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An Overview of the problems of Publishing in English in Egypt A survey by Ib Knutsen. Supervised by Dr. Hussein Amin. Course 504.Ib@aucegypt.eduhttp://ibsweb.findhere.com Contents Introduction 3 Presentation of Method 3 List of intreviews 4 Discussion of Method 5 Presentation of Results .. 6 Publishing 6 Censorship 8 Summary of the different approaches to censorship 9 – Al Ahram 9 – The Middle East Times 10 – The Cairo Times 11 Culture 11 – Language 12 – Reading Patterns 13 Discussion . 14 Conclusion 15 Appendices .. 16 – Interview with Middle East Times 16 – Interview with Egypt s Insight 18 – Interview with the Al-Ahram Weekly 19 – Interview with Cairo Times 21 – Letter from Exile, Thomas Cromwell 23 – Interview with the censor, by MET 24 IntroductionEnglish publishing in Egypt is not extensive. Only eight magazines and newspapers come out on a regular basis. Only a minority of the Egyptian population knows the English language and half the population is illiterate. Yet these are not the largest problems facing the English speaking press. Social, economical and political issues are closely intertwined in Egypt. Magazines or news publications face additional obstacles trying to cover these topics. How do the different editors approach or overcome these problems? My research question is An Overview of the Problems of Publishing in English in Egypt . There is no state censorship of Egyptian publications. Is the right of freedom of expression thus secured in Egypt? In order to probe these questions I went to the different English speaking publications and talked with their respective editors. I told them what I was working on, and tried to make the editors comment on their situation in their own words. There are several dimensions to publishing in English in Egypt. The language barrier, the Egyptian press licence, Matters of national security and custom are but some. I asked the editors explicitly to give an assessment on the significance of these, if they had not already done so. I talked with Al-Ahram, Hani Shukrallah, Managing EditorThe Cairo Times, Ms Diana Digges, EditorThe Cairo Times, Mr Hisham Kassem, PublisherThe Middle East Times, Mr Rod Craig, Managing Editor Egypt s Insight, Ms Nahed Yowakim, Editor-in-ChiefEgypt Today, Mr Scott Squire, Copy EditorI wrote their comments down in shorthand. If there were comments I was unsure of, I asked again. I spent about 40 minutes with each editor. When each interview was done, I spent an additional 15 minutes writing down a summary of the contents. I also filled out the missing parts of the shorthand text. I did my first interview with the editor of the Cairo times, Ms Diana Digges. She had prepared a number of CT issues containing articles on the topic. These were most helpful in sketching out the field. I used this information as background for my following interviews with Egypt Today, The Middle East Times, The Al-Ahram, Egypt s insight and finally, Cairo Times again. This time with the publisher, Mr Hisham Kassem. In addition, The interview with Egypt Today was brief, but consistent with the other findings. I found an interview with Mr Lutfi Abdel Kader, who heads the committee for foreign publications in Egypt, and an open letter from Mr Thomas Cromwell, editor in exile for the Middle East Times . Both of these secondary sources were posted on the internet with the permission of the Middle East Times. The MET also have a link to the digital freedom network on their homepage. I failed to get in touch with the remaining regular publication, The Egyptian Gazette. As with the Al-Ahram, the EG is also a government paper. It is, however, not considered a significant publication in Egypt. The Al-Ahram s managing editor, Hani Shukrallah, thought it valueless to be better than the EG. He commented further that We basically see what they do and try not to do the same. When editor-in-chief Ms. Nahed Yowakim of Egypt s Insight surveys what is allowed to publish in Egypt, she does not look in the EG, she looks in the Al-Ahram. Discussion of MethodI accounted a number of difficulties while collecting the data. First of all were the problem of communication. Though The Egyptian Gazette and the Al-Ahram by far were the most difficult to get in touch with, Egypt Today, Egypt s Insight and the Middle East Times were also time consuming. This was not only due to busy lines, as was the case with the government papers, but rather the busy agenda of the editors. They frequently travel, have meetings or simply are out . As a result, the data gathering took much more time than anticipated. It must be added that as soon as I did manage to get through to the right person, they were very forthcoming in setting an appointment as soon as possible. They also showed considerable interest in the project, and were very helpful to give perspectives on the topic. As I mentioned, I had trouble to the extent of not managing to get in touch with the Egyptian Gazette. I was also unable to get in touch with Egypt Today s publisher, Ms Anne Marie Harrison or the editor Mursi Saad el-Din. I did correspond with the publication over numerous E-mails, and with their copy editor, Mr Scott Squire, over the telephone. He confirmed the major points, but I have not presented Egypt Today s views separately in the paper, due to my inability to get in touch with the editor or the publisher. I do not think that this significantly alters the validity of the paper. I did speak with a majority of the publications. I spoke with all the private news-weeklies, the major government weekly and one of the two lifestyle magazines published monthly. The responses were very similar. The English publications in Egypt face the same problems. Their approach varies slightly. I have no reason to believe that Egypt Today or the Egyptian Gazette use a significantly different approach than the other media. I think the reliability therefore is high. Presentation of