Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Arwa Gaballa

Thankless work of a ‘fixer’ Foreign journalist

Andrew Bossone, a contributing editor based in Beirut and Cairo for the mobile news organization Circa, published this April 30, 2014 

The best journalists in the Middle East are from the Middle East. Thanks for your continued great work Mohannad Sabry, Moe Ali, Nayel Nabih Bulos and for helping me get my first byline in the Columbia Journalism Review

The thankless work of a ‘fixer’ Foreign journalists know they’d be lost, or even dead, without the locals they hire, but do they give them credit back home?

Foreign journalists usually find fixers from colleagues in the area or through online forums and groups like Facebook’s “Vulture Club.” If a media outlet has a bureau, it often has on staff a salaried local journalist called a news assistant. In places where there is no bureau, it may have a stringer who receives a monthly retainer to be on call and feed news regularly. Fixers, by contrast, tend to be employed ad hoc.

I first met Mohannad Sabry in 2005, when I arrived in Egypt for an unpaid internship with The Associated Press. We became fast friends through my roommates, and he joined me in Alexandria on a reporting trip to cover parliamentary elections.

I knew little about Egypt and its players at the time, and since I couldn’t put together a sentence in Arabic, he went with me even though I couldn’t afford to pay him.

Only because of Sabry skills and knowledge was I able to report from inside a polling station and at the office of the Muslim Brotherhood. It was the first of many times I received invaluable help and insight from fixers, the resourceful, well-informed locals who assist foreign correspondents. Most in this region are fluent in Arabic and many are aspiring journalists.

In Egypt they command roughly $50 to $250 per day, depending on whether big news is raising demand. A fixer’s day may include monitoring local outlets and Twitter and writing up a news brief, arranging logistics, securing and translating interviews but also conducting them, and providing background.

In the Middle East, fixers are essentially journalists but, all too often, they receive little or no recognition, even when they are entirely responsible for the scoops credited to their foreign peers. These people are not mere translators who provide a service in exchange for payment.

Our work—and, on occasion, our safety—depends on them. I moved to Beirut in late 2010 to gain experience outside Egypt, but four months later the Egyptian revolution started. I landed in Cairo on January 28, 2011—the “Friday of Rage.”

Internet service and telephone lines were cut across the country. When service was partially restored the next day, I called Mohannad to meet for coffee. The second night of curfew was approaching. We left for a friend’s apartment to spend the night. We stopped for food along the way, but forgot tea to keep us awake, and garlic and onions for the dish we were preparing—molokheya, an Egyptian specialty.

So Mohannad and I headed back to the street near the start of curfew. Vegetable sellers were rushing to restock their shops and close for the night. As we left a shop, goods in hand, a young policeman stood in our path. He cocked his shotgun and shouted at us. “We just want to pass!” Mohannad said. “We just want to go home!” “Which way?” the policeman asked. “Straight ahead,” Mohannad answered, pointing toward the apartment. “Run. If you go left or right, I’ll shoot you.” We ran.

Mohannad told me to go straight. I followed him. Although I had studied Arabic, the fact that I didn’t fully understand the officer’s orders reinforced for me just how essential fluent Arabic is. The influx of print and broadcast journalists into Egypt during the revolution provided work for a lot of fixers.

McClatchy hired Mohannad as a news assistant. Soon he was getting bylines and managing the Cairo bureau while the correspondent was reporting elsewhere. But when another correspondent came in to run the bureau, it was clear Mohannad couldn’t advance further. “I’ve seen a lot of local correspondents who are more worthy of having a foreign correspondent position than a lot of foreign correspondents covering their country,” Mohannad said. “What you need is someone who knows the country’s politics, knows the country’s history, knows the country’s geography . . .

This is something that’s pretty impossible for someone who doesn’t speak the language.” While at McClatchy, Mohannad received a reporting fellowship from the news website GlobalPost for a project to pair and train young foreign and local journalists around the world. It began in Egypt, and Mohannad was chosen as the managing editor. When mass protests led to the military’s ouster of President Mohamed Morsi in 2013, longtime foreign correspondent and GlobalPost co-founder Charles Sennott turned to Mohannad to report with him for a GlobalPost-PBS Frontline segment.

“I never could have accomplished my work [around the world] without the help of a colleague—a journalist—who is local and who speaks the language fluently and can work with me and understands how we as journalists work,” Sennott said. “Those people are sometimes called ‘fixers,’ and I put that word in quotes, because it’s not a word I like. They do so much more than fix things. They make it happen.”

