Serious efforts have been underway to find ways to secure the future of the media in Egypt, and these have become more difficult as a result of the presence of regional entities seeking to tarnish Egypt’s image through false and fabricated news.
Facing such challenges, the government has had no alternative but to widen the margin of press freedom in Egypt and to open the media to diverse opinions with a view to increasing public awareness of current political and economic conditions.
The media in a country like Egypt has a very special nature, bearing in mind the two revolutions of 25 January and 30 June which overthrew various ways of thinking. Any steps to develop the press should therefore be taken by both senior and junior journalists who should work together to develop the editorial system.
There should be enough space devoted to the latest happenings in Egypt, for example. Special attention should be directed towards younger readers, who will then get attached at an early age to the names of favourite writers and commentators. Caricature, an art that can easily attract a wide readership, should also take priority. In the history of the Egyptian media, cartoonists have long had a special impact on public opinion. Meetings and symposia should also be covered in an easy and attractive way.
Reforms to the press require that the administrative bodies running it should not neglect purely journalistic aspects, as these will lead to financial gains that will give a push to further reform.
I used to think that the increase in the number of faculties of mass communication in Egypt would inevitably lead to unemployment among their graduates as the country’s media would not be able to absorb them. However, I have discovered that I was wrong, since the increase in the number of mass communication graduates is necessary to the country.
Such graduates are best qualified to teach secondary school students the very important subject of school journalism. Students should be taught how to publish in their school magazines, as was done in the past, and in this way young talent in writing and public speaking can be discovered.
School journalism can also provide students with practical training in adult journalism, helping them to write, select headlines and take photographs. Students should learn the difference between news and advertisements and the concept of fair competition. School libraries and lectures can play an important role in forming students and qualifying them for careers in journalism.
In the preparation of school curricula, moderate Islam should receive special attention. This will guarantee that students will become good citizens who know how to respect others’ views and how to conduct civilised dialogue. Achieving such targets requires a lengthy plan in which prominent journalists should participate.
To create a talented new generation of journalists, students should also study Egypt’s history in depth and understand Egyptian identity. This has historically gone through several turning points, and at each acute societal crisis changes were made in Egyptian identity.
After the Turkish leader Kemal Ataturk founded the Republic of Turkey in 1923, for example, the Ottoman state gave up the concept of the Islamic Ottoman Empire and Egypt was no longer subject to Turkish rule. The British occupation, which lasted for nearly 70 years, was another key period in Egypt’s history.
After the Camp David Agreement with Israel in the 1970s, Egypt changed a lot. The slogans of Arab nationalism, adopted in the Nasserist era, receded, and the Arab-Israeli conflict reached towards a peaceful solution. Soon afterwards, the Islamist ideology started to clash with the Nasserist one. A struggle between two ideologies ensured in a process that in some respects is similar to what is happening today.
The Arab Islamic culture has become an inseparable part of the Egyptian identity. But any talk about Arab unity has no real meaning on the ground. If we really want to realise the dream of Arab unity, we should make sure that the Arab countries have common interests, and this is exactly what is currently taking place between Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
The joint cultural factor can help to unite the Arab countries, and in fact it was the cultural factor in Europe that led to European unity. The European example provides the best evidence to date of how such unity can be achieved despite differences in language and even religion.
However, today for many Arab unity has become just a dream, and efforts to achieve it have stumbled, especially after the Gulf War. Some Arabs have started to think that appealing to the West for help is more secure than depending on their Arab brothers.
In the final analysis, attempts to secure the future of Egypt’s media will not be successful unless we are first secure in our own region and in our knowledge of who we are.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 17 October, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.