing are self-constraints. The paper is responsible to its readers. So even in a country where the press is free to discuss whatever it wants, it restricts itself to what the readers can take. Most Arab journalists have never been without institutionalised censorship or religion. They are used to be within fairly narrow walls. In Egypt one can not criticise the President. One should be most careful with regard to criticising previous presidents as well. Last week ( ) a column we did on King Fahd was taken out. We were pushing it really. The columnist later had trouble going abroad due to accusations of danger to national security. After the president, one must leave the military alone. Lastly, one can not criticise Saudi Arabia. There are, of course, a number of other issues one must avoid as well, but these three are sacred. For foreign publications, these rules must be learned by experience. For the people who live here on the other hand, they know exactly where the limits go. Egyptian papers are not censored. Censorship in Egypt was abolished by Sadat in 1974. Most of the influental papers are governmental, and if their editors step over the line, they are moved to a correspondence job in Luxor. They know what to do and what not to. Besides, it is the government who issues printing licences. The foreign press has to show copies of its publications to the Advisory commettee . They cut out the articles they don t like, and have the authority to ban an issue. It is of no purpose to have the Middle East Times off the streets, as our purpose is to inform people. We have developed a special arrangement with the censors. We submit proofs to them, and they cut out paragraphs rather than removing whole articles. It is to their advantage also to have this relationship. It looks bad for them as well. We used to leave the paragraphs blank, but that is now illegal. But a good journalist can get anything published. So when it comes to the things that are important, one must try to be clever. For instance, instead of using the rather obvious word Torture , we replace it with forceful persuasion. The readers will have to put two and two together when they read the articles.
The censors are just doing their job. If they let something controversial pass, they will get into trouble. There is no use in going against them, and having a good relationship will give us more freedom. We have made an agreement, and by that the government is becomingmore favourable to us. I don t think it is fair of The Cairo Times to cheat on this arrangement. They have published issues without shoving it to the censors, and have had their following issue banned as revenge. We should try to fight for freedom of expression together. It does not do any good to try to circumvent the regulations that are agreed upon. The only casualties will be members of the advisory commettee, and possibly a complete ban on the Cairo Times. We are up against benevolent people, and not the wicked. Egypt is dependent upon trade, and so they have to be fairly reasonable. We actually get more readers when we get banned. But if it happens often enough, I suppose people just get used to it. My job as an editor is to get the paper out and to tell the truth. It serves no purpose to have it taken off the street. I am responsible for the 30 or so jobs as well, which also must be taken into consideration. It s an interesting experience all this. One gets the impression that most regimes are corrupt and censorship is to prevent the uncovering of this. We are ok with the government. The publishing side, on the other hand, is highly unstable. The Cyprus publications were first outright banned. The case was then taken to the Supreme Court, and they gave a ruling of the banning as unconstitutional. Then the government introduced 36% tax on magazines This tax makes it difficult to sell advertising space. We simply went back to Greece to print. It is actually cheaper to buy a plane ticket and pay a person to go back and forth with the proofs, than to print in the Freezone. The freedom of expression in Egypt is a lot freer than it used to be. Criticism of members in the cabinet is allowed, and even Mubarak was quoted as saying The promises made by some of my ministers are about as reliable as those made by Netanyahu. The (kosh) incidence seems to have been blown out of proportion. The Copts in America got hold of the story, and some people got carried away. It took the attention off us, we were a minor enemy compared to this. The government learned to be more open. When you try to hush something up, and it doesn t work, nobody will believe the updated story by the government. What they should have done was to bring it all in the open. If they had held a press conference and referred what had happened, and what measures were taken to prevent its being repeated, the incident would not have been blown so out of proportion. I hope they learned their lesson. Egypt s InsightLifestyle monthly magazineMs. Nahed YowakimEditor-in-ChiefDecember 1998 Printed in CyprusPublishes between 7-11 000 issues per monthSells to business and travel related industry, expatriates and international Problems of publishing in English in Egypt. Egypt s insight has a varied