Book Review: An insider's view of Al-Ahram

Mary Mourad, Tuesday 28 Aug 2012

Sabah Hamamou writes of working for Al-Ahram for over 20 years, including her memories of the momentous events of the January 25 Revolution

Sabah Hamamou

Yawmeyat suhafeya fil Ahram (Memoires of a journalist at Al-Ahram), by Sabah Hamamou, Cairo, 2012. 322pp.

Sabah Hamamou, a journalist and blogger from Cairo, is the first person to tell the world what it is like to work for Al-Ahram, Egypt's largest media organisation.

Hamamou recites her memories in the style of articles and each chapter examines a topic or memory from various points in her 20-year career.

Two main themes can be traced throughout the book: organisational and experiential matters. The latter includes memories of her family's reaction to her first published article and a night inside Cheops pyramid.

Hamamou explains that even today submissions to the Al-Ahram daily newspaper must be on paper and on occasion journalists have to copy out stories from their computer onto paper before handing them to the central desk.

Another story refers to a day when she needed to print a one-page document and had to look everywhere for a printer, eventually giving up due to the lack of a single empty piece of paper in the offices at the time.

Other stories from Hamamou's memories are about the revolution and the reactions of the editor-in-chief and the CEO to the news of the revolution, including a phone call from her room-mate at the time congratulating the minister of interior (now in jail for crimes against unarmed civilians) for brave action against the thugs of the revolution!

Also included are the events of the day when the Al-Ahram editor-in-chief who had just resigned was trying to leave his office and was stopped by journalists who insisted that he should not take the stack of boxes he was planning to escape with, and the army had to interfere to allow his departure from the building.

The difficulties described in her stories show the extent to which the organisation was less focused on work but rather on ‘security’ as she explained in detail.

While Hamamou is critical of the organisation, she still keeps a tone of respect and even pride for what she had done and learnt within her career and gratitude for the opportunities allowed by the fame and prestige of the job. The reader will find a tone of ‘hope for change’ rather than ‘shaming’ expressions.

The experiences recounted by Hamamou risk her career within an organisation that neither agile nor forgiving. Many of her stories could easily be told by a thousand other employees with even more sad details. However, only Hamamou has put her career on the line by self-publishing these stories in her own name.

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