Mohannad introduced me to another Egyptian fixer in Cairo, Merna Thomas. As she described her work, I was surprised that she didn’t consider herself a journalist. Like other fixers interviewed for this piece, she suggests how to get stories done, lines up sources and conducts interviews independently.

Basically, Merna does everything short of writings articles. It’s not as if she couldn’t write, though; she was an English major in college. She says she fell into journalism by chance. Yet on her first assignment she landed difficult-to-get sources, like Bassem Youssef-often referred to as the “Egyptian Jon Stewart”-early in his TV career, as well as a member of the “Black Bloc” protesters who disguised themselves in black and were often on the front lines of clashes with police.

“A lot of times, what a journalist can or cannot get depends on a fixer’s personal relationship with these people,” Merna said. “I have interviewed a lot of people who don’t normally give interviews except that they know me and they respect me.” In two years of working with journalists, Merna has received credit in print just twice. She doesn’t ask for recognition, but some journalists have misled her into thinking their outlets don’t give credit to fixers.

Amelia Newcomb, the foreign editor of the Christian Science Monitor, where Merna’s work has appeared, told me it is absolutely not the policy of the paper to exclude credit for fixers. “We leave it up to the reporter,” she said.

Of the outlets I contacted—the Monitor, The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Guardian—none have an official policy on naming local journalists who work with correspondents. Some are more fastidious than others.

The Guardian said credit is given when “people have contributed to the journalism,” but did not specify what qualifies as contribution. The Times and the Post provide credit to fixers when it’s determined they have made a “significant” contribution to the story. Tasks like logistics and basic translation do not warrant a contributor line.

Both the Times correspondent in Beirut, Anne Barnard, and the Post’s foreign editor, Doug Jehl, said the work of fixers is essential, and that they deserve credit for it. “Foreign correspondents have always relied heavily on local staffers to help with translation, navigation, sourcing and reporting,” Jehl said. “Until recently, those local staffers’ contributions often remained invisible; now, in order to be more transparent with our readers, we tend to recognize those contributions.”

Naming contributors is a positive step for transparency.

But it leads you to the next question: Why shouldn’t the very best fixers and news assistants be correspondents themselves?

“If I went to the United States I wouldn’t get hired if I didn’t speak the language,” said Moe Ali Nayel, a freelance journalist and fixer in Beirut. “Why is it the other way around [in the Mideast]? Why do journalists get sent to this part of the world when they don’t speak the language?”

Moe lived in the US for six years before returning home to Lebanon. He said that Americans’ lack of knowledge about the Middle East motivated him to become a journalist. Although he still works as a fixer, Moe has become an outspoken critic of foreign journalists. After one too many dealings with correspondents who he says mischaracterized context and people or outright distorted facts, he wrote a searing piece on his blog in 2010.

Moe admits that fixers who are less than scrupulous sometimes mislead journalists, but says ultimately the facts and ethics of journalism are the responsibility of those who put their names on stories. The fixers’ worst horror stories involve journalists on temporary assignment.

Merna said she has worked with many who come unprepared. Another fixer in Cairo told me that one journalist arrived asking to interview “Banna,” or Hassan Al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood—who died in 1949.

Nabih Bulos, who reports for the Los Angeles Times, said a writer told him she was coming to report on Beirut’s alternative arts scene. When they met, she said she also wanted to visit the “opium fields of Hezbollah.” “It’s frightening,” he said. Let me be clear. Many foreign correspondents in the Mideast are performing superbly. (The ones who come most readily to mind, not coincidentally, speak fluent Arabic.)

Too often, though, news organizations are sending reporters who lack expertise. As I look at the fixers who call the Mideast home and are among the best journalists here, I couldn’t complain if I were replaced by one of them.

Says Mohannad, “If you give them the credit they deserve, give them the training that you owe them and endorse them, you will be building fantastic journalists and correspondents that would one day write stories that will win the world’s elite awards.”

Arwa Gaballa commented on FB:
A few months ago, I was fixing for a big-name journalist at a big-name newspaper. I got the journalist an interview with a minister, which of course he didn’t appreciate because he thinks ministers in Egypt just gladly agree to host journalists at their officers for hours. He couldn’t imagine just who I had to know/call to make that happen.
Anyway, we get there, and he starts asking his embarrassing (that’s the politest description I could think of) questions, including whether said minister thinks Sisi is doing a good job as a president! The minister stared at me in confusion as he explained to him that Sisi wasn’t president yet!
I had prepared a list of questions for him, but he dismissed it (after asking for it) and went with his own. The supposed-to-be journalist staying at the 5-star hotel and getting paid in dollars while I get paid pennies was incompetent and awkwardly ignorant of Middle East affairs and politics.
At the end, I got zero recognition of course, even though, like many fixers here tend to do, I conducted some of the interviews.

