Egypt's Al-Tahrir newspaper suffers financial crisis, closure expected

Omar Halawa, Monday 24 Aug 2015

Although the reasons for the newspapers possible closure have been cited as mainly financial, some have argued that there are also political motives at play

Al-Tahrir newspaper

Amid the circulating news of possible closure of Egyptian private newspaper Al-Tahrir, many social media users and journalists established a hash tag which reads "I oppose the closure of Al Tahrir newspaper" in solidarity with its staff, the majority of whom might be culled by the end of this month.

The board informed the reporters internally that by the beginning of September no more printed copies would be issued.

Although Ibrahim Mansour, the editor-in-chief of Al Tahrir newspaper, told Ahram Online that while the paper's closure is possible, a final decision has not been made and is still being reviewed.

However, Amr Diab, the paper's photo editor and head of the multimedia section, confirmed to Ahram Online that the paper would close.

"The administration hung a paper on the walls of our office a couple of days ago saying that the print edition would stop," Diab told Ahram Online.

"But the news website will persist, and they formed a special committee which includes members from the editorial board, the human resources department and the financial department to evaluate the performance of the majority of the staff," Diab added.

"The expected scenario now is to keep the website operating as it is and picking some reporters from the newspaper -- mainly from the newsy sections -- to work as online reporters," Diab said.

Diab continued to say that this would happen after "passing the special committee's evaluation. They would keep the same multimedia team and of course sack the whole layout production team which used to work for the printed edition."

Established in June 2011 in the wake of the "25 January revolution", Al Tahrir witnessed different phases of uncertainty when its founder, Ibrahim Al Maalam, a prominent publisher and the owner of independent daily Al Shorouk, decided to sell the newspaper to Ex-National Democratic Party member and businessman Akmal Qortam in 2013.

A few months later, Qortam became the owner. Prominent journalist Ibrahim Eissa resigned from his position as editor–in –chief and Ibrahim Manosur, who was then managing editor, took the lead.

"Three months ago, the administration sealed a deal with former editor-in-chief of Al Masry Al Youm, Anwar Al Hawary, to be the editor of our weekly edition on Thursday, while Mansour will remain in his post.

"When the board decided to stop issuing the Thursday weekly edition recently, Hawary began handling the daily issue with Mansour and he really did a good job in terms of the focuses files and the types of stories he tackled," Diab said.

"But it seems that his effort did not increase the number of distributed copies of the daily paper and his name was not written on the front page of the paper," he added.

The closure news comes in the context of some independent newspapers facing an alleged crackdown from "sovereign entities".

Last week, Al Sabah independent weekly newspaper's issue contained an opinion editorial which criticised President Abdel- Fattah El-Sisi's supporters and the founder of the "Future of the Nation" political party. 

The issue wasn't published until the article was removed.

Similarly, Sowt Al O'ma, an independent weekly newspaper, was censored on Friday as they published a story over the death of El-Sisi's mother earlier this week.

However, for Mohamed Al-Garhy, a journalist and a former news-editor at Al Tahrir, the situation at the newspaper may not be only political.

"I think the main problem behind the closure decision is a financial one. The daily issue only sells 10,000 copies daily and this is a very little number compared to other newspapers. The salaries of the staff are around LE1.2 million per month and it seems that the board can't afford it anymore due to the recession of the advertising market which is considered the main source of income for media outlets," El Garhy said.

"What also sounds fishy to me and forced me not to suspend the political pressure behind the closure decision, is that Qortam himself is getting ready to issue a new weekly newspaper named "Al Ahm" (The most important) as a new brand," he added.

"I believe that the reasons that people are not willing to purchase Al Tahrir as a newspaper is probably its name which became relevant to Tahrir Square. Many other media outlets are no longer relating themselves to the 2011 revolution, and also the owner of the paper is the current chairman of a pro-state party -- the Conservatives Party -- and the content which was published when Hawary took over was really critical which could have made some state officials angry", he explained.

Due to the financial crisis that many news outlets are facing in Egypt, it is expected that more prominent newspapers might need to close down or at least turn to print only to avoid increasing losses. A number of media organisations, including Al-Shorouk daily newspaper, have already sacked some of their journalists for the same reasons.

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