I had the opportunity to sit down with Rana Allam, Managing Editor of the Daily News Egypt towards the end of January this year, just days before the two-year anniversary of the start of the Egyptian uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak. Not surprisingly, the publication’s modest offices, located in the downtown Cairo neighborhood of El Dokki, were buzzing with activity. I was there to talk to Ms. Allam about media representations of Egyptian women, but as the interview progressed, I realized that just as significant was the role that publications like Daily News Egypt play in presenting an alternative narrative to the English speaking audience.
Like many other international English language newspapers, Daily News Egypt serves a distinct purpose. As they describe it on their website, the publication works with “local Arabic sources [to] provide the English speaking world with insight into breaking news, in print and online … to [be] a point of reference on Egyptian current affairs for readers all over the world.” Fittingly, over 50 percent of the publication’s audience is from abroad, and their readership is growing.
While it can be deduced from looking at the content of their website, Ms. Allam articulated that the paper is “on the side of the revolution.” She expressed that the publication tries to be balanced and put all opinions on the table. But, she says, “When you’re objective, you’re just bound to be revolutionary.”
According to Ms. Allam the greatest challenge faced by the paper in achieving objectivity is the silence they face from the government. “Our problem is mainly that the government doesn’t reply. No one replies to you: state security, the ministry of interior, they’re like God, they would never reply to you.” She continues, “it’s quite stupid because we call them to get their side of the story, but they never reply, we can never get their side.”
Perhaps it is stupid, because not only is the readership increasing, but so too is the publication’s reputation, and the caliber of writers coming forward to contribute. Key among them is Shahira Amin, a long-time contributor to CNN’s Inside Africa, and the former deputy head of the state-run Nile TV, who resigned in February 2011, in protest of the channel’s skewed coverage of the uprising.
When I asked Ms. Allam about representations of Egyptians in mainstream Western media coverage, she responded: “I think no one should cover or write about any country, any people, without actually going and living among the people. It is very arrogant to decide to write about a certain society, or certain people, or issue by following reports. Come live here and then write about it.” She continued, “Of course they will never do this, so the only thing [we can do] is try to change these ideas, and this concept of Egyptian society.”
As the interview was wrapping up, I asked Ms. Allam about her preparations for the coming Friday, January 25th – the two-year anniversary of Egypt’s revolution. She responded by expressing her concern for “her girls” – the female journalists who would go to Tahrir Square to cover the protests.
Two years ago, the coverage of what happened to CBS’s Lara Logan, who suffered a brutal assault in Tahrir Square at the hands of a mob, was everywhere. While what happened to Ms. Logan was horrific, Ms. Allam expressed her frustration at the lack of attention given to the perpetual harassment and assaults on female journalists in Egypt. She explained that women journalists have been systematically targeted as a means of intimidation, likely at the behest of the government.
This revelation exemplifies the role of many English language dailies based abroad: while the picture presented may not always be holistic, they represent an intermediary between what is actually happening on the ground and what the English speaking audience has traditionally had access to. The growing readership of publications like Daily News Egypt should be taken as a reason for optimism; that audiences are increasingly diversifying their sources, and that many are in search of a more representative story.