Bossone Twitter handle is @abossone – See more at: http://www.cjr.org/reports/the_thankless_work_of_a_fixer.php?page=all#sthash.d5yAfJUY.dpuf

Worse than During Morsi? Students and minors detained

As Egypt prepares for a brand new presidential election and amends its suspended constitution, hundreds are being rounded up and detained, including many students.

Twelve students were sentenced to 17 years last week on charges of possessing light weapons and raiding and vandalizing Al-Azhar, the most prestigious Islamic institution.

Arwa Gaballa posted on Aswat Masriya this Nov. 18, 22013

Students and minors detained in post-Mursi Egypt

CAIRO, Nov 17 (Aswat Masriya)

Hundreds were arrested last month on the 40th anniversary of the October Six War, where thousands rallied to celebrate the army’s victory while others marched to denounce what they view as a “military coup”.

Abdullah Hamdy, 20, is one of 46 students who were arrested on October 6, where some of the detainees were as young as 12 and 14 years old and over 10 of them were under 18.

According to Hamdy’s detention records, supporters of ousted President Mohamed Mursi and Muslim Brotherhood members tried to raid Tahrir Square but were stopped by civilian volunteers who then clashed with them.

The records say that the detainees fired shots and rubber bullets on the residents as well as the police and army forces who were securing the area.

They add that police and army forces intervened to disperse the confrontations between the rivals and arrested the 164 defendants.

Hamdy has denied that he was armed and said that civilian volunteers handed him over to the authorities around midday “for no apparent reason” and “not from clashes”, his older brother, Ahmed, told Aswat Masriya.

Hamdy, a Mechanical Engineering student at the AUC (The American University in Cairo), said he was in the vicinity of the university’s downtown campus when he was captured.

The 164 detainees mentioned in Hamdy’s records were arrested in different areas and at different times but all charged with the same allegations.

Other records of this nature were created at different police stations across the capital on the same day.

Associate Professor Lamyaa El-Gabry, who taught Hamdy Applied Thermodynamics, described him as a mature student who took responsibility for his actions.

“In class, Abdullah was polite, punctual, attentive, and engaged. He was honest and candid and never tried to negotiate his way to a higher grade or an extension or any of those things that are not uncommon among students,” she said.

El-Gabry is also the faculty advisor of the Mechanical Engineering Association where Abdullah was the head of the Academics Committee.

“Abdullah always struck me as a very quiet and humble young man but under that apparently timid smile was someone who has depth and a commendable sense of service to his community,” Professor El-Gabry said.

Hamdy, like many Egyptians, voted for Mursi and although, according to his brother, he does not belong to the Brotherhood, he is critical of the “coup”.

Egypt’s army ousted Mursi in July in response to mass demonstrations across the country and the collection of millions of petitions asking him to resign.

Since Mursi’s ouster, his supporters and Muslim Brotherhood members have been staging demonstrations to denounce the army and call for his reinstatement.

Some of those who join these demonstrations did not support Mursi and do not belong to the Brotherhood but are against military rule.

Security forces violently dispersed two pro-Mursi sit-ins in August, killing at least a thousand people, and hundreds of Brotherhood supporters have been arrested in the past three months.

The Brotherhood’s Mursi became Egypt’s first democratically elected president exactly a year before his ouster upon defeating Ahmed Shafiq, who served as Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister.

Mursi and his top aides are now standing trial on charges of inciting violence during the past year.

Hamdy and the others were first kept in military detention of very poor conditions where they had to take turns to sleep, as at least 50 people were crammed in one room, until they were sent to prison where each now has their own bed.

Those who are under 18 were then released for not meeting the legal age of detention.

Now detained in a room of 70 beds at the Marg Prison, Hamdy, who is in his 3rd year of studying Mechanical Engineering at AUC, is visited by his family every week.

Professor Lotfi K. Gaafar, who taught Hamdy Engineering and Project Management in the spring semester of 2013 and Production and Inventory Control this fall semester until his arrest, said, “The charges levied against Abdullah were even more shocking. They are totally out of sync with Abdullah’s low profile, humble, and peaceful personality.”

