About the Post

Author Information

I am a multimedia journalist currently working as a Senior Web Journalist/ Videographer with Khaleej Times in Dubai, UAE. Prior to this, I worked as a news editor with CNN’s Indian affiliate in Noida. I graduated from Syracuse University in New York state in 2012 with a Masters degree in Broadcast and Digital journalism. I have worked in video production, online journalism, features writing and market research over a period of four years.

A Journalist’s Guide to Egypt

This is aimed at providing a quick but intensive briefing for a journalist making a visit to Egypt.
With one of the richest cultures and oldest civilizations in the world, Egypt has been the heart of the Arab world and the epicenter of Islamic learning. Egypt has long been known for its pyramids, but surprisingly little is known how they were formed. Being the largest and the most populous country of the Middle East, Egypt has played a major role in Middle Eastern politics in modern times. 

Freedom of Press in Egypt
 
According to the CIA, Egypt attained independence on 28 February 1922 from UK protectorate status. Then another revolution began on 23 July 1952 that led to a republic being declared on 18 June 1953 and all British troops withdrew on 18 June 1956.
“Gamal Abdel Nasser became the President after the revolution in 1952 and continued till he died in 1970. Then President Anwar Sadat ruled till 1981. Hosni Mubarak took over in 1981 and ruled for thirty years till he was overthrown in 2011 by the protesters. All the three Egyptian presidents were from a military background and they used to exercise unchecked powers and control over people. Nobody was given the right to express opinions. The police used to crack down on civilians unreasonably,“ Mohamed Khater, 54, the former president of the Islamic Society of Central New York, said.
Khater has been a Syracuse resident for about 30 years and he visits Egypt every year. He couldn’t visit his home country this year as all flights were cancelled due to the revolution.
Khater said that Mubarak started to allow some freedom to the press, but with red lines that one couldn’t cross. People were allowed to speak about anybody up till the Prime Minister but nobody could discuss the President.
“Last year in Alexandria, which is the second most populated city after the Capital city Cairo, the police killed a young man in his 20s because he was an internet blogger and he posted allegations against the government and the deplorable state of the youth. The police claimed that he died due to drug use, but later a photograph was obtained which showed his face brutally beaten,” Khater said.
“But now after the revolution, things are different. Press is given unlimited freedom. Anybody can say or publish anything about anyone.” Khater said
“One of the most influential channels is Al Jazeera which started in 1990s. Young people who lacked exposure to places outside Egypt, started to see a different picture than what their state channels and newspapers would show. This realization was one of the reasons that sparked a need to improve the state of the country. And gradually  the resentment found its way into the revolution that happened in January 2011,” Khater said.
Khater said that after the protests people have become more aware and involved in social issues.
Campaigns are held almost every Friday. The government doesn’t stop them anymore… they only say that don’t stop production… and don’t do on a day when there is work,” Khater said. Politics

