Giving voice to the dispossessed Print

egyptianwoman2by Abeer El Saady & Mike Jempson

Published: 16 September 2011

Under the guidance of MDI trainers, fifteen young online and print journalists in Egypt are developing new angles on the long awaited elections. Operating under effective martial-law, where even querying the timing of the ballot could land them in a military court, they have set out to discover what the vote might mean to the country’s marginalised groups. Their editors have promised to publish the features they produce.

This is the first group of journalists which will, over the following 2 years, produce some 100 articles voicing the Egyptians who have never had an opportunity to have a say about their common future.  The story production is part of a broader MDI programme funded by SIDA.

The thriving ‘informal economy’ encompasses many different sectors of society who lack recognition or representation. The constitution guarantees that ‘farmers and workers’ should hold 50% of the seats in the People’s Assembly (lower house) but this does not include artisans and craftspeople, for example, or street traders, rubbish collectors and the homeless. Some religious groups, including Sufis, the Ba’hai, and Copts also face discrimination within democratic process, and some tribes inhabiting Egypt’s vast border areas face total exclusion.

The journalists will be placing the predicament of these groups in the public eye often for the first time. The hope to have their pieces placed in the media houses they come from.

After an editorial meeting to discuss their progress, Akhbar El-Yom staffer Abeer Saady who is mentoring the journalists, said “They are discovering new things about society we never knew before.”

Some are giving a voice to those silenced by tradition, prejudice or poverty – Nubian women forbidden to leave their homes in Upper Egypt, rural teenagers who have no access to the internet, and people with disabilities or disfigurements which put them outside ‘polite society’.

Right from the start the journalists face hostility from the police and suspicion from their chosen subjects. For the most part mainstream media has been regarded as the mouthpiece of the regime, past and present. Yet, any journalist seeking to give voice to the dispossessed risks harassment and accusations of disloyalty. After the storming of the Israeli Embassy on 9 September the Military Council renewed its emergency powers and shut down Al Jazeera’s Cairo office in what is seen as a tough stand against the media.

coptsprotestAfter her first day on assignment, one of the woman journalists said: “I was trying to take pictures in the street with my cell phone, and noticed a policeman watching me. He threatened to take my camera, but I was able to convince him I was taking a picture of myself. When I said I was a journalist he said we should all be locked up."

One irony is that the ever-unpopular police are denied the right to vote and one story will consider the impact this has on their attitudes.

Although Bedouins have just been given the right to attend the Police Academy, the first time ever, the concerns of the 17 tribes (some 450,000 people) who inhabit Sinai have been largely ignored for generations. Their aspirations are being scrutinised by two more of the journalists in this Media Diversity Institute project, sponsored by the Swedish aid agency SIDA.

The plan is to publish all their illustrated features, some of which will appear online with accompanying video, in advance of the elections, in the hope that candidates from the burgeoning political parties will take note of the issues raised.

However, it may be some time before they see any action from elected politicians. The extension of the ‘state of alert’, which should has been lifted in time for September elections, has unsettled those keen to complete the revolution that began in January. No firm date has yet been set for the elections.

The story production is part of a broader MDI programme funded by SIDA.

For more information on this project please contact This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it