»In a country with growing oppression and tension that is mostly built on cultural problems and misconceptions toward religion, gender, politics, and human rights issues, expanding the concept of culture and the way it’s practiced and tackled is a must.«Azza Moghazy
In April 2015, as the end of the school year was drawing near, Buthaina Keshk, the administrative director of Giza governorate’s (state) education unit, stood with government officials holding the Egyptian flag and waving it enthusiastically, while witnessing the burning of 82 books from the library of Al-Fadl private school. The school was seized by the government in the aftermath of June 30, 2013, the date of the change of power in Egypt.
At that time, I was the copy editor of the investigative reporting section in a leading independent daily newspaper. As part of my job, I oversaw the field report that was carried out by one of my colleagues on the incident. She did her part and talked to the parties involved and concerned, including Ms. Keshk and her supervisors. In the Egyptian Ministry of Education, the report was submitted for publication, but it was never printed.
Although this report was more balanced and less critical toward the government than other reports about the same incident published in other Egyptian papers, this one in particular was killed in the newsroom, simply because the other critical reports and articles were published in the culture sections, which almost no one reads.
For years during the Mubarak era (1982–2011), Egyptian culture journalism confined itself to certain topics: book reviews or interviews with writers and intellectuals that don’t interact with daily issues or deal with the big questions that concern most of the small audience capable of reading and purchasing print media. That trend made culture journalism somehow more free during the decades of tyranny that Egypt had been going through. But at the same time, made it incapable of making an impact on the general audience.
For that reason, the lack of exposure/impact, I turned to field reporting and investigative journalism in 2011 after six years of being a culture journalist. During those long six years I’d been trying to apply my concept of culture journalism to the culture pages. For me, culture is in every aspect of life; in the way people interpret what happens in their days, how they spend their money, how they dress and eat, the concepts of different familial and social relations, and in the way they deal with political and social issues. Thanks to their vast range, field reporting and investigative journalism made me take culture outside the realm of the little-read culture section.
In a country with growing oppression and tension that is mostly built on cultural problems and misconceptions toward religion, gender, politics, and human rights issues, expanding the concept of culture and the way it’s practiced and tackled is a must. And as a journalist, having the tools and access to other journalists outside culture journalism is a way to open up to the masses and do quality reporting that delivers accurate and readable cultural content (in its broader meaning), as a method of enlightening and inspiring change, not only in its political sense, but also in its social aspects.
A country like Egypt is very much in need of quality journalism, something that people have been denied, especially in the past four years. And for me, being at Akademie Schloss Solitude now is an opportunity for one Egyptian journalist to learn and gather necessary experience to help open a few millimeters of the window of democracy of knowledge, and the right for awareness and change.