Following the resignation of President Mohamed Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, headed by Defense Minister Muhammad Hussein Tantawi, assumed control of the government.
Egypt has two legislative bodies – the Advisory Council or Majlis al-Shura (Shura Council) that traditionally functions mostly in a consultative role (264 seats) and the People’s Assembly or Majlis al-Sha’b (518 seats).
Al-Geel, Democratic Peace Party, Nasserist Party, National Democratic Party or NDP, National Progressive Unionist Grouping or Tagammu, New Wafd Party or NWP, Social Justice Party and Tomorrow Party are some of the prominent parties which are vying for seats in the next election.
According to the CIA, “Despite a constitutional ban against religious-based parties and political activity, the technically illegal Muslim Brotherhood constitutes Egypt’s most potentially significant political opposition. President Mubarak has alternated between tolerating limited political activity by the Brotherhood and blocking its influence.”
“Before the protests, President Hosni Mubarak was in control of almost everything. National Democratic Party (NDA) was in control of about 90% of the parliament.The President led the NDA and exercise complete autocracy. But now this is no longer true,” Khater said.
“These uprisings in 2011 were not the result of religious reasons but suppression of political participation and freedom of speech, uncontrolled corruption, privileged ruling class controlling all aspects of the society, state of emergency laws, police brutality, lack of free elections, social inequities, a wide gap between the rich and the poor, high unemployment, rising food prices, low minimum wage and little hope for a bright future for the youth,” Khater said.
“You would see people in some areas live in palaces not just nice villas while other live in shacks. And they are not second class citizens … They are not from a different clan … They are just regular people,” Khater said.
Khater said the reason for the wide disparity between haves and have nots was the widespread corruption. Most of the well-off people had political connections and so they had illegal access to money, property and other benefits.
“One guy, who probably became the third or fourth richest person in the country, owned a steel factory. He started from nowhere but made political connections and was able to climb his way to the top. But now he is in jail. He is Ahmed Ezz from Ezz steel industries,” Khater said.
“Even the head of the parliament, the head of the people’s assembly, and many more are in jail. The interior minister, for instance, has already got a sentence of 12 years and he is waiting for other trials… because they all are corrupt,” Khater said.
Khater said that now after the protests no one can dare embezzle funds. “Things are at a standstill… People don’t know where the country is going, what kind of government will take over. But they are going to keep the same political structure although they have changed some articles of the constitution,” Khater said.
Khater expects the election to happen in November this year. “When the military took over in February, they said they will be in power for six months only and after that they will transfer power to a civilian government… but for practical reasons, it’s not feasible. We don’t have the structure for a civilian government,” Khater said.
“There are so many parties, around 20 of them. But any party that succeeds it has to have an Islamic basis and value. Egypt is not going to be a secular country. But also not autocracy… It will be somewhere in the middle,” Khater said.
Khater said it may take 10-12 years to rebuild the country.
The Ancient Egyptian civilization
 
“The Egyptian civilization is the first recorded one in the world history. It started 7000 years ago, around 5000 BC. The pyramid of course… everyone knows. But how the pyramids were built, we still don’t know,” Khater said.
“The Egyptian civilization built up around the Nile. Egypt is mostly a dessert and the Nile is the bloodline of Egyptians… Nile is the reason why it’s fertile on some parts of Egypt. Sometimes you say, there’s something like the pyramids we don’t know how they did it… and there are some things that later became a model for things that came after – such as the first irrigation system built by the Egyptian civilization. That civilization continued till around 1000-1500 BC and then moved to different places around the area,” Khater said.Society

With around 82 million of population, Egypt has mostly Muslims and just about 10% Christians.
“There are incidents of fighting between Muslims and Christians… mostly in poor and less educated areas which can get easily influenced and become extremists. They don’t understand that even in the Quran there’s pluralism. That god allows all religions to exist,” Khater said.
“A Christian store owner would not sell goods to a Muslim. A Muslim person would say he will only help other Muslim. This does happen even now but it’s not prevalent,” Khater said.
“And people say the Christians are oppressed in Egypt… the answer is that in the Forbes list of billionaires, there are three from Egypt and they are all Christians, and not Muslims. This doesn’t mean all the Christians are rich… No they are not. Not all the Muslims are rich either. It just means that if you want to make billions of money, your religion won’t be a barrier,” Khater said.
Cultural Significance
 
“Sometimes you hear similar music in different Arab countries. The Arabic music evolved over the years in the middle east area in Egypt,” Khater said.
“Before 30 years, there were no movies in the Arab countries, other than the ones coming from Egypt. All the television talent, soap operas were exported to other Arab countries from Egypt. And that’s true even now… the Egyptian cinemas and theatre and the cultural life… is much more prevalent than any other Arab country,” Khater said.
Khater said the reason behind the Egyptian dominance in in Arab culture is that the Egyptian cinema is the oldest among Arab countries; it started around 1910s and being the most populated Arab country, theatre and art found a large audience.
“Nothing changed in the Egyptian culture after the protests. Some things will never change… no matter what the government is. You can’t take their culture away from them. Moreover Egypt will never be ruled by an Islamic autocratic regime… Egypt will never be like Iran or Saudi Arabia. Because people in Egypt are just different. They want their freedom, they want to be Muslims or Christians… they also want to go out to movies… they want their theatre… they want to go to play, sing or dance,” Khater said.
Regional Importance
 
“Because of the revolution started in 1952 by Nasser, which was almost the first revolution, in the area…Nasser wanted a united Arab republic… “One voice for the Arab” was his dream… it was never materialized but he was always trying to export the revolution… export “help” – politically, financial and help with people – from egypt to other Arab countries. Egypt had a huge manpower and population more than any other country. There were just people from Egypt going everywhere,” Khater said.

