Saturday, May 30, 2015

Egyptian baby steps to becoming a journalist (that's not getting arrested)

For the past twenty years of my life I was expected to end up being a journalist. I always liked stories, writing and unconventional lifestyles; one may say that my personality traits were giving me pretty divine signs. At the same time, I never fancied being super poor though since I don't have any parents with a substantial income to help me make those dreams come true. Egypt, of all places, made it happen. In a country where opinion and unconventionality are as desired as Putin at a gay pride parade, they paid me for my written word, making me a full professional writer for a few months. I had reached the expectations my family had for me since I wrote my first "book" at age 7 and I was doing the only thing I really ever learned how to do: make stuff sound good! 

My intention wasn't necessary to start my international journalism career as part of an Egyptian online magazine that sells most of their content, however, I thought it was great practice. I knew I wouldn't be the next Christiane Amanpour just yet because I wasn't too fond of the idea of prison. I was happy writing lifestyle and news that weren't news because the reality for actual journalists looked grim. Faced with a change in my job that no longer allowed me to write, I left my job earlier this month. "You can easily freelance", they said, "good writers always have a shot!" Before I even left my job I had various other assignments, most notably the international online magazine Elite Daily who wanted some dirt on Egypt. Easy, right?

WRONG! I'm actually in danger if I say what I really feel. Sure, the government shouldn't care about my stance on religion, politics and society but for some reason they do. I have zero power to make things worse for them, yet either the ministers or some terrorists in this country will go to quite some length to make me stop what I would say if I could. So in the end that dirt that these international publications want from me could very well mean that I may have quite some regrets if I oblige. Next to Syria and Iraq, I read, Egypt is the most dangerous country for journalists. As much as I want to do a good job, I'm not ready to write the inside scoop on a women only cell at an Egyptian prison just yet.

As a result, I say neither good nor bad things. A government that can't accept my criticism will never get my praise either. Quite a lot of the things I have to complain about, in fact, have nothing to do with the government at all. Human rights abuses, for example, are committed every day in every street of Cairo and that is not President Sisi's fault. The people who decide to harass women and pick on homosexuals made that choice. The only thing needed from Sisi is to act against it. However, it is also the people of Cairo that ignore almost every law there is on a daily basis so it looks like Sisi, hero or failure, really isn't solely responsible for this. So even if I could, I'm not sure how much "dirt" I would actually have on Egypt since most of it is on the Egyptians. 

Freedom of speech is a beautiful thing that people here don't ever experience. The reform I would most like to see is not a government that stops acting against freedom of expression but a people that would actually stand behind the idea. In my experience, however, the majority of Egyptians is not fussed, even though it's just because they're disheartened and disappointed from too many failed attempts to change the system. Therefore, the dire environment in which I am now working as a journalist actually really sucks: no criticism, no reliability, no good news ever. I feel like this country needs Christiane Amanpour, but what am I going to do? For now, I have to turn every word to make sure I don't say something crass, and that's really the opposite of what journalism should be...

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