After witnessing and covering the 2011 revolution, in retrospect, there are few places I would have rather worked than Egypt Independent.
The revolution threw Egypt into the world spotlight. It had a perfect story arc and an underdog character that shattered many preconceived notions about people in this region.
It was a great story, but it wasn’t going to end with the uprising. What happened after that was possibly more important, and while the idea of a lovely resolution after a climactic resignation was pretty and neat, there was none. The interim period was messy and the narrative was no longer easy to discern.
I joined the Egypt Independent team in April 2011. The interim rulers, a council of top military leaders, had control of the country. At the time, our team was called Al-Masry Al-Youm English Edition, named for the paper — “The Daily Egyptian” — that subsidized us. After the Al-Masry Al-Youm leadership at the time tried to censor an issue we ran over an op-ed about the military, we established a new name, Egypt Independent.
The next year, we relaunched our weekly print edition under the new name. Our team became better and better. We published investigative work and ran thought-provoking covers that addressed issues such as sectarianism, sexualized violence, political failures and stalemates, farmers’ issues, and censorship, to name a few. I felt that our publication was providing the most in-depth coverage on Egypt in the market, compared with both English- and Arabic-language publications.
But despite our increasingly crucial place in Egyptian media, the staff was informed that Al-Masry Media company would be shutting us down over what it said were financial problems. Despite a campaign we ran to cut costs and raise funds that went beyond the role of a typical editorial team — under the leadership of our forward-thinking, principled editor, Lina Attalah, and her optimism — the management did not change their mind, and we were prevented from printing our final issue, which was critical of the management practices and examined Egyptian media as a whole and featured spins on the crisis we faced (for instance, a lifestyle article on when it may be time to end a relationship) as well as artistic interventions, such as the Arabic writing seen in the margins. Ironically, that choice gained us more readers than ever before, and at the moment, more than 14,000 readers have viewed our 50th edition.
The team hopes to reassemble to form a truly independent news organization, but in the meantime, it’s worth a pause for reflection on what Egypt Independent has grown into over the past four years and the value of its contribution to world discourse in Egypt.
International English-language media outlets could not have covered such a crucial time in Egypt with the amount of depth and insight on a continuous basis like Egypt Independent could, with its diverse team of journalists from Egypt, the region and other countries around the world. Working here and thinking about the Iraq War, I can’t help but wonder how a strong, dedicated, English-language media outlet in Iraq, for instance, could have changed the nature of US policy there and even outcome of the war and ensuing sectarian conflict.
That said, it’s been great to see messages of support despite the closure. I feel encouraged knowing that the Egypt Independent project has made a difference in people’s lives, which is what made me want to enter journalism. While it’s still up on the website, please read Lina’s defiant editorial on the closure and role of media and journalism in general.
You can also see the coverage of the closure from Al Jazeera, The New York Times Lede blog, The Wall Street Journal, Columbia Journalism Review, Ahram Online, the Atlantic Council and Al-Akhbar English (Lebanon), as well as reactions from activists Alaa Abd El Fattah, Mahmoud Salem and Bassem Sabry.
Egyptian workers in Iraq
Feel free to read the story I wrote with Muthanna Edan (muthannaalghrairi.tumblr.com) on Egyptians who worked in Iraq recalling their experiences.