Time for an independent conversation

On 24 November, we issued the first edition of our new project, Egypt Independent, a weekly, 24-page newspaper that attempts to unpack Egypt’s complex and dynamic political and cultural landscape. It was not long before we were interrupted. Our second issue never made it to the newsstands.

This interruption has not only caused us a major frustration after putting days of work and much investment into the project. It has also disappointed our nascent readership. This is why we want to explain what happened and take the opportunity to introduce our team.

The issue scheduled for publishing on 1 December was internally censored. It featured an opinion article by Robert Springborg, a renowned political scientist and longtime scholar on Egypt, about the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) continuing rule. The article, which was critical of the SCAF and pointed out potential pitfalls in its leadership, raised objections from the chief editor of Al-Masry Al-Youm, our Arabic-language sister paper after Egypt Independent had gone to press. Because our paper lacks its own printing license right now and is therefore legally considered a “supplement” of the Arabic paper, we complied and agreed to change what the editor considered the objectionable parts of the article. We did this in collaboration with Professor Springborg, who, with his long experience in Egypt and knowledge of the country’s politics and military, understood the restrictions placed on the media, even in the wake of an historic revolution.

After making the requested changes, the censored version was still never reprinted. We never received any calls from authorities outside of the institution to halt the printing process and, to our knowledge, the decision was internal. The editorial team of Egypt Independent was not part of this decision.

At a recent meeting of our writers and editors, we laid out some of the principles at the heart of our project. In our internal mission statement, we wrote that we stand against racism, sexism, xenophobia, religious discrimination, fascism and state violence. We try to give voice to groups whose rights are violated and avoid reinforcing stereotypes. We were—and continue to be—wholeheartedly in support of the revolution.

Both online and in our print paper, we have intentionally shown skepticism toward the paranoid and chauvinist tones that have arisen in Egypt since January, specifically those implicating ambiguous “foreign conspiracies” trying to undermine Egypt. This ultra-nationalist discourse is a by-product of the toppled regime, and by extension the 1952 military regime, and continues to be put forward by the SCAF, which claims that only strong rulers can protect Egypt from countless conspirators, foreign hands and meddlers.

Professor Springborg, who was accused in the 7 December Arabic edition of Al-Masry Al-Youm of being a conspirator against Egypt’s stability, is an eminent scholar of Egyptian military affairs. One of his seminal works studied the relationship between former President Hosni Mubarak and Field Marshal Abdel Halim Abu Ghazalah, the former head of SCAF. In the original opinion column he wrote for Egypt Independent, Professor Springborg suggested the possibility of an internal rift within the military due to SCAF’s poor management during the transitional period. This is not advocating mutiny and it does not make him a conspirator against Egypt. It is a descriptive reading by a respected expert on the Egyptian military. Even if this analysis is uncomfortable for some, it deserves to be heard.

When Al-Masry Al-Youm was founded in 2004, it helped inaugurate a new opening for independent media in Egypt. Seven years later, even after 25 January, self-censorship still plagues Egyptian media. As an Egyptian newspaper, we, too, suffer from it. But if self-censorship becomes internalized and goes unquestioned, it becomes an irreversible practice. We refuse to let this happen.

We have stopped putting together the weekly print newspaper until we have a license guaranteeing our independence from the Arabic newspaper and resting all legal liabilities on our own shoulders. Even once we have this, we will continue to strive to maintain the highest standards of honesty and integrity. We are ready and excited for Egypt Independent to return to the newsstands. Our shaky beginning has not set us off course. It has taught us.

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