“All Middle East countries speak Arabic… but they have a dialect… so there’s an Egyptian dialect which is understood everywhere in the Arab world… because of the effect of cinemas and culture, singers, engineer, doctors, teachers in Egypt who travelled to overseas starting from 1950s,” Khater said.
The Azhar University in Cairo is the chief centre of Arabic literature and Islamic learning in the world. People from Azhar University go overseas to spread the Islamic knowledge to other imams (religious workers) and people.
Education and Unemployment
 
According to CIA, the literacy rate is high 71.4% (83% for males and 59.4% in females).
“We definitely have many people going to universities for education… it’s both good and bad. Good because they are getting educated and bad because there are no jobs for them. Unemployment rate its worse at this point, around 24.8% for youth… It turned worse after the protests as some people who owned companies have fled the country. Some are in jail waiting for trials,” Khater said.
“You don’t have a real future in Egypt as a young person… you are going to get a job that will barely cover your living expenses. One-third of Egyptian population is less than 25 years of age. The youth population is high and so the demand for jobs is very high.”
“Whichever government comes, they will face the huge problem of unemployment. Everyone now expects with the new government, the living standard of a common man would improve. Else they will look at themselves after a year and wonder ‘What did this revolution do to us. My life is still the same and maybe even worse’,” Khater said.
Khater expects things to get worse before it gets better. “But in the long run, I think its definitely going in the direction it should be,” he said.
Mina Fakhouri, 27, left Egypt and came to the US in June 2006 to pursue his education and doesn’t plan to go back.
“There are no jobs in Egypt. Many young educated people are working in cafeteria on the streets. With a Christian name, no muslim would offer me a job in Egypt. So more and more Christians are leaving the country,” he said.
Fakhouri said that people in Egypt are quite conservative. “They will be either with you or against you. They are not liberal or understanding.”
Economy
 
According to the CIA, in the northeast side of the African continent, Egypt is bisected by the highly fertile Nile valley, where most economic activity takes place.
Egypt ranks 27 in its GDP compared to the rest of the world and ranks 68 in its GDP growth rate.
“Oil, Egyptian textiles, cotton are the main sources of revenue for Egypt, with textiles being the main industry. Egypt also has Suez Canal that brings a lot of revenue. The tourism industry is also very developed. Pyramids, temples and red sea. It’s not of the best places in the world for divers,” Khater said.
“The economy now is not in good shape. People say that it’s the price of freedom.”
International significance
 
“The allies and enemies of Egypt changed over the last several years. During the revolution of 1952, President Nasser tried to align Egypt with the Americans.  In the 1950s, Egypt approached the World Bank to receive funding for a dam on the river Nile to produce electricity. However they were denied,” Khater said.
“So they asked Russia and they agreed to give Egypt the money and support in building the dam in Egypt. The influence of Russia continued for the whole period in up until early 70s. So for 12 years there was no communication at all between Egypt and US. Everything was run by the Russians,” Khater said.
“However after 1973, President Sadat was more pro-western. He pushed Egypt to the American side. He opened up the country for foreign investment. This is when people started having alliances with people outside Europe and US.“
Tips on travel and access 
There are direct flights from the US to Egypt. “Egypt Air goes directly to Cairo. Else American, united, delta airlines have connections to Cairo.” Khater said.
Khater said that Cairo is the safest city to live in. For a journalist, he said it will be best if he/she has a local contact. If not, the journalist should contact the Egyptian Association of Journalists for the next steps.
The average stay in an Egyptian hotel would amount to USD 60-70.
Khater said that with their newly found freedom, Egyptians would be ready to freely give information to journalists. In order to ensure safety, it is advisable to obtain information about the cities where the journalist wishes to travel. One should also try to move in groups rather than being alone to unknown places. Biases of Mohamed Khater
 

“I have no influence or interest towards any political party. I like some more than others. I like the center party. It’s a mix of islamic and non-Islamic values.”
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