Saturday, September 18, 2010

Al-Ahram is Egypt and Egypt is Al-Ahram !!

Last Tuesday, September 14th, my newspaper published in-depth analytical report authored by Dr. Abdel Moneim Said, Chief of the bored of Al-Ahram organization, and Dr. Mohamed Abdel Salam the well-known researcher at Al-Ahram Center for Strategic and Political Studies and at the same time the consultant for the former.

The report (Arabic) itself, which published in two full pages, explained what is known as " Erekat document", a document included the details of the last Palestinian-Israeli negotiation rounds, initiated at Washitgon DC, in Sep 1st, attended by leaders of USA, Palestine territories, Israil, Egypt and Jordan, and continued in Sharm Elshikh, Egypt, in Sep 14th. This report spark unprecednent depate, not about the open-ended Middle East's historial conflict, no, it wasn't about that !

It was about the photo accompanied the report. Al-Ahram's "doctored" a photo for the five leaders of Washington meeting to put President Mubarak in front, ahead of Obama, as if he was leading the pack. ( see the original and the doctored photo above)

Since then Al-Ahram, which rarely quoted or used as a reference in the international media, was making the headlines, unfortunately not in the good way.

The first to notice Al-Ahram's altered photo was Weal Khalil, the well-known Egyptian activist, blogger and engineer, after Khalil has posted the original photo and the altered one, both versions were spread across Facebook profiles, before the international media pick up the story, and since then Al-Aharm is under fire, and the news on "moved" Egypt's president, ironcally, overshadowed the news and the question of who will rule Egypt after Prisendant Mubarak ( 81 years).

In the last 5 days, almost all the leading media in the west covered the story,
The scandal will come as a blow to Al-Ahram's director, Abdel Moneim Said, said the Guardian, Doctored Photo Flatters Egyptian Presiden said New York Times, CNN saw a lesson for the old Media in it, so fare while writing this there are 427 links about the story on Google news.

What Al-Ahram did, by altering a photo to show loyalty to president Mubarak, is not the ultimate surprise for me, we all know that Al-Ahram is owned by Egyptian Government and the president of Egypt he is the one to appoint it's editor, chief of the board - although it was a shock - but I was surprised by things much more than that, things came after that:

1- The alerted photo is published with a" document", so the question for Al-Ahram is: with which logic to publish an" alerted" photo with a "document" ?

2-The original photo was published in Al-Ahram when the Washington meeting toke place early this month, so why noticing the differences between the two photos wouldn't be expected ?
3- The third surprise for me was that everybody is making jokes of it, even France 24 presenter, couldn't help not laughing and saying " he he he that's fantastic !!"
Domestically, most of the reactions for Al-Ahram's alerted photo was kind of " ha ha, kind of local jok" as Khalil himself said so, but for me as journalist who spent the last 16 years of my career working for Al-Ahram, it wasn't a joke, and I guess for other colleagues who are working now for Al-Ahram it isn't a joke, it is a blend of shameful, outrageous and sad moment.

Because for me, I see Al-Ahram as Egypt, and see Egypt is just a larger model example of Al-Ahram, both have great history, both have so many potentials, and both are going through exceptional moments in their history, trying to make a better future, if it will be one !

For me, Al-Ahram which was founded in 1875 as a private newspaper on the hands of Takla brothers, is not the current Al-Ahram which is headed by editors chosen by the Egyptian government, where the sole selection criteria is loyalty to Egypt's ruling party.

For me Al-Ahram is the wholly book of Egypt's modern history in the last 135 years, in which every single detail about what happened in this country documented.

For me, Al-Ahram is a home for over 18,000 people, I'm one of them, between editorial, management , advertising, printing etc.

For me, Al-Ahram IS a national asset, and a media school where most of current editors of the independent Newspapers in Egypt toke their very first lessons, to mention a few Magdy ElGalad, Editor of AlMasry-Al-Youm, who is a former reporter at Al-Ahram's weekly publication Al-Ahram Al-Arabi, Khalid Salah, the Editor of Youm 7, who was also a former reporter for the same publication, in addition, many staff members of the two-year old Al-Shorouk are former- or current- Al-Ahram staff members, AlShorouk also was headed at the beginning by a senior editor at Al-Ahram, in addition, several senior editors at some of these newspapers still holding their two positions at these newspapers and at the same time at Al-Ahram !