resultsThe problems of publishing in English in Egypt can be divided into three sections; The problem of publishing, the problem of censorship and the problem of culture. I will discuss each section separately. The publishing section regards the industry. I have therefore included the responses by the different editors in the description, rather than as separate sections. In the censorship section, there are variances among the different publications. I have therefore separated it in two, presenting the general concept of censorship first and the particulars of each publication last. When it comes to culture, the responses were quite similar, so I have grouped them under the different cultural sub-headings as I thought it appropriate. PublishingThe Freezone for business was set up in the satellite city of Cairo, Nasser city, to promote the development of enterprise. Business could register with the ministry of interior to get a licence to operate in the zone. In order to start a publishing company, an additional set of criteria had to be met. This was due to the national security aspect of publishing. The criteria for registering as a publishing house used to be 200 shareholders with equal shares. This made it practically impossible to attain the licence. Only one publication in Egypt managed to register according to these criteria. This is an Arabic publication, and the owner has the power of attorney over all the other shares in the company. This indicates that the remaining 199 shareholders are so-called straw men, registered as owners merely for legal reasons. In 1996, this law was revised. Now only ten shareholders were necessary, but approval of the state security and the national security was necessary. You need to be more than good friends with these to get your approval, according to Mr Hishan Kissem, Three Arabic publications were approved, but no English ones. Appeals can be brought before the higher press council. If they refuse, however, one must apply again. This process have been further limited by a new law demanding a Cabinet permission for all applications. Their decision is final, and can not be appealed. This effectively bars publications considered unwanted by the government to publish in Egypt. The English publications in Egypt are based in Egypt. Their offices are in Cairo, their journalists live in here, as do their readers. The companies who advertise in the publications are registered in Egypt. Yet the publications are considered foreign. Of the English speaking press in Egypt, only the governmental Al-Ahram and the Egyptian Gazette have Egyptian publishing licences. The government is reluctant to place an outright ban on publications in Egypt. This gives the publications the opportunity to print in another country and export the publication from there to Egypt. The most usual place to register is in Cyprus, and the name for Egyptian publications both Arabic and English printed outside Egypt has come to be called the Cyprus press – regardless whether it is published there or not. The financial situation for the Cyprus press is very unstable. They are virtually unable to get bank loans, as they are not registered as a company in Egypt. Selling equity shares is for the same reasons impossible. The foreign publications are not allowed to advertise on broadcast television, which inhibits promotion on the most powerful media channel. Economic growth, which is essential for any company, is severely limited. All companies outside the Freezone have to pay tax, including the Cyprus press. The Al-Ahram is printed in the freezone. The largest burden is currently the general advertising tax of 36%. Income generated by advertising is a major contributor to the balance of publishers. Adding a third to the price of ads make them nearly impossible to sell. Alternatively, one can let the publication cover the expense, with the resulting loss of income. Most of the English publishers have managed to avoid the advertising tax by paying the import duty on published material. This tax is between 7 10 % on publishing cost, i.e. a significantly smaller amount. They argue you can not pay domestic tax and import duty at the same time. The government remains undecided, and will perhaps only come to a conclusion when they want to remove an unwanted publisher. CensorshipConcerning all publications in Egypt are the Libel laws. These were introduced in 1993, and are described by Mr Shukrallah as absurd. It is the public prosecutor who is responsible for pressing charges. Charges are only being pressed if you attack the wrong people Simple statements as stupidity, can earn 6 months in jail whereas people who just slander can just keep on going with their Interior Ministry backing. Without a publishing licence, the news publications are in addition liable to censorship. National security concerns are at stake. It is the ministry of information that is the highest authority on press matters. They authorise a council to take care of the foreign press. Each publication must show the publication upon arrival in Egypt to this council. This is a risky business. If the council do not approve of the content, they have the power of banning the issue. A ban represents a considerate loss if the publication has already gone to print. Arrangements are being made with the censors. Blueprints of the publication are shown before it is printed, and if there are troublesome articles underway, these are shown too. The censors then remove what they think necessary. The censors are on a mission from the Information Ministry. They are under pressure. If they allow controversial material to get published, it is they who will have to take the heat for it. From the censor s perspective then, it will be better to take out as much as possible. The editors know this. They bargain with the sensors, rewrite articles and refer to the Al-Ahram. Though all the foreign press is affected by censorship, it is the news publications that are hit the