reader circle. The foreigners and expatriates tend to read the features and the longer articles, whereas the business readers merely tend to look through the magazine If there is a picture of an executive or a gathering of known faces, they might read the sub-headings. It is not in the Egyptian up-bringing to read for leisure. They know English, but they are jammed with too much material to study by heart. The reading material is not by their own choice, and when they finally can choose, they stop reading altogether. Once I was on an plane with Egypt Air, I asked the hostess in Arabic for something to read. She was puzzled, and asked Why – there is a film showing. She simply could not understand how I could prefer reading to watching any particular movie. There is generally a suspicion on people who ask questions in this country. If the persons asking them in addition are foreigners, it is not made easier. Photography is even worse. We will for instance rather send a young female Egyptian to take pictures. . Language, however, is not so important. At the present time we don t have any bi-lingual journalists. IWe have translators who know arabic. The most important thing is that the journalists know which questions to ask, and how to get information. We have a good relationship with the censors. We show the advisory committee doubtful articles, and the proofs of the magazine. If we are covering anything controversial, we show them articles the Al-Ahram has written on the same topic. Politics and Saudi Arabia is checked this way. The reason why Saudi is so sacred, is not only for political and economical issues. Saudi is a major employer of Egyptians. If the Saudis want, they can expel these people. Except for the fact of these people losing their jobs, the social consequences of such a body of people coming back to unemployement in Egypt would be severe. So in addition to the political and economical relations with Saudi, there are enormous social relations. A writer would not want to be responsible for the expulsion of all these people. A big writer in Al-Ahram can publish anything. This way they have backup in case their superiors come down on them. They are scared as well, as they will run into trouble if something controversial is passed on with their knowing. We have kept a clean record, and this makes it harder for them to ban articles. I have been told if I stay away from certain issues in my first year, I can be more daring the second. Homosexuality, for instance, is the one social issue to avoid at the present. Except for that, most social issues can be written about. And we have. The thing is to work with the censors rather than against them. We have a great advantage by being a monthly publication. When it comes to controversial issues such as the Coptic incidence in upper Egypt or the teenage rock music fans who went to jail last year, we can wait until the Government realises its mistake and then cover it. It is extremely important to back up the facts. Tape interviews and check information. When good journalism has been done, and the editors back up their writers – like Hishem Kassam and Diana Digges in the Cairo Times – it makes it much harder for the government to ban it. It is when trigger-happy new journalists starts shooting in all directions that they say no. A lot of the opposition newspapers work like this. Their approach is sleazy and un- serious. Like when the covered an un-named bellydancer s reception of a bribe. If they had the information, they could publish the names and descriptions. If they don t, they should leave it. Government officials are afraid of the Al-Ahram. Writers such as Feroh Hosni have made fierce attacks on ministers. But then it has been well backed up. The problem arises when writers in Al-Ahram are paid to write up or down people. You never really know. We have uncertainties regarding the publishing side. There is a 36% tax on income generated by advertising. We go to print in Cyprus. When the magazine is imported into Egypt, we pay an import tax. We do not think it is reasonable to pay both a domestic tax on income generated in Cyprus, when we at the same time are paying the import duties. The import tax is 7-10% on printing costs. We hope our history of paying the import tax will lead the government to decide on its continuance, rather than enforcing the strangeling advertising tax. It will be very difficult to sell advertising space if the prices had to be increased by 36% The Al-Ahram WeeklyThe largest government paperMr.Hani ShukrallahManaging EditorDecember 1998Printed in Cairo by the Al-Ahram press Sometimes we get away with things (the other publications) don t, because we are the Al-Ahram. The tradition of journalism affects writers and editors. There are two aspects we in Al-Ahram strive to establish. One: We like to continue in the tradition of objective journalism, and Second: we do not like to sound like a propaganda sheet for the government.This is definitely a problem For instance, we never present statements made by the ministry of information or the police as facts. We always make it very clear where these statements come from. We are most careful to avoid printing such information as fact. We like to publish