I strongly believe that Al-Ahram is Egypt and Egypt is Al-Ahram, but who said that Egypt, the main player in the Middle East, in politics, in economy, in art, etc, Egypt, whose writers and artists used to lead and form the mids and hearts of the Arab world, is the same 2010's Egypt?

Al-Ahram has been under fire for the last 6 days, although only yesterday Al-Ahram's editor issued a statement stating that the "published altered photo was "expressive"" to defend his position ! which didn't do anything except of adding fuel to the flames !

Historical Al-Ahram Vs the Current Al-Ahram !!!

I'm calling for a moment, a pause from this continued attack on Al-Ahram to look at Al-Ahram, the Egyptian newspaper that has been led, at some points of it's history, by Egypt's most talented writers and journalists, the list is long so please you go check it here.
A moment we look at Al-Ahram as the place where Naguib Mahfouz - the Nobel Price Literature in literature, publishing his writings weekly on it's papers, and so did Yousef Al-Sebaie, Tawfik Al-Hakeem, and so many other creative people who made Al-Ahram what it is !

Don't let this notorious Tuesday let you forget the long history of an deep rotted entity which is part of this nation identity, instead of calling the current-Al-Ahram names, remember that l-Ahram belongs to Egypt.

I understand that the historical Al-Ahram is not the current Al-Ahram, and I understand that it won't help to keep remembering the history of Al-Ahram, just like Egyptians remind themselves of old history, but also it won't help to keep attacking Al-Ahram.

Egyptian people shouldn't just get angry at Al-Ahram, make fun of the situation and post sarcastic Facebook statues. Egyptains should be angry for Al-Ahram, the another ironic situation that this sadness came from Abdel Bari Atwan, the Editor of loundon-based Alquds, who is originally Palestinian !


I'm not sure what should I do, sad as I'm, disappointed as I'm, setting in my office in the weekend writing this, I do see the light in the tunnel, I see this crisis for Al-Ahram as an opportunity to correct so many things have been going SO wrong in the last several years. What happen at Al-Ahram in the past couple of decades, never happened in it's history, in Al-Ahram history, the talent, hard work and dedication were the only criteria for choosing the staff, Mohamed Hasienin Hiekal, the veteran Editor of Al-Ahram, between 1957 to 1974 was chosen by Al-Ahram's head of boraed at that tim, Renee Taqkla to lead Al-Ahram, after his remarkable writings at Akhbar AlYoum, and this was the rule not the exception.

In the current Al-Ahram, the new staff mostly recruited based in the connections they have, or on who their parents or relatives are, in many times the newly joint reporters are the daughters and sons of the senior editors, or relatives, and if they don't fit under this criteria, it might takes them probationary period of ten years to join the staff! In the current Al-Ahram the salaries of the top management equal 1000 times of those the mid-career or the newly joint reporters !

Can anybody cares about Al-Ahram, someone who has the authority, do turn this crisis into a turning point in this for this organization? and make it reemerge and take the position it deserve in the Arab Media scene ?

What happened in the last Teusday, not only severely hurt Al-Ahram credibility, that would take years to be repaired, it did hurt the collective Arab people memory that always saved a remarkable place for the much appreciated Al-Ahram..

I'm not saying, let forget about what happened, because what happened is not just a mistake, it's not a typo, or grammatical error, which the current Al-Ahram's pages full of them every single day, what happened is much more than that, and should be dealt with in this context. "Someone’s head must roll for this. And it better happen soon" As Rania Al-Malky, Editor o The daily News Egypt put it, is not only what is needed, it takes more than one head, to THINK about the future of this Organization, and to make sure this WON'T happen again, probably this won't include the same head that needed to be rolled !! Al-Ahram has been born big, and it would be national shame to let it die small !

Why there is no comment came out from the President, it was HIS photo that moved ??!!!!

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