worst. Shorter deadlines pressure them to act fast on events, Egypt s Insight, Egypt Today, Business Today and PC world are published on a monthly basis. They can take into account the developments of the other publications when they decide what to publish. Ms Nahed Yowakim of Egypt s Insight actually considers being a monthly an advantage, as they can take the time to wait until Al-Ahram covers a particular news story ( realise their mistake ) If they have covered a topic, it is regarded as common knowledge. Egypt s Insight can then do a full feature on it even from another angle and refer to the Al-Ahram coverage of the same topic. Summary of the different approaches to censorship The Al-AhramThe Al-Ahram is the oldest and largest government paper in Egypt. They publish an Arabic daily and an English weekly. The Al-Ahram is not censored. They want to publish serious journalism, respect government view , while avoid being seen as a propaganda sheet for the government. So they adhere to some restrictions. They are left largely alone if certain red lines are not overstepped, The major topic to leave alone is the link between big business and government. And criticism of the president, of course. But the Al-Ahram generally does not criticise members of the government. They do not dig up information about government officials either. It would be interesting , of course, but since everybody is doing business with everybody, it is better to leave it. But, if other papers have found something out and printed it, the Al-Ahram refer both sides of the story, being careful to state who says what. If the rules are broken, the editor will simply be transferred. It is not unusual to be transferred to the information ministry. Or to a correspondence job in Luxor, to cite Mr Craig. The Al-Ahram is the most influential paper in Egypt. The Al-Ahram is considered to being able to get away with a lot more than the English speaking press in general. Egypt s insight use examples from the Al-Ahram when they argue with the censors for an article. If something has been published in the Al-Ahram, the sensors can legitimise to their supervisors why they let something through. The Middle East TimesMr Thomas Cromwell of the Middle East Times has been refused re-entry into Egypt after a trip abroad. He has written an essay included in the annex of this paper. I talked to the managing editor, Mr Rod Craig. The MET shows the proofs of the publication to the censors. In return they take out paragraphs rather than articles. He describes the relationship with the censors as good. They have arguments with the censors, where they participate on an equal basis. Sometimes they win through with an article, and sometimes they lose. They have developed an understanding of what can be published. Regarding a particular article that was banned, he commented We were pushing it really. Criticism of the president is out of the question. Government officials vary, and even Mubarak has commented that The promises made by some of my ministers are about as reliable as those made by Netanyahu Criticism of the Military, Saudi Arabia and the Copts are to be dealt with utmost care. Saudi Arabia is a considerable investor in Egypt. Upon criticism, they have also threatened to expel the hundreds of thousands of Egyptians that they employ. The recent legislation in the US against religious persecution makes the Coptic issue even more sensitive. Yet, Mr Craig gets the feeling that most regimes are corrupt, and that the censorship is to prevent the uncovering of this The MET s standpoint is that a good journalist can publish anything. It is therefore a matter of sophisticated expression to avoid having statements and paragraphs removed. Though a more candid way of telling the truth, Mr Craig has confidence in his readers to put two and two together The aim of the Middle East Times is not to be censored though we do get a lot of attention when we do. The aim of the MET is to inform the public in an objective way, and going where the information takes (us). The Cairo TimesThe Cairo Times have been banned six times this year. They are in a constant conflict with the sensors. The sensors contact the Ministry of Information when they are in doubt. It is the Ministry of Information that Cairo Times really have a problem with. The banning often comes as a result of failing to show all the articles to the censors. When the newsmagazine is on the streets, it is often too late to ban it. As a result, the following issue is banned as a warning . Mr Hisham Kissem regards his publication as being number one one the government s most wanted list of publications to close down. Yet Mr Kissem thinks the problems of publishing in general in Egypt are most imminent. As for free speech, Mr Kissem banks on Globalisation CultureCultural problems arise when gathering information. These problems include the language barrier. Cultural problems can also include the motivation of government employees to speak out. It will seldom be rewarding for them to do so, and will sometimes lead to trouble. In addition, there is a cultural difference between Arabs and Westerners in regard to information. This is perceived to be due to the differences in educational system and the Arabic culture in general. There is a general suspicion towards people who ask questions in Egypt. In government, this is even more so. Answering questions will seldom bring rewards, though it might bring problems for the individual. When the people who ask questions are not Egyptians, there seems to be an even stronger reason to be careful. All the English speaking publications face these problems. Even the governmental Al-Ahram – though Mr Shukrallah observes that carrying the name Al-Ahram do make it a lot easier for our journalists. Mr Shukrallah thinks the Al-Ahram s focus with Egyptian eyes, sometimes may seem odd to the foreigner. Mr Craig has noted this difference as well. Egyptian journalists are conscious of Egypt