Professor Gaafar added that Hamdy would often visit him in his office to discuss his future plans to sell souvenir items engraved with messages of peace and hope.

“Egypt needs people like Abdullah in the forefront not in captivity,” he said.

A prosecutor adjourned Hamdy’s case to December 7 last week.

According to a Facebook page created by his family and friends, the 20-year-old is staying strong and says, “Fear is defeat and despair is betrayal.”

Ahmed Ezzat from Egypt’s Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression said that many students are being put on trial on charges of political nature.

He added that the judiciary must be neutral and not involve students in the current political struggle as not to hurt their futures.

The lawyer and rights activist described the 17-year sentence that the 12 Azhar students received last week as “very harsh”, explaining that it violates the criminal code.

Note: This November 2013, Egypt banned peaceful demonstrations, altogether.

As Egypt’s economy deteriorates: Female breadwinners struggle…

Women are the main breadwinners in as many as 30% of Egyptian households, a role frowned on by conservative Egyptian society, but increasingly important in a country plunged into dire economic straits by the turbulent politics of the post-Mubarak era.

Many of them are poor, illiterate and lacking experience of formal employment, and are forced into menial work in the informal economy, doing jobs that are poorly paid, with no insurance or pension and involving exposure to the public gaze that attracts the disapproval of neighbours.

Arwa Gaballa posted this Nov. 12, 2013 in Aswat Masriya:

A woman sells vegetables in downtown  – Aswat Masriya

“Things were difficult before the uprising too, with those in power robbing us, but at least the little we had was enough to live on,” said Zeinab Abdel Fattah, 64. “Now we have nothing. Life has become unbearable.”

Abdel Fattah, who has a family of 8, leaves her home every morning at 6 a.m. for the city centre. Sitting cross-legged on a platform in the heart of Cairo, she sells eggs, eggplants and cottage cheese to passersby, but often returns empty-handed.

“No one buys anything anymore,” she said.

A Thomson Reuters Foundation poll of gender experts found Egypt to be the worst country in the Arab world to be a woman, due to endemic sexual harassment, a surge in trafficking, high rates of female genital mutilation and a rollback of freedoms since the revolution.

Egypt scored badly on work-related issues, too. Gender-based discrimination affects many women in the workplace and is rarely punished, respondents said.

While many Egyptian women have to work because their husbands died or divorced or abandoned them, others, like Abdel Fattah, support their family because their husband’s pension is small or his work is irregular or unstable.

“My husband was only a worker before he retired; he can’t read, you see. Now his pension is  500 Egyptian pounds ($72.57), which is not enough to feed us.”

Mona Ezzat of the New Woman Foundation, an advocacy group, said that while official data estimate 16 percent of Egyptian breadwinners are women, independent sources put the figure as high as 30 percent.

“Because the majority of these women are impoverished and thus are mostly illiterate and have no skills or experience, they resort to the informal economy, cleaning houses, street vending and so on,” she said.

The problem with working in the informal economy is that these women are not entitled to pensions or health or social insurance, and they are often exposed to physical and psychological violence that they cannot challenge, as they have no legal protection.

Even if Abdel Fattah’s thin grey hair weren’t showing beneath her worn-out headscarf, the wrinkles on her tired face, her missing teeth and rough, dirty hands were evidence of the difficult life she leads.

Like her husband, Abdel Fattah cannot read or write, but all her children can.

My 6 children can read. Some of my children even went to university!” she said proudly with a big smile. “That was when things were easier, before they got this bad.”

The New Woman Foundation’s Ezzat said: “The struggles of breadwinners have worsened as Egypt’s economy deteriorated.” She added that there is no real plan for economic growth, as can be seen from the increase in the number of street vendors struggling to scrape a living.

The economy grew by 7% a year in the period leading to the popular uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak in 2011 — part of the Arab Spring that swept North Africa — but has since slowed sharply because of the collapse of tourism and the fall in foreign investment.

GDP growth last year was only 2.1 percent, down from 2.2 percent in 2011, the state news agency reported earlier this month — worryingly low for a country whose population of 85 million suffers from high unemployment and is expected to reach 100 million by 2030.

Price rises have put many goods beyond the reach of average households, and this has led the government to draw up a plan to distribute basic supplies at subsidized prices.

SOCIAL PRESSURE

In Abdel Fattah’s case, her already grinding burden is made worse by her neighbours’ criticism of her for working at her age, “as if it was by choice”.

