April 26, 2013
Shut down by its publisher, the Egypt Independent releases final issue online
by Alex Shephard
Yesterday it was announced that the Egypt Independent was being shut down immediately by its publisher after four years and fifty issues. This is an unfortunate and discouraging development, as the English language paper has been an invaluable source of progressive, revolutionary writing and truly outstanding reporting before, during, and after the so-called Arab Spring.
The news of the paper’s closure seems to have come as a surprise to staffers. Dalia Rabie, who joined the Independent after another English language paper, Daily News Egypt, shut down a year ago wrote, “I didn’t see this coming…I remember when Lina called for the general meeting, I made a joke about how ironic it would be if this paper was closing down too.”
The Independent‘s publisher, Al Masry Al Youm, claims that the paper is being shuttered for financial reasons, but both the newspaper’s staff and many of its supporters (including myself) are skeptical. Over at Tahrir Squaring, Alaa Abdel Fattah makes a particularly strong case that something bigger is going on:
Today the owners decided to kill the paper, they claim financial trouble, but in reality the big business behind Al Masry Al Youm is no longer interested in a true revolutionary voice.
Egypt Independent had to be killed, you might think that an English paper in Arabic speaking revolutionary Egypt cannot be that dangerous, but where else do you find a paper run by young women? A paper that became home for an amalgam of misfits and radicals without compromising them, no one had to wear a suit, not physical or metaphorical. Hell, even when the editorial team was forced to deal with the business side and prove the paper could be a profit center they did it without compromising on their radicalism…
You see, Egypt Independent had to be killed because they dared to explore what it sounds like when you silence the bullets instead of the riots, what it looks like when you clear the tear gas instead of the sit in.
Egypt Independent had to be killed because they stubbornly stuck to old fashioned notions, that prose mattered more than video, that journalists should engage with philosophy as much as they engage with statistics, that radicals and intellectuals and bloggers should do journalism when given an inch of space in a newspaper not just replicate what they do in every other outlet.
But perhaps Egypt Independent’s biggest crime is the constant awareness of the state to begin with. Journalists hardly ever talk about the state as such, they deal with courts, ministers, presidents, parties, officers, laws, etc. But to see the forest made of all these trees is taboo. Don’t get me wrong, the owners of Al Masry Al Youm are in opposition of the Muslim Brotherhood and their government, they would like to see Morsi’s rapid downfall just like the rest of us, but when it comes to the state they are firm loyalists. They are not out to save a people’s revolution from a reactionary brutal regime, they are out to save a unjust state from a ruling elite that seeks to replace them.
In her final letter, the paper’s Chief Editor, Lina Attalah, holds out hope for the future of the paper: “We leave you with the hope of coming back soon, stronger and unbeaten, ready to incessantly travel to uncharted territories of storytelling.”
You can download The Independent‘s final issue here; for those of you in Egypt, it’s unfortunately unavailable in print as Al Masry Al Youm ordered a “last-minute stoppage” after “scrutinizing” its content. I’ll be writing more about the closing of the paper in Egypt in the coming days. In the meantime, here are a few highlights from the final issue of one of the world’s finest English language news sources.
“I expected more failures than successes, but my brave boss at the time — the founding editor of this newspaper — provided ample space for my doubts. She left me traveling between sections, writing about politics, getting bored, then writing about art, then going back to politics, then taking a break and traveling, then coming back and trying to write again.
When she left, disillusioned by the organization’s performance and how the newspaper was always treated like an unwanted child of the institution, she entrusted me with continuing it.
The newspaper has since become an intellectual laboratory in which we haven’t only grappled with current news, but more importantly, how to talk about the news.
How can we navigate through the rigidity of the journalistic form? How can we narrate a story through our multilayered subjectivities? How do we emancipate ourselves from predetermined notions of representation?
How do we create affect? How do we engage? How do we afflict? How do we comfort? How do we become active mediators as opposed to silent vehicles of information?
We didn’t develop full answers, but kept asking and investing in a practice that constantly activated these questions.”
I may have been “naive,” but mine is the naivety of a generation that launches revolutions and brings down regimes by its spontaneous bias to simply do what seems legitimate and right…
It’s crystal clear to me that the current structure of media ownership is only going to continue to reproduce the same old, polarized, colored journalism that is used to serve owners’ interests.
What is also obvious is that this “naïve” generation of journalists will create alternative media ownership structures, liberate FM waves and do what they believe is legitimate and right.
Salah-Ahmed: The interesting thing is that this time around, we actually got a chance and time to try and save the paper. And we did amazingly well.
We proved that we can sell the product to people because we know what we’re selling and to whom. Unlike the commercial side, which knows nothing about the content we produce or the audience we’re targeting.
I really thought that after we miraculously managed to boost our subscription numbers and copy sales in just two months, the management would finally see what they’ve been doing wrong, and know that this has real potential that’s been unrealized. But it seems like the decision to close has nothing to do with the numbers.
Shams El-Din: Yes. This time, it’s obviously political. I have no other explanation.
Rabie: I would say it is also very much financial.
Salah-Ahmed: It’s financial, but there’s something behind the lack of will and interest in figuring out a solution to the financial troubles.
Shams El-Din: I also believe it’s political. The lack of this will you are talking about, Amira, is politicized in a way.
The liberal prescription of free and fair elections confronts an insurmountable paradox: How can elections create a national political arena capable of resolving pressing conflicts over economic and social rights if those who lack and demand these rights are constantly crowded out of this same arena by default? In this respect, the power that liberals attribute to free and fair elections to resolve the social conflicts that are tearing Egypt apart today is little more than an illusion.
The class compromises required for an “exit door” from the current predicament are too deep to be resolved through the electoral process, no matter how “free and fair.”
Wadood says the English edition was first conceived as a profitable endeavor. With no high-quality daily English-language newspapers in Egypt, he says, the market was wide open.
But a combination of poor management and circumstances kept the paper from reaching its fiscal potential. The first glitch happened, Wadood says, when it became clear that the bulk of the advertising share would always be allocated to the Arabic edition of the paper, to the detriment of Al-Masry Al-Youm English Edition, which later became Egypt Independent.
The year 2011 witnessed a defining schism between the two editorial teams. Following an editorial fallout between the English edition and its Arabic stepsister, Egypt Independent acquired a separate printing license and chose its new name.
Alex Shephard is the director of digital media for Melville House, and a former bookseller.