s reputation, and this may affect their information gathering, he says. On the other hand, Egyptian journalists might see beyond this, and realise the positive aspects of transparency. They might therefore become the strongest link we have, Mr Craig continues. Egyptian journalists face harsher treatment from the government. As a result, they sometimes request having their name withheld upon being published. This is not an unusual practice in any of the publications, again with the exception of the Al-Ahram. Says Ms Yowakim: A big journalist in the Al-Ahram can publish anything, a view only partly agreed upon by Mr Shukrallah. LanguageMost of the English publications in Egypt cope with the language barrier the same way. The Al-Ahram use bi-lingual Egyptians, so they have little problems. Egypt s Insight has no bilingual journalists. They do not consider this a major problem. The most important thing is that they know what questions to ask. Mr Scott Squire of Egypt Today actually consider the language barrier an advantage. Most of the expatriates do not speak Arabic either, and this makes publishing in English an exclusive advantage. This is a view shared by Mr Kassem of the Cairo Times as well, who thinks publishing in English facilitates selling advertisement space. And, he adds, publishing in English makes it easier to win sympathy abroad. It is the only pressure against the government to leave us alone. Reading patternsMs Yowakim of Egypt s Insight thinks the educational system plays a decisive role in how Egyptians view the printed word. Due to the enormous volume of information they have to learn by heart, they stop reading for leisure once they get the chance, she says. We find that a lot of our business readers only look at the stories that carry pictures of well-known business persons or celebrities, she continues. This is a fact they take into account when they plan each issue. Egypt Today share this view. The demands of the different readership groups can be different to the extent of conflict. E.g. Features, which are generally read by the foreigners while evoking little enthusiasm amongst the Egyptian readers. DiscussionThere are a number of reasons why the press face institutional restrictions. The Egyptian printing licence seem to be in limited supply due to the governments wish to control the national information. Limiting the sources makes it easier for them to do so. Most of the publishing obstacles seem to come from this wish. Censorship seems to have a slightly different function. Censorship is a last-minute ban on paragraphs, articles or whole issues when the issue can t otherwise be stopped. It is thought that the major reason for censorship is to hide links between the government and business. The cultural problems of publishing in English in Egypt can be overcome. The language is not a significant barrier. There is a culture of suspicion towards people who ask questions. I have no reason to believe the government officials in Egypt are much different than the bureaucracies anywhere, however. A free press is regarded as an essential watch dog, for democracy. It is sometimes referred to as the fourth state power. The fourth state power can never be more independent than the judiciary, legislative and executive branches of government are of each other. Can a free press exist in a country where the links between government and private economical transactions are to be kept secret at all costs? Where the surrounding countries are capable of expelling hundreds of thousands of Egyptian workers, and threaten to do so upon criticism? The institutional problems of publishing in Egypt cover a number of aspects not necessarily reserved for the English speaking press. The laws of registering publishing companies in Egypt present impossible barriers. The tax laws regarding advertising looms with threats to curb income. The Freezone tax exemptions might well be used selectively, under the shield of national interest, national security, or protection of national institutions. The definitions of libel are extremely wide. The law is superfluous. Libel should be a matter of civilian court procedure, and not a public one. But the largest problem might be the one of publishing industry in Egypt in the long run. Mr Kassem observes that it will be impossible to sell off parts of the present governmental press. Nobody will want to buy shares in a company that is ineffectively run, without being able to streamline it. Egypt has only seven daily newspapers. The small island of Malta has four. In relation to population, they have a 1300:1 better coverage of newspapers. The significance of each newspaper in Egypt therefore accounts for about 200 Maltese newspapers. Being careful, of course, that this only serves as an illustration for the misrepresentation of the Egyptian publishing industry. On other accounts, the Maltese example is inadequate. The political weight each of the seven newspapers in Egypt carry is enormous. The national security implications are no less significant. When the inevitable privatisation wave catches up with the publishing industry, they will face huge problems. International papers and interests will be able to start both English and Arabic papers, and run in free competition to the national papers. The nationalised papers can not be sold off, and few will want to buy shares with the present management. They will have problems adapting to the new environment. The Egyptian government will have to consider this when they make new laws for publishing. It is not only a matter of national security to control the publishing industry in the short term. It is actually a matter of national security to have a national publishing industry at all. ConclusionThere are obvious problems of publishing in English in Egypt. Language is regarded as being a minor problem. The main obstacles are the institutionalised barriers to publishing. On the other side is Egypt s dependency upon trade and