both sides of the story, and what the other side thinks. There are definitely constraints, but we stretch the margins. For instance using a page for human rights and referring phone numbers in this issue (9 dec) is definitely provoking. We are not being censored, and we have not yet received a warning. We can discuss any topic we d like, unless we receive a memo form the prosecutors office imposing a ban on cases and topics. These memos are public, and are being sent to all the media in Egypt. The Al-Ahram looks at events with Egyptian eyes. We see problems, events, political happenings or whatever in this light. A foreign correspondent might focus on different topics all together, or even consider some of our articles as not important. A foreign correspondent would see things in a different light. All journalists face problems. It does make life easier for our journalists to have the Al-Ahram name backing them up. We run contrary to the interior ministry s general policy on media in Egypt. We are definitely the oldest not the first publication, and we were always big. The old editor Heykem continued the tradition of Al-Ahram after Nassers nationalisation. We are more like the British Times, and El Akbar is closer to the Mirror. The Egyptian Gazette is not really anything. Basically we see what they do, and then we try not to do the same. I am happy about Cairo Times and Middle East Times for the competition. It is meaningless to be better than the Egyptian Gazette. The Al-Ahram can do things the others would not be allowed to. We have written about torture in Egyptian prisons, but we don t go too much into the details. We have features on social issues that reveal a lot. But we are always careful that the Government view comes through. But then as a defined opinion. It is not predominant. We are stretching the limits. If the government does not like it, they ll fire me – or someone else in the editorial board. There is no censorship There is an exercise of self-censorship in well-defined aspects. We do give certain space to the president, regardless of what he is doing. Some of this would not usually be considered newsworthy by western standards of journalism. Saudi Arabia is not necessarily sacred. It depends on the topic. We covered the court case of Mubarak s son, who took a Saudi paper to court for libel. We leave the president, of course. We don t criticise anyone by name. We will report it (in the paper) if someone attacks a minister, and we will refer what the minister says himself. The libel laws in this country are absurd. Mustafa Bakim should be fined for libel, but he can go on because he is attacking the right people. It is only when you are attacking the wrong people you have a libel. We report what each side is saying. Even our columnists adhere to this. The press law of 93 is just like all the other press laws awful. It is absurd to laws against libel, and the application in this country is just bullying. As long as you attack the right people it is ok, but Fahmi Mohammed gets six months for an objective statement. Hooliganism. I don t see anything loosening up in this country. That is a personal statement, of course, and not as editor of The Al-Ahram weekly. The sensationalist press is very libelous They have state backing. In fact, they have interior ministry backing. The government made a big fuzz about the yellow press, and passed laws to prohibit it, when they themselves were partly responsible for it. Criticism against corruption and links between business and state officials is to be avoided. The censorship and libel laws were all passed to hinder the uncovering of these links. The law of 1993 was to shut this up, and they succeeded. The government is happy to see the present situation go on, as long as certain red lines are not overstepped. We don t get into unravelling or researching who is paying who. It would be interesting, but everybody in government is doing business, so it is better to leave it alone. Leave it to the others. The Cairo TimesFortnightly Newsmagazine Mr Hisham KassemPublisherDecember 1998Printed in the Freezone, Nasr City The problems of publishing in English is just a part of the problem with the publishing industry in this country. In fact, there are a number of advantages of publishing in English. It is easier to sell advertising space, and it is easier to win sympathy abroad. The support from abroad is the only pressure to the government to leave us alone. But the problem is not English publishing, but the publishing laws in general. Before the press laws of 1996, it was virtually impossible to register a publishing company in Egypt. In order to register, one had to have 200 shareholders all with equal shares. There is only one company in Egypt, which is registered according to these criteria. The owner, (Scoldel Midan), is a member of the (Shia) council. And in practice he owns the (Mahmood Shiewi) himself, as he basically just got his friends to sign up.. He has the power of attorney from all the shareholders and hires and fires at will. After 1996 one needed just 10 shareholders still with equal shares. Three publications have managed to register; all are Arabic speaking newspapers. These are the el Osboa, the El Nebaa