In 2010, Abdel Moneim Saeed, then the chairperson of state mouthpiece Al-Ahram, oversaw an outrageous bit of Photoshopping on the newspaper’s front cover, when US President Barack Obama was replaced with Hosni Mubarak at the head of a group of leaders striding out of a meeting in Washington.
This Photoshop-gate inspired the inevitable deluge of derision on social media. As well as being breathtaking and hilarious in its own right, it was a bit of light relief from the tense and strange months leading up to the revolution and, in particular, another photo that went viral in 2010 thanks to social media — that of the mutilated corpse of Khaled Saeed.
Al-Ahram’s big cheeses remained belligerent in the face of the ridicule. Its editor-in-chief, Osama Saraya, described it as an “expressionist” photograph that gave a “brief, live and true expression of the prominent stance of President Mubarak in the Palestinian issue.”
In a 2010 interview with Al-Ahram Weekly, Abdel Moneim Saeed, meanwhile, insisted that the paper did nothing wrong, condemning the “herd mentality” that dominated the response to the picture and pointed out that the Economist “often employs graphics, pictures and illustrations to make its point.”
According to the weekly, Saeed was particularly piqued by the fact that nobody had bothered to read the report below the Photoshopping, penned by him.
He also lamented that “some in this profession mix opinion with news, thus becoming the jury and the judge. We have a long way to go on the road to advanced journalism.”
Coming from the man who ran Al-Ahram for almost four years, this statement is extraordinary. It is like a mosquito complaining about buzzing noises. Al-Ahram, like virtually all state press in Egypt, has wildly — shall we say, “expressionist” — content. It gives itself the license to report the news as it appears in the daydreams of whoever is Egypt’s most influential player on any given day, and the public purse funds this.
Saeed’s stint at Al-Ahram came to an end this year when he took over at Al-Masry Al-Youm, Egypt Independent’s parent organization, and promptly shut us down, ostensibly for financial reasons.
In another work of expressionist art, this time in a letter dumped on Editor-in-Chief Lina Attalah’s desk at midnight shortly after she and the team had sent last week’s edition to print, Saeed informed her that the following edition of Egypt Independent would be the last.
But that is the risk of linking fortunes with giant profit-led corporations led by men from another era whose leadership style is based on the hubris and hierarchy model that dominates large organizations in Egypt. Journalism naturally attracts big personalities who believe the world is a poorer place if it is not enlightened by their opinion on sundry matters, which is often not the case.
Combined with the tendency toward self-censorship, sycophancy and nepotism, the result is a noxious mix. The fact that these qualities traditionally ensure career progression means that it is always the very worst that floats to the top.
Good riddance to Al-Masry Al-Youm, which in dumping us peremptorily might just have given us a springboard to somewhere much better. I hope that as a result of Lina’s unstinting efforts, we’ll end up with a new project not hemmed in by Al-Masry Al-Youm Corporation’s shallow horizons and timidity.
And then we truly will be independent.
Sarah Carr was an Egypt Independent journalist and blogger.