It’s the people, not the paper

It’s the people, not the paper

In another country, at another time, writing about the Egypt
Independent might be considered writing about the competition. After
all, there are only a few English-language dailies in Egypt – and fewer
that are not reliant on state funding. But writing about the Egypt
Independent is not writing about a competitor – it’s writing about a
newspaper that I wrote for, a newspaper I read on a regular basis, and a
newspaper I will miss. Egyptian media, and Egypt itself, is the lesser
for it.

The Egypt Independent officially announced it was closing down on 25
April 2013. Many of us had heard about it before, because many of us had
tried hard to support its continued existence through different means
and methods. The support campaign for the paper was a bit bizarre –
because participating in the campaign was, in itself, an achievement. It
was something to be proud of – it was laudable to put yourself forward
to help save this voice of an Egypt that was inclusive, revolutionary,
and stubbornly progressive. That the paper now no longer exists, as the
result of a decision made by the mother company, Al Masry Al Youm,
reflects badly not on the team behind the Egypt Independent – but on the
management of the parent organisation, which would not even allow the
50th and final issue to be printed for posterity, if nothing else.

I did not always like what I saw in the pages of the paper –
sometimes I disagreed, as is to be expected with any paper. Yet, they
continually broke ground – while others in the Egyptian media preferred
to be tabloid-like and sensationalist, the Egypt Independent provided a
voice on subjects that few others bothered to investigate. It was in the
pages of this paper that not only the melodramatic would make the
headlines, but the stories of people on the margins of society, where we
would not otherwise read anything about them. For that alone, the paper
was a worthwhile read.

But it was not that alone. It was also a paper of criticism –
criticism of pretty much everyone. Perhaps there were famous
personalities that the editorial team supported privately – but I
couldn’t find any evidence of that in their pages. What I did find was
pretty much widespread critique of Egypt’s entire political
establishment – and rightfully so. If it was supportive of any
particular political force, I did not see it. Again – for that kind of
multi-layered criticism, I appreciated Egypt Independent.

Finally, though, was something that was entirely not about journalism
– but about Egypt. That was the paper’s defiant, committed, and
sustained support for the revolution of the 25th of January
2011. In that regard, I’m not referring to the uprising itself –
although, of course, it would be hard to conclude that Egypt Independent
was anything but utterly supportive of the protests that led to the
departure of Hosni Mubarak. I’m noting the paper’s support of the
revolution – a revolution that continues in Egypt, and which the paper
signified many times. When the paper changed its name from ‘Al Masry Al
Youm: English edition’ to ‘Egypt Independent’, they probably could have
renamed it ‘#Jan25’, and it would have been as recognisable.

They took that commitment far beyond the political struggle to create
a pluralistic political system, and a state that would serve its
citizens, rather than thrive off them. The commitment I saw in the pages
of the paper wasn’t simply about that – it was a way of thinking as
well. Some of the points of that proto-philosophy were listed in the
final pages of the paper as 50 aphorisms:

–          Revolution is not just protests

–          Nothing lasts forever, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t matter

–          Despair is betrayal

–          It’s the people, not the place

–          Pressure makes diamonds

This is actually a historic and very Egyptian practice – the writing of hikam,
or wisdoms (although more appropriately translated as ‘aphorisms’). The
famed Sufi adept, Ibn Ata’illah of Alexandria, is well known for his
own hikam (Al-Hikam Al-Ata’iyya), and there are tomes upon tomes written by people as commentaries (shuruh) upon his work. I wouldn’t dream to write a sharh of my own on Al-Hikam Al-EgyptIndependentiyya, but I would comment on two of them, in light of their publication.

Despair is betrayal – because ‘despair’ is a betrayal of the spirit
of this generation of Egyptians that refused to give in. Giving in to
‘despair’ in this regard, as far as the team of Egypt Independent were
concerned, was to give up – and that was a betrayal of the sacrifices
Egyptians have made. It was a betrayal that the team refused to engage
in – because they firmly believed, and continue to believe, that the
struggle continues, regardless of how difficult it might be. They
deserve admiration for their refusal to give in.

On that last point of ‘it’s the people, not the place’, I would say:
it is the people, not the paper. Egypt’s media is the lesser without the
newspaper – but Egypt would be the lesser if the people that made up
that paper decided to retreat, leave or simply fade away. I do not think
they will. I think they will resurface, in another shape or form, and
bring pride to the rebirth of truly independent Egyptian media. The
likes of this team are a testament to this country – and I am sure they
will continue to make their mark, and marks, for many moons and years to
come.

Dr H A Hellyer, a non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution, is a
Cairo-based specialist on Arab affairs, and relations between the
Muslim world and the west. Fellow at ISPU, he was previously senior
practice consultant at Gallup, and senior research fellow at Warwick
University. Find him online @hahellyer and www.hahellyer.com .

This article was published by Daily News Egypt on April 28, 2013. Read it here.