and the Sortel Ooma. Yet you need permission from the state security and the national security. You need to be more than good friends with these to get your approval. At present there are 22 other companies who have their applications in without getting a license. You used to be able to appeal to the higher press council. Now you also need a permit from the cabinet before you can apply, and their decision is final. I.e. you can not appeal. Janni, I tell you it s difficult. When I went to the higher press council in September 96 to check the laws, I discovered that they had not met for two years. They had all kinds of applications that were just lying there Handicap magazines, sports magazines and so on. The higher press council does not want to start a new trend by allowing some and not others. When people threatened to sue, the government intervened as they defined it as matters of national security. In any case, it is unconstitutional. No administrative decrees are immune from appeal by the citizens. They can t change the constitution, for they don t have that kind of firepower. So it is really only a question of time before they have to liberate the press. Due to the unconstitutional registration laws, 80% of Egypt s publications are registered abroad, and thus treated as foreign. Censorship for Egyptian publications was abolished in 1974. Foreign papers are a matter of national security, and liable to censorship. Around 200 papers are currently registered in Cyprus. It does not really matter where they are registered, they will always be regarded as part of the Cyprus press. Some are unserious and a few are serious. A proportion of the papers are downright con-jobs, where commissioners of government advertising place ads and then split the money with the publishers. But some are serious. The foreign press is not allowed to advertise on broadcast televison the most effective way of reaching the population. It is also impossible to get bank loans, and selling equity shares is also out of the question. This places extreme limitations to growth, This whole setup, where 80% of Egypt s publications are registered abroad, comes all out of the governments wish to retain control of content. There are only about 6-7 publishing houses in Egypt, who is printing about 30 different publications. Malta has a population of 370 000, and have 4 dailies. We have 7 dailies and a population of 65 million. Malta is not an emerging country. It has no industry. With all due respect to the Maltese, if the Island sunk in the ocean – it would not stay in the headlines for more than a week. Yet they have 1300 times more publications than Egypt per capita. In addition, the seven publishing houses are losing money. The Al-Ahram might make a profit, but not more than a tenth of its potential. The Cyprus press is weak, and it is unlikely that these will survive long into the future. The Al-Ahram recently bought a new press that cost 600 million Egyptian pounds. It runs for about an hour a day. It has capacity to run 20-22 hours a day. If the Al-Ahram was to improve with colour, they had to buy it. But it is not run according to economic principles. They are losing an enormous amount of money each hour the press does not run. At the very least, it should run 15 hours a day. Publishing in Egypt is a tool for the government to stay in power. They are willing to pay a lot for this. As a result, nobody in the upper or middle management of the Egyptian press knows how to run an economically sound operation, The Egyptian government does not realise that it is actually a matter of national security to have an information industry that works, When it is working 1300 times under the Maltese capacity, it can not be said to work. Egypt is dependent upon trade, and sooner or later all public companies will have to be privatised. The publishing industry, however, can not be sold as Stella or a cement factory. What happens if countries a lot less open than Egypt starts buying these companies. Say Iraq, Libya or Sudan buys the Al-Ahram. How will this affect national security? Yet only selling equal proportions of shares will not work. Without a majority, the buyer will not have an opportunity to re-organise and streamline the operation. With the qualifications of the current upper and middle management, who will want to buy a share? And for all the efforts of the Egyptian government to control information, they do not succeed. I can write an article for the Al Akbar, or I can send it to any international paper. People will still be able to read it. So the Egyptian government in reality can t control what is published in Egypt. An ex. intelligence officer heads the censorship committee. He has a history from the state information services, which used to be where they placed troublesome writers. They d be transferred there, without specific tasks to accomplish. They were just picking up their wage at the beginning of every month. But this man belongs to the cold war. He believes it is still on. Like the Japanese solider they found 40 years after the war on a desolate island. He is 73 years old 13 years past retirement and gets a presidential decree each year allowing him to continue. He shows up each day at one. I