This piece was written for Egypt Independent's final weekly print edition, which was banned from going to press. We offer you our 50th and final edition here.
When I signed my contract with Al-Masry Al-Youm in April four years ago, I was troubled by the thought of committing full time to a job in journalism. It was a time of political loss; there was no story to tell, and there were no ways of telling anything differently.
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.
At moments we did well. At others we failed. But we knew we wanted to continue, despite repeated threats of closure.
One of these threats was not so long ago. In a bold op-ed published in November 2011, former Al-Masry Al-Youm Editor-in-Chief Magdy al-Gallad wrote “drink from the sea,” addressing the Egypt Independent team.
In Arabic, the expression can be broadly translated into “put that in your pipe and smoke it,” and it was Gallad’s response to our public campaign against an act of self-censorship he authored, whereby he banned the third issue of our newborn weekly newspaper from distribution because he deemed an article critical of the military institution’s leadership too endangering.
When he wrote an Egypt-loving piece bashing Egypt’s haters — such as Egypt Independent’s team — using a seemingly offensive headline, he didn’t know how much that sea he figuratively sent us to was, in fact, an endless ocean of possibilities.
Back then, we were still named Al-Masry Al-Youm English Edition. This was the point at which we decided to change our name to Egypt Independent, and stopped printing until we acquired our own license, as we were previously printing as a supplement to the Arabic newspaper. The change was more than nominal, and the conversations surrounding it were important in framing our practice and interrogating the notion of independence in a universe where knowledge production is polarized toward certain centers of power.
The story is a landmark in the short life of Egypt Independent, but also in the extended history of journalism in Egypt. It pushed to the surface the plague of self-censorship that has been ingrained in our newsrooms, even those that unfolded in opposition to the notorious and continued state control of the media.
It also raised questions of institutional practice in non-state-controlled media that has reflected, in various instances, a subversion of the dictatorship these media were created to oppose. Not only is this subversion manifested by the unaccounted for decision-making processes of editors-in-chief, but also in the reproduction of the discourse of patriarchy that this president and yesterday’s president have numbed our senses with.
In other words, decisions are often advanced with the excuse of “We are older, we know better.”
This discourse was uttered once more in 2013 to declare the inevitability of the end of Egypt Independent’s experience. Abdel Moneim Saeed, the new chairperson of the Al-Masry Media Corporation board, said closing Egypt Independent, which he argued had only constituted a financial burden on the institution, was a measure of his capacity as “a surgeon who has to conduct the fine operation of letting go of the child in order for the mother to survive.”
It is a fine operation indeed, if only Al-Masry was indeed our mother, and if only its survival was conditional on our closure, and not a much-needed reinvigorating and rigorous review of its institutional practice.
But it is also only a fine operation if closure is given its due attention, as much as openings are. In other words, a closure transcends a letter announcing it on hard copy left with the receptionist for the Egypt Independent team.
A closure entails the labor dimension of how an institution should deal with layoffs. More importantly, a closure entails the key question of how we deal with the end of four years of content, two of them representing a live archive of revolutionary times marking deep changes in our contemporary history.
The archive transcends the legality of copyrights and follows the promise of the Internet as a democratic and open medium. Not only should it stay online, it should also be an active site of memory and production, constantly linked and relinked to new content.
We do not know as of yet what Al-Masry’s plan is as the legal proprietor of our name and our content, but its intention so far has been to retain everything, in yet another unfortunate instance of the commodification of knowledge and its subjection to the motions of corporate practice.
Our closure letter comes after a grace period of two months that Al-Masry’s board had given us to show that we could cut costs, raise revenue and identify potential investors who would take on the operation.
In these two months, the editorial team worked day and night to do the job a commercial team should do. In the process, we learned, firsthand, about the precariousness of our news operation depending on the annual paychecks of its businessmen, just like state-run media organizations depend on the paychecks of the government.
We also started innovating development models that could contribute to our sustainability. In the process, we started reaching our goals in all three areas, and submitted relevant documentation to the board of Al-Masry, represented by Saeed. But it was ignored, and dismissed in the closure letter as “no serious effort” to salvage the paper.
We leave it to the masters to define the word “serious” as we fold, depart and look forward, because some conversations are doomed and others are more important. The past matters, alongside its failures, as a formative experience. But so does the future, on which we are now fixated.
We strive to continue and reincarnate in a new configuration, mainly to continue championing the convoluted cause of narrative. We leave you, dear readers, with this edition through which we try to transcend the issue of Egypt Independent and talk about more grand backstories of closures as points of departure rather than ends.
We leave you with the hope of coming back soon, stronger and unbeaten, ready to incessantly travel to uncharted territories of storytelling.
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