tourism. They receive a substantial amount of aid from the US. The English publications are one of Egypt s many faces abroad. It would create substantial international furore if Egypt were to ban them All the independent papers think the freedom of speech has loosened up in recent times. Mr Kassem banks on globalisation, to get the final liberalisation. I think the freedom of the press will evolve parallel to the evolution of the political system. In fact, the press plays a crucial role in the dynamism of the evolution of the political system in Egypt. Holding named higher government officials responsible of their actions – which would be unheard of only a couple of year s ago – is now usual in the papers. The Government is becoming conscious of this responsibility. Government officials are scared of the Al-Ahram, The Cairo Times and the Middle East Times. Sooner or later this responsibility will have to be institutionalised by law. And law that is enforced on an equal basis, for all its citizens, is the fundament on which all democracies are built. AppendicesThe Middle East TimesThe largest foreign weeklyMr Rod CraigManaging EditorNovember 1998Printed in Athens, Greece Readers: mainly expats, embassy personell and international. We aim for a wider circle. The Middle East Times used to cover the region, and we might start that up again. Cairo is the capital of the Arab world, and thus most important. Few of our journalists master Arabic to a fluent extent, and we are dependent on the goodwill of translators and some bi-lingual native Arabic speakers. Say there is something secret going on, and the journalist covering the event does not know Arabic. If the translator figures the information might damage Egypt s reputation, he or she might withhold some of the information. News stories depend on the weakest link, and this is might be the Arabic journalist. On the other hand, the Arabic journalist might have a more open view and thus become the strongest link. The problem is, you don t know the difference. I am just raising the issue here. I am not talking about anyone in particular, nor about the Middle East Times. There is a different mentality between Arab and Western journalists. Just like there are differences between American and British, and I am sure Norwegian journalists have their special properties as well. Journalists have different ethics and standpoints. Yet the differences among western journalists are not as widely apart as Western and Arabic. First of all, the western concept of free speech is interpreted differently here. Arabic journalists are also very conscious of Egypt s reputation, and this might alter their reporting. But, of course, there are exceptions. Some Arabic journalists have studied in the west, and seen how the press works there. Others simply want change. Their knowledge of Arabic thus makes them the strongest link in publishing. Arabic journalists sometime ask to have their name left out, as they know they will get into trouble. One actually got thumbed . But it s not just here journalists are getting into trouble. Whenever they are a nuisance, journalists are harassed. The function of the press I think is first of all to inform the public. Journalists are, or should be, representatives of the public. They should therefore probe questions in order to bring light to different topics relevant for the public. They generally should not have opinions by themselves. This happens of course, but a journalist should strive to be devoid of feelings. Jorunalists should be driven to wherever the information leads them. Just like the policeman is for the law. Arab journalists have another role. They don t regard themselves as public servants. The main constraints to publishing are self-constraints. The paper is responsible to its readers. So even in a country where the press is free to discuss whatever it wants, it restricts itself to what the readers can take. Most Arab journalists have never been without institutionalised censorship or religion. They are used to be within fairly narrow walls. In Egypt one can not criticise the President. One should be most careful with regard to criticising previous presidents as well. Last week ( ) a column we did on King Fahd was taken out. We were pushing it really. The columnist later had trouble going abroad due to accusations of danger to national security. After the president, one must leave the military alone. Lastly, one can not criticise Saudi Arabia. There are, of course, a number of other issues one must avoid as well, but these three are sacred. For foreign publications, these rules must be learned by experience. For the people who live here on the other hand, they know exactly where the limits go. Egyptian papers are not censored. Censorship in Egypt was abolished by Sadat in 1974. Most of the influental papers are governmental, and if their editors step over the line, they are moved to a correspondence job in Luxor. They know what to do and what not to. Besides, it is the government who issues printing licences. The foreign press has to show copies of its publications to the Advisory commettee . They cut out the articles they don t like, and have the authority to ban an issue. It is of no purpose to have the Middle East Times off the streets, as our purpose is to inform people. We have developed a special arrangement with the censors. We submit proofs to them, and they cut out paragraphs rather than removing whole articles. It is to their advantage also to have this relationship. It looks bad for them as well. We used to leave the paragraphs blank, but that is now illegal. But a good journalist can get anything published. So when it comes to the things that are important, one must try to be clever. For instance, instead of using the rather obvious word Torture , we replace it with forceful persuasion. The readers will have to put two and two together when they read the articles.



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