refuse to pay them anything. Not so much out of principle as of the knowledge that they will slam the door in my face when we get banned. They are not powerful enough to release anything. But it s really only a question of time. Who would have thought the Berlin Wall would fall a month before? The government attention to information is closer to animal instinct. It is blinding them. It is actually closer to treason that an animal drive allows you to neglect an industry so related to national security. I am first on the most wanted list of publications the government wants to close. I have been banned six times this year a new record but the issue is not free speech. The government is trying to stop water flowing down the drain. It is impossible. In two or three years they will have to let go. We are looking at the future of the entire publishing industry in Egypt. What will we do with our free speech if we have no means of publishing it? Who will compete with Le Figaro or Le Monde when they start operating in this country? Letter from exileby Thomas Cronwell,Editor of Middle East TimesCopyright 1997 The Middle East Times. All rights reserved. As you may have noticed, I am no longer publishing and editing this paper from a seat in Cairo. I hope the weather is fine in my absence (I do love autumn in Cairo) because the atmosphere of ever-tightening control of the press in Egypt is sending clouds of concern over the journalistic community and creating ripples of turbulence that are hardly a benefit for Egypt. The new press law, for one, can hardly be considered media-friendly, with its bias clearly favoring an establishment unwilling to brook criticism from the press. The libel laws are so strongly supportive of the potential targets of exposes, investigative reporting or critical commentaries that editors and publishers are increasingly worried about what they can print. The Egyptian government frequently says the country has a free press. This is not really the case. Publications with any sort of political content are either controlled by the government or by political parties. With the country so completely under the control of the ruling National Democratic Party, this means that all the major media organs, such as the daily Al Ahram, Al Akhbar and Al Gomhuriya, are government-controlled. The most substantial non-government paper is the Wafd, owned by the party of that name. But its agenda is to support its owners and not to seek out the truth. With radio and television completely owned and operated by the Ministry of Information, there are in fact no independent political newspapers in Egypt. Hence the problems faced by this one. When we pursue articles that seem of importance to Egypt, whether it be in the realm of security matters, inter-communal relations, crime, the political processes and so on. We are often skating on thin ice because no other Egypt-based publication has raised these issues from an independent and objective vantage point. Hence each week we have to pass through a censorship process. (Egyptian-based or -owned media are not censored, but editors and writers have to beware of the press law, and there are some taboos, such as criticizing the head of state. All imported foreign-owned media are liable to censorship.) Our relations with our censors are generally good, and we often enter lively debate over what should be allowed and what not. Better to have the government censor you than to have to censor yourself, I would say. We can never be sure what will set off alarm bells in the censor’s mind, but stories on everything from domestic violence in Egyptian homes (based on a government-issued report), to a largely sympathetic review of President Hosni Mubarak’s 15 years in power have been cut or caused the paper to be banned altogether. An editorial I wrote criticizing the Saudi system was pulled out, and apparently my praise for Jordan was taken as an insult to Egypt. Egypt is a great country with a great people. It has an unparalleled history with a unique archeological legacy. It also has lovely areas of great natural beauty, such as the Red Sea with its multi-colored fish, and spectacular stretches of the Nile and northern coastline. And yet, after a revolution that unseated the monarchy, a long experiment with socialism under Nasser, and more open, business-oriented policies under Sadat and Mubarak, it still has not achieved a recognizable modern model for its existence. Although the debate about Egypt s present and future that so interests the Middle East Times seems worrying to some of Egypt’s official watchdog organizations, we believe the issues deserve airing and we will continue to do so as long as we are able.Press censor denies censorship Lutfi Abdel KaderHeads the office of the foreign pressby Richard Engel, Middle East Times staffCopyright 1997 The Middle East Times. All rights reserved. What is the role of this office?First of all if you come to me and ask is there censorship or not, I would like to say that censorship was canceled following a decision of President Sadat in 1974. Since this date our work is only now to see what the news media write about Egypt. This is our work, to make sure articles are correct or not. There is no