Egypt: new voices, untold stories

Tuesday morning the Atlantic Council hosted an event discussing the major issues facing Egypt today. The featured speakers were Sarah El-Sirgany (Nonresident fellow, Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East and freelance journalist), Mohammad Tolba (Founder, Salafyo Costa), Basil Dabh (Journalist, Daliy News Egypt), and Mosa’ab El Shamy (Photojournalist). Mirette Mabrouk, Deputy Director for Regional Programs at the Atlantic Council Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, moderated.

Sarah El-Sirgany said the current population in Egypt is about 90 million people. It is a diverse demographic. Looking at public polls, if presidential elections were held tomorrow, 51% of the population says it would vote for Al-Sisi and 45% is undecided. The fact that such a large percentage is undecided challenges the idea that public opinion is unified. Outside Cairo, politics is a lot less relevant. Egyptians living in rural areas are undecided. Generally they do not care as much about politics. When the Egyptian uprising began, the protestors’ slogan was, “The people want to bring down the regime.” Today, the people’s wants have been appropriated by government parties claiming to represent the Egyptian people.

Mohammad Tolba spoke about how those in power have disappointed and failed the Egyptian people in the past three years. Rural communities lack basic services and cannot meet their daily needs. In his opinion, going to the streets and protesting is no longer the way to bring about meaningful change. It is time to translate slogans and chants into concrete actions. The “real” Egypt needs to be empowered, not just the elite.

Mohammad founded Salafyo Costa in response to discrimination and negative stereotypes of Salafis. Currently there are 30,000 members. Salafyo Costa uses unorthodox methods to encourage interfaith dialogue. For example, through soccer matches between Salafis and Christians, Salafyo Costa promotes coexistence and mutual respect. The organization also sends teams of doctors with different religious backgrounds to provide humanitarian aid to marginalized communities.

Mibrette Mabrouk asked, what are the troubles photojournalists face today?

Mosa’ab El Shamy replied that the biggest challenge has been the rise in violence and imprisonment of journalists since June 2013. Since then, at least five photojournalists have been killed and two have been detained. Photojournalists are particularly at risk because they have to be at the forefront of events. They must always be braced for arrests. The challenges journalists face are not always limited to violence from the state. Violence is multifaceted and does not come from one side. Journalists spared by the police are likely to be targeted by protesters. Due to the level of violence and tension on the street, civilians are becoming more suspicious of photojournalists. In addition, Mosa’ab gets the sense that Egypt is no longer a hot topic. The international community has lost interest in the Egyptian uprising.

Nevertheless, Mosa’ab wants to document and increase awareness of events in Egypt. As an independent photojournalist, he feels like he can direct news through his photos.

Basil said that since 2011, there have been unprecedented crackdowns on journalists. Since Morsi’s overthrow, pro-Morsi media outlets have been shut down and have not returned. The past three years have been a constant battle of narratives. The mainstream media has generally fallen in line with the current government narrative. It is bolstered by conspiracy theories. Independent journalists do not fact-check. They accept what the government tells them. This is either because there is no way to verify the information or because it is too dangerous to do so.

Sarah pointed out that there is a growing movement of social media and citizen journalism. However, there are many issues concerning objectivity and fact checking. Many people are driven by personal beliefs and objectives rather than the truth.

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