Shahira Amin, the Nile TV anchor and CNN correspondent, has been the centre of controversy over the past week after being the first to interview Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Amin, the host of Hot Seat on Nile TV, told Ahram Online in a heated interview that she thought about interviewing Shalit and submitted a request to Minister of Information Osama Heikal, and the preliminary response was that the matter needs to be coordinated with military intelligence.
Amin then travelled to Vienna to take part in a conference on freedom of the press, and while there received a call from Heikal asking her to return to Egypt because she was granted permission for the interview.
The first questions for Shalit were improvised, but along a broad outline. “I put myself in the place of the audience, and also thought about the person who was imprisoned for five years and had only appeared in one video recording in which he didn’t speak,” Amin recalls. “I was concerned about him as a human being, and hence my first question to him was ‘How are you doing? Did you ever think you would be free again?’”
Amin decided not to ask a question about the Palestinians because of Shalit’s answers, and here the translator became annoyed because she was not asking the general questions and staying on the broad topics she had briefed him about before the interview began.
The other questions in the interview that made Amin an enemy of Israel, according to some Israeli pundits, came after she asked Shalit what he missed the most during his years in captivity, and whether he would return to the army once again. “His responses called for peace,” she said, “so the Israelis said I was fishing for specific answers. Others accused me of asking questions written by the Egyptian intelligence, and that is not true at all.”
What irked the Israelis even more were questions about the role Shalit will play in the future, and on the experience of five years in detention. "Why can not ask I him about that?" Amin asks.
“I think the Israelis wanted to ask the questions themselves, and not to have an Egyptian interviewer posing them,” she said.
“They said that they did not approve the interview with the Egyptian authorities, although I don’t see the need to ask permission in the first place. Egypt played the key role; Shalit is on the ground; why should I ask permission to interview him? If Shalit did not want to talk he wouldn’t have said a word. But he talked, and if he didn’t want to answer my questions he would have said that in front of everyone. He was not forced to speak.”
Amin continued: “It is my honour that the Israeli media described me as an enemy of Israel. In order not to be provocative, I was balanced in the interview between the Palestinian side, by highlighting the Palestinian tragedy, my country, that played the main role in the deal, and Shalit, whom I interviewed from a human and professional perspective.”
She added: “Those who accused me of being a propaganda tool for Egypt must realise that I left Egyptian television during the revolution because they asked me to be a standard bearer for the former regime.”
Amin continued sadly that “the Egyptian press said that I have Jewish friends and that I was brought up in the US and lived there most of my life, and that’s why I was sympathetic with Shalit. In truth, the longest I’ve ever visited the US is five days. I was brought up in Ghana and Sri Lanka and I had Jewish colleagues but those were not my friends because at that time Egypt was going through the 1967 war and it was very senstive at that time to have close relations, with all the Zionist discourse in the air. In 1973, I volunteered to clean up the orthopaedic wards for wounded soldiers and wrote letters to their families. The media should have been more professional and tell the truth, and verify facts before publishing them.”