censorship. If there is something we don t approve [of] we say to the people responsible: Don t write it again. Like what we do with your newspaper. This is the role of our office. Our office has two branches. This is the branch for foreign news. There is another branch at the Ministry of Information to know what the [local] papers write. [In fact] we assist the chief editor to give him news he cannot obtain. We help the people working in London and abroad. This is the real role of our office. Every week we bring in our newspaper and later we receive a call saying no to such and such a paragraph or This article doesn t work, remove it please. Why does your office do this? It prevents us from reporting. No we don t. But we prevent that which goes out of line only this. We see the newspaper and our people read it and when they find anything that is not good for our country, we contact the people responsible and we ask them not to print it again and we release the paper. This is what we do. But I would like to add that there is no censorship for the papers written in our country like Al Ahram and Al Akhbar. What about opposition papers like Al Shaab?No censorship at all. They print what they want to say and the people who are hurt by what is written in Al Shaab can answer, like what is written about Hassan Al Alfi. Alfi didn t do anything against Al Shaab, but only expressed his opinion to say that Al Shaab is wrong. Al Shaab can print what ever they want?Yes. But we are in a different situation.Yes. Two weeks ago we printed a translation of an opinion taken from the Hakika newspaper and this office asked us not to print it. But it was already on the streets. Why?Because you wrote it in a bad way, not exactly likeAl Hakika. This is the important point, to see what you took from Al Hakika and put in your paper. If you took it exactly like it was in Al Hakika, we wouldn t have opposed [it]. This is the difference between us. You wrote what the Hakika says, but not exactly what they wrote. We opposed because you said that Al Hakika wrote this. We referred to Al Hakika and found that what was written was not exactly like [what] you printed. How do you respond to those abroad who criticize Egypt for censorship?I would say to those people to visit Egypt and visit the people. They will find all the foreign papers sold here. I say to them, come to Egypt and walk the streets and see the people selling all the foreign papers arriving in Egypt. So there is no censorship. There is an office of censorship for cinema and books. How many offices are there?This is the office for foreign newspapers and books, for cinema there is another office. What topics do you most often have to remove?We don t remove, but only if we are not satisfied with the reporting concerning our president, our country, the people in our country and [articles which] report that everything is bad in our country… we are not satisfied. But we don t remove it. What if you are not satisfied with an article in Newsweek, for example, what do you do?If it is a bad story and it is not suitable to our policy and our attitude, we first of all warn their office here not to write such things. If they write it again we are obliged not to release it. The one accident was when Anwar Sadat was the ruler of our country. He didn t accept what was written inNewsweek for 24 hours, but then he gave an order to this office to release the paper even though it was very bad. So we can say our censorship is not like in many Arab countries or foreign countries… we are very soft. We say now that all that is happening in the world is declared in many papers. Can a journalist be expelled if he writes too many articles that this office finds unsatisfactory?No, such things now are not done. To remove a corespondent from Egypt was canceled more than 25 years ago. We know what he s going to [write] is issued abroad, so we don t oppose it. Is this office sensitive to the demands of foreign policy?You know that Israel wrote many strong articles against Mubarak and we allowed them to come into the country. The last article was in the Jerusalem Post and the article was a bad attack on Mubarak, but we allowed it in. What was written was not concerning policy, but his character. Are papers free to write about President Mubarak s family?If you read our newspapers you will find many stories about Mubarak and his wife and sons. There is no censorship. What about Islam?You can write about Islam what you like, but not attacking it. You can say that Islam has many basic principles and things such as that. But you cannot attack our Prophet Mohammed. You approve if anyone were to attack [Jesus]? It is the same thing. When you say things that are not real, or not true that is what is not allowed. Who has the final decision about releasing a sensitive article?Minister of Information Safwat Sharif. But President Mubarak warns us not to hold articles. First of all I tell the minister of information that such and such a magazine wrote an article about Mubarak and that from our point of view we don t approve it. I send the article to [Sharif] and he gives me a decision after one or two hours.This doesn t happen often, perhaps once a month or every two weeks, not every day.