They think there is a lot of money in what I do,” she laughed, adding that her neighbours mock her for having to work when she has six grown-up children.

Ezzat explains that the way female breadwinners are viewed and treated in Egypt is a psychological burden, especially as many of them live in poor areas which tend to be more conservative and more critical.

Female breadwinners are often criticised for spending too much time outside their home without a male figure around, a cultural judgment that is not limited to poor neighbourhoods, Ezzat said.

Neighbourly criticism and social pressure often force these women either to take their sons out of school and send them off to work in their place, or to marry off their daughters quickly to shift the responsibility for earning the family income to their husbands.

“The sons are deprived of getting an education and the daughters are married off before their time,” Ezzat said.

ANA HUNNA CAMPAIGN

Rights activists and women’s rights organizations in the Middle East posted their thoughts on female breadwinners in a Twitter campaign on Saturday.

Hundreds of activists around the Middle East joined the online debate, using the hashtags “#Loqmet3ish” and “#anahunna”. The first hashtag, Loqmet3ish, means “a piece of bread”, an Arabic phrase used widely to describe making a living.

The campaign, organized by Ana Hunna (I Am Here), said that women are the main supporters of 33% of Egyptian households and families.

“Despite the fact that norms (are) transforming in Egypt, women are still generally defined as dependants and subordinate to men,” Ana Hunna posted on its account.

Ana Hunna started out in 2011 as an online campaign to empower working women, but gradually expanded and now aspires to become an actual initiative, one of the organizers, Esraa Saleh, told Aswat Masriya.

The campaign used to depend on making films to raise awareness of the need for gender equality in employment, but it is now looking for more activities that could have a greater impact on the ground, Saleh said.

“If we (female breadwinners) decide to not work for just one week, this society will be paralyzed,” Rana Allam wrote on Twitter.

It’s time we recognized Arab women; the real heroes of our generation,” said Hebbah Hussein, another participant in the campaign. “Mothers and breadwinners will shape Egypt’s future.”

Should Army Chief calls on demonstration in a democratic system? Egypt’s General Abd Fatta7 Sisi
Egypt’s army chief, General Abd Fatta7 Sisi, has called on Egyptians to rally on Friday to mandate the army to confront violence and terrorism following the ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Mursi.
The  Moslem Brotherhoods called for demonstration on Thursday to preempt the Army demonstration.
Arwa Gaballa posted this July 24, 2013:
“I really fear what’s about to happen under this authorization to fight “terrorism”.
Before you get overly excited about your much-anticipated genocide and unfair prosecution of your political rivals, ask yourself these questions:
What terrorism?
So far the majority of protests organized by Mursi’s supporters have been quite peaceful.
There are the occasional violent confrontations here and there (with opponents or security forces), but I bet you were hoping that they would go on a complete rampage and burn down the country to have an excuse to call for their killing and return to prison.
But they didn’t do that.
We need justice and law: perpetrators of violence must be prosecuted, a national reconciliation that includes all factions must be reached and violence is not the answer even if it’ll wipe a group of people that you hate with passion from the face of the earth.
And yes, Islamists are humans too.
What about Sinai Peninsula though?
Things are messy in the “strategic” peninsula. I’d focus my efforts there if I were the army and actually serious about combating “terrorism”.
Okay, it was pretty kind of the army to oust Mursi and his Muslim Brotherhood. Not because they are Islamists, but because the Mursi administration failed miserably to deliver on its promises.
But why can’t the police play that role of confronting post-Mursi violence?
The protesters are civilians and must be dealt with within the law. Yes, even if they are Islamists. Yes, I don’t care if they look messy and shout unpleasant things that make you scared.
Can we and do we trust the army?
Have we forgotten the unfair military trials? The arrests of children? Samira Ibrahim and virginity tests? Maspero? Port Said? Mohamed Mahmoud? The Cabinet clashes? The blue bra incident? Tantawi’s finger? Can you trust the army?
It seems to me that the army is kindly asking for a license to kill, which I’m not sure I’m comfortable with.
يسقط يسقط حكم العسكر يسقط يسقط حكم المرشد يسقط يسقط حسني مبارك عايزنها مدنية… عيش, حرية, عدالة اجتماعية

adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

July 2021
M T W T F S S
 1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
262728293031  

Blog Stats

  • 1,476,221 hits

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.adonisbouh@gmail.com

Join 809 other followers

%d bloggers like this: