Overdue personal/professional update

Since as readers of this you’ve been involved in the saga of the temporary closure of Daily News Egypt, I assume you would be interested in this overdue update.

The paper, as seen from the last post, closed down after the owning company liquidated its assets. Later, an investor and a newspaper owner bought the name and hired a new team, who are doing a great job covering the confusing events. The archives are there but the stories are slowly making it back to the website.

The old team briefly worked on a new project, Egypt Monocle, but has since moved on to different projects. Former DNE Chief Editor Rania Al-Malky is operating the Monocle. Others have moved to Egypt Independent, which closed down last April, and have recently contributed to the launch of Mada Masr. (Read more about local English-language journalism).

I’ve taken this as an opportunity to go back to the field as a reporter. The few years I spent behind the news desk were challenging but turned frustrating as the events unfolded without enough chances to report them first hand.

Now I blog for Al-Akhbar English under the name Labyrinth and contribute to Al-Monitor, among other publications and websites. I’m also a freelance TV producer with CNN and occasionally contribute to cnn.com (You might be interested in reading & watching this package on Egypt’s missing).

I’ve come to love the freelance work and schedule and the associated lifestyle. It allows me the time to think and get more confused with the events, as you will see in upcoming posts.

Disgusting. Humiliating. Ugly.

Disgusting. Humiliating. Ugly.

That was my day yesterday. The editorial team behind Daily News Egypt was to get one more slap on the face Tuesday.

I hate to discuss this. We always resisted being the story, even when the paper was censored. But it’s difficult to remain mum for no good reason.

I thought we were dealing with respectful people. I thought the owners of the paper would sustain a shred of decency, but I was proven wrong.

We went to pick up our salaries for April, which we were told by the owners we should be grateful to take. While employees in other departments took theirs, an order was made to exclude the journalists and editors. The reason? “A problem with one of the investors with the editor over ‘passwords’”. But we left everything including access to our virtual profiles and emails at the office before we were effectively kicked out. No one asked me for any “passwords” until I went to get my salary. And even if a “problem” persists, why punish a team of 15 for a problem with one person?

Well, the “passwords” seem like a mere excuse to me. The editorial team is the one that led the move to file a complaint at the labor office, after being told by the owners and the liquidator (who also served as the supervising accountant and auditor for the company over the years) that court is our only option to get the outstanding financial rights.

Like the sudden closure of the DNE website for a couple of days last month, the owners seem to be making decisions affecting the paper and its staff based on any phone conversation they don’t like. Ironically, when we reminded the owners they owe us and the whole staff financial rights more than just salaries, they told us to talk to the liquidator they appointed because legally they had no control over the company assets anymore. This “control” is only effective when they want to change something.

It was heartbreaking to see the tears in my colleagues’ eyes, shocked by this spat of humiliation. Journalists have repeatedly put their lives at the line to get the story out and everyone has sacrificed a lot personally and professionally to get around the ever scarce resources. On Tuesday, we kept reminding each other to keep our chins up; this situation didn’t reflect on us as much as those who forced it on us.

I really expected it to go gracefully, or at least with less drama. Instead, we have to deal with erratic and spiteful decisions. Shame!

Read the statement by the staff over Tuesday’s events. (It’s mirrored on all of our individual blogs).

Make sure to read DNE business reporter Reem Abdellatif’s take on the investors of the paper here.

Related posts

Daily News Egypt website is back

Daily News: eulogies, thank yous and endings

Daily News Egypt offline

The Inside Story from DNE Staff

The original editorial staff of Daily News Egypt (which you can now follow on @OriginalDNE) would like to inform our loyal readers of the latest developments since the paper stopped printing. We had chosen to not go public with the story and our ordeal out of decency but were today pushed to speak out because we have been denied our most basic right, the salaries for the month of April.

Since we were informed of the owning company’s termination (Egyptian Media Services, which published Daily News Egypt), we were told that we have no financial rights pending, even though this is in violation of the Labor Law. We were informed, however, that we will be paid our full salaries for the month of April. This was noted in the termination letter we were handed on April 22, 2012, in which we were also informed that it would be our last working day. On that day we took our belongings from the office and handed in anything we had,such as a video camera, etc. The next day the locks on the office door were changed.

We left the office and decided to pursue legal action since the company’s liquidator told us we had no rights to severance packages for years of service ranging from two to seven, and this can only be resolved with a court order, thus encouraging us to file a complaint at the labor office for our financial rights. We did so, preceded by a complaint at the Dokki police station on April 24 and have been talking to a lawyer to pursue next steps.

We waited till the beginning of May to obtain our salaries. When we found out that the salaries were ready at the office, we went there to pick them up only to be informed that the editorial staff will not be paid. Other departments in the company got paid.

The owners allege that we have passwords that we have not handed in. This is untrue as everything we had access to was left at the office when we were told it was our last day, including passwords to the wire services which are even written on a whiteboard in the news room. They have full access to all usernames and passwords from our work PCs.

We are not holding any passwords hostage. We want to take this chance to inform our readers and followers that the original DNE staff is no longer affiliated with this brand. We are however, sticking together and forming a new venture.

Please follow us on @OriginalDNE and stay tuned. Your support is highly appreciated.

Related posts

Disgusting. Humiliating. Ugly.

Daily News Egypt website is back

Daily News: eulogies, thank yous and endings

Daily News Egypt offline

Daily News Egypt website is back

The Daily News Egypt website is back up with a new message from the shareholders of the owning company, Egyptian Media Services. The company also prints and distributes the International Herald Tribune. For years, DNE has been distributed with the IHT.

The IHT is looking for a local partner to resume printing in Egypt soon.

Farewell Note from the Shareholders of EMS

It is with great sadness that we were forced to close the doors of The Daily News Egypt, Cairo’s preeminent and only independent English language newspaper.

The DNE was conceived seven years ago when a group of Egypt loving business people, got together to achieve a single objective – raise the standard of English language journalismin Egypt and make it relevant to the times.  We did this with considerable anxiety. It was clear back then that media was a high-risk business, and the newspaper industry worldwide seemed to be struggling.  Moreover, wewere launching an English paper in a country where so few spoke the language; there was no doubt that we would struggle with low readership figures. However, we were committed from an intellectual, cultural and emotional point of view. An English daily would be so important for Egypt, especially when the only available alternative was a state-owned newspaper.  The DNE would take its place in a country where tourism was a key sector, and cater to its young population, expats, visitors and bilingual speakers in a way like never before.  Indeed, we had romantic notions for what this newspaper could be and proceeded despite the business hurdles and risks.

We believed in the Editor and the Writers, who were very passionate about their work.  We could not be more proud of the recognition they achieved, especially post-Revolution, and the outstanding body of work they leave as their legacy in a digital archive for future readers.  Given the dramatic political and social events that unfolded in Egypt consistently since January 2011, The DNE archives will be read by people around the world interested in learning more about the nation’s history and struggle.

We injected millions of pounds into The Daily News Egypt during the course of its life, and never took a single penny out.  We never claimed expenses, salaries, dividends, royalties or payment of any kind.  Our objective was for the newspaper to eventually cover its costs.  In 2009 the company nearly broke even, after years of the investors having to constantly re-inject capital into the business.  This turning point was important for the owners who had been funding the company from their personal capital with no clear sign of when the financial burden would end.

The short-lived stability was to end in 2011 with the Revolution.  The events in Egypt were so large in scale that the investors agreed, once again, to carry the business through the hard times.  Advertising revenues were down a whopping 75% in 2011.Despite that, investors managed all concerns on the business side so that DNE’s staff could focus on reporting the events to the world from the front-line.  We witnessed our team flourish, performing their journalistic roles with impressive professionalism and credibility.  The investors made sure the team was able to work freely without having to deal with the mounting pressures of the business; salaries and bills were always paid on time and without fail.  Needless to say, the investors faced monthly losses in the hundreds of thousands so that the newspaper could continue its work.  Around this time, and as a preemptive move against the possibility of the newspaper having to close down, negotiations were initiated with individuals, companies and media groups to save the paper. No stone was left unturned, but sadly no offers were made either.  The concern at this grave stage was purely the welfare of the employees and the preservation of the product. None of the investors expected a recovery of their investment, nor did they even suggest it. After months of grueling negotiations, last-ditch efforts and desperate measures the funds – and time – had run out.

The decision to close down was not taken lightly. On the contrary, it was painful and difficult.  The investors supported the newspaper until it was simply not possible to do so any longer.  Our pride in what we built remains, however, and both the commercial and editorial teamsof The Daily News Egyptare a credit to journalism and Egypt.  We wish everyone associated with The Daily News Egypt the best of luck in their future projects. Creating this newspaper with them has been a great experience.

Egyptian Media Services

And here’s a link to the final note posted by the DNE staff, from the DNE website. Let’s hope it continues existing.

Related posts

Daily News: eulogies, thank yous and endings

Daily News Egypt offline

Daily News: eulogies, thank yous and endings

Here’s what our readers and friends had to say about Daily News Egypt’s closure. Thank you for the kind words.

Maurice Chamma/Adrift on the Nile: Eulogy for the Daily News Egypt.

Arabist: Thank you, Daily News Egypt.

Mohamed El Dahshan: Curtain falls on the Daily News Egypt.

Poetechnique (authored by my best friend and DNE Business Editor Amira Salah-Ahmed): Lights out at DNE.

From the News:

Egypt Independent: Daily News Egypt leaves a legacy of independent journalism.

Foreign Policy – Passport blog: The death of a newspaper.

 

Related posts

Daily News Egypt website is back

Daily News Egypt offline

Daily News Egypt offline

It’s shocking. Daily News Egypt is now offline. As we are trying to deal with the closure of the paper, we are dealt another blow. We specifically asked the owners to keep it alive. The staff offered to pay for the hosting of the website, or buy it, so that the 7-year archive doesn’t go down the drain. It’s seven years of our work and also a comprehensive archive of Egypt’s news in English during a pivotal period of the country’s political and social history. But alas, the owners’ promises to consider our request — because it also made sense — were obviously not serious.

There is more to say, and I’ll eventually write a lengthy post about the DNE family. But it’s been a long and sad day. The closure has been overwhelming, even though messages of support have made it bearable.

Until then, here’s the last editorial we wrote. There are numerous cache files and archived pages, thanks to our loyal readers and friends. Here’s a link to one.

Daily News Egypt: Final words
By   Daily News Egypt Editorial Staff April 22, 2012, 2:46 pm
Last Thursday the editorial staff of Daily News Egypt was informed, quite abruptly, that our last issue was going to be the one which was published Saturday-Sunday, April 20-21, 2012.After seven years of providing hard breaking news and analysis on Egypt, and being the only independent English-language printed daily in the country, we regret to inform our loyal readers that, as far as the current editorial staff was informed, the paper will no longer be published.As for the website, a valuable archive of the past seven years of Egypt’s history — in politics, business, society, arts, culture and lifestyle; in text, images and videos which the dedicated editorial staff has developed and maintained, we are unfortunately not certain of its fate.

We have specifically and repeatedly requested from the management of the owning company, Egyptian Media Services, to keep the website alive, even if it means that we, the current editors and reporters, have to finance it ourselves. Both ethically and morally, we believe we should be given priority on its ownership.

The team at Daily News Egypt has put their hearts into the paper, working effortlessly and tirelessly together to produce objective, reliable, timely content, always in an amazing work atmosphere of professionalism combined with a friendly and supportive spirit.

Knowing that this is rare to find, the editorial staff of the paper has stuck it out through numerous trials and tribulations. From scarce resources to budget cuts to obstacles that we’ve overcome together, to uncertain days and nights at the office covering the revolution, never at the expense of the content we provide to readers.

We’ve grown, in a very organic manner, from merely producing a newspaper to also putting out a website with excellent multimedia content as well as developing a strong social media presence and following, all with the same limited staff.

And the staff members we sadly lost along the way have found greener pastures in the most prestigious news organizations like Al Jazeera, Reuters, CNN and Bloomberg, which ultimately makes us all very proud.

It would be an understatement to say that the editorial team is attached to DNE and to each other; we think of ourselves as a family more than merely colleagues, including those who have come and gone, and especially including our loyal freelancers, contributors and interns.

It’s our deep regret to have to disband for the time being and not be able to produce the paper anymore. But we’d like to thank you, our loyal readers, for your support and consistently positive feedback over the years.

Rania Al Malky, Chief Editor
Sarah El Sirgany, Deputy Editor
Amira Salah-Ahmed, Business Editor
Dalia Rabie, Features Editor
Joseph Fahim, Culture Editor
Heba Elkayal, Lifestyle Editor
Safaa Abdoun, Features Writer / Reporter
Heba Fahmy, News Reporter
Heba Hesham, News Reporter
Mai Shams El Din, News Reporter / Editorial Assistant
Reem Abdellatif, Business Reporter
Farah Saafan, Video Journalist
Abdel Azim Saafan, Graphic Designer
Osama Taher, Graphic Designer
Hassan Ibrahim, Photographer

The team behind Daily News Egypt – CNN report

CNN interviewed the staff of Daily News Egypt in March. Our women-dominated newsroom seemed fit for CNN’s report on International Women’s Day.

Report prepared by our friend and former colleague Ian Lee.

Egypt: Women after the revolution

http://www.dailymotion.com/embed/video/xpb8nl<br /><a href=”http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xpb8nl_egypt-women-after-the-revolution_news&#8221; target=”_blank”>Egypt: Women after the revolution</a> <i>by <a href=”http://www.dailymotion.com/CNN_International&#8221; target=”_blank”>CNN_International</a></i>

Sexuality, Eroticism & Obscenity

For some, these three words are synonymous, for others they couldn’t be more different. Is it the culture that dictates the difference/similarity? Is it the subject at hand? Are the lines generally blurred?

We recently had this discussion at Daily News Egypt, prior to publishing this story: Guns, wars and chadors: the art of Ghada Amer.

Our culture editor Joseph Fahim sent me the two pictures that ran with this story with a note to check them first and tell him if they are fit for print. He said he didn’t see anything wrong with them, but wanted us to give them a closer look.

I looked, I couldn’t find anything unprintable. If you go to the article and scroll down, you’ll find that in the second picture, the multi layered drawing explores the female form, but the sexual connotation might be lost on anyone who doesn’t give it a closer look. But google “Ghada Amer” and you’ll see more of her in-your-face work available online.

She probes the female form, explores its sexuality, and challenges any form of (self) censorship.

But how would you describe her work? Sexual? Erotic? Obscene?

During the discussion, DNE Editor Rania Al-Malky correctly pointed out that ‘erotic’ is a description, while ‘obscene’ is a judgment, citing literary debates. But in our culture, would such distinction hold?

Many see sexual as erotic and in turn consider both obscene. And it’s not just the conservatism in our culture. Traces of similar attitudes can be seen — to a much lesser degree — in literary venues in more liberal societies. Even though writers like the respected and established novelist and essayist Zadie Smith have written or edited erotic stories (she edited a an anthology of erotic short stories according to her Wikipedia page), many literary journals and consumer magazines in the US and the UK that publish short stories, poems and novel excerpts have the “we don’t accept erotica” label on their publishing guidelines. The genre is often dismissed as lower or cheaper form of literature, even though the word “erotica”  implies art as opposed to mere pornography.

Yet “sexual” scenes in literature are not dismissed or considered demeaning of any good piece of literature. Many classics and reputable contemporary bestsellers freely describe heterosexual and homosexual encounters without fear of denigration.

This distinction between sex-centered work and work that happens to include sex is for the most part non-existent here. Take Ehsan Abdel-Quodous for example. His work, famous for its critique of societal hypocrisies and women-centered narratives, was labeled as “Adab El Ferash” back in the 60s. It literally means “the literature of the mattresses” and was used as a derogatory term in reference to more intimate scenes in his short stories and novels.

Back then the existence of lines between sexuality, eroticism and obscenity was not even acknowledged. Forward 40 years, and the situation isn’t that different. When Alaa El-Aswany first released his sophomore novel “Chicago” in a series in El-Dostor, the tone of readers’ letters got a bit more aggressive as two of the protagonists’ relationship turned physical. The novel as a whole got the criticism of “too much sex”. Needless to say, the phrase itself is used as an insult, implying that the author is using sex to sell his literature.

But in a panel discussion following the release of the novel, Economist Galal Amin came to the rescue. He argued that sex scenes should be viewed through the eyes of the characters involved. If a man sees his daughter having sex, then the emotion shouldn’t be eroticism but the man’s own shock.

Basically, Amin argued for desexualizing the sex scenes, to remove the sexuality, eroticism, and definitely the obscenity that are always associated with similar literary depictions.

Would such endeavor find a lot of welcoming ears here in Egypt?

While it’s more probable to happen in the literary world, other more visual arts might not be as welcoming. I can’t see that the public and the critics would dissociate a local film, for example, from its more intimate scenes. Films that sell through a promise of steamy scenes would be bundled with others of better caliber that happen to include or allude to sex.

And with Ghada Amer’s work, she said she’s not expecting it to be displayed in Egypt any time soon. I’m not holding my breath either.

At the Daily News Egypt during the Egypt-Algeria saga

At the newsroom

In the aftermath of the Egypt-Algeria game in Sudan, and as we frantically were gathering information and contacts for our coverage, we also had to sit down and discuss the flood of information – or the lack of it at times.

Every TV show on Wednesday night had covered the ordeal of those who traveled to Sudan. Phone calls were pouring in from those frightened by attacks by Algerian fans and those who can’t get to or inside the airport. People we spoke to for our stories weren’t short of their own horror stories.

But it seemed to be only in Egypt’s mind, because on the other hand, the news agencies either ignored it or referred to it as minor incidents. By Friday morning I started doubting myself. There were two parallel worlds, one where people were traumatized and another where nothing of significance happened.

Pictures were only available of the game, but no photos on the wires of what happened afterwards. But as my friend — a person I trust who gave me a first hand account of his experience there — told me, “Our first reaction when attacked was not to take pictures, but to protect ourselves.”

He did send me photos of the shattered windows of their bus, which we ran in the paper.

But this led to some important questions: How accurate are the reports we are getting? How can we validate them? It’s not possible that thousands have agreed on one story, but are they exaggerating? Are we falling in the trap of sensationalization? Are we getting too caught up in the details that we are failing to see the bigger picture?

Seeing the media frenzy that followed was also worrying. The state-run official satellite station, El-Masreya, ran footage of the Thursday night demonstration. (For those of you who don’t know, for state TV and media, demos don’t happen). Many TV shows crossed the line (not a fine line) that separates coverage to outward agitation of the masses, some even calling for targeting Algerians in Egypt. It’s the same type of irresponsible media that fueled the masses in Algeria with false reports. (Mainly the death of Algerians during the game in Egypt, which the Algerian government denied. The denial didn’t find a place in some newspapers that had confirmed these alleged deaths.)

Alaa Mubarak speaking on TV (a rare occurrence for the media shy son), the initial tolerance for the protests near the Algerian embassy, and the liberty in which media was allowed to report on and fuel the anger were factors to consider.

After the initial story that ran in the Friday edition, we ran more stories the following day: more eyewitnesses’ accounts, the diplomatic relations between Egypt and Algeria, a story about Alaa Mubarak speaking on TV, and of course a story about the demonstrations that took place on Thursday and Friday.

But in doing so, we tried to be careful with the wording. Not sensational but not subdued either. Report it as is. Focus on the facts. I hope we didn’t mess up or miss a word here or there.

Objectivity, the first lesson any journalist learns, can sometimes seem like an elusive goal.

My take on the frenzy: When did Alaa become the hero?

After sending the paper to print and during the two days I took off, I had the chance to talk to more people, not about their experience in Sudan but about their reactions here in Cairo to the whole thing.

The most worrying realization was that many felt more humiliated by this incident than the numerous tragedies that have marred our recent history: from train accidents to the death of over 1,000 people over the course of few hours when their ferry sank in the Red Sea (and the subsequent escape of its owner).

I’m not trying to belittle the incident or what people have went through last week in Sudan. I don’t have the slightest doubt that this happened. Although it’s difficult to prove with material evidence, since people were running away from the attacks rather than clashing with the attackers, it’s still traumatizing for any person to be chased down the streets of a foreign city (or their hometown for that matter). Whether the Algerian government is complicit in this by intentionally allowing more violent fans to travel needs to be probed. Justice needs to be served. The failure of the Sudanese security to enforce order and protect its Egyptian visitors needs to addressed as well. We also need to revise the official response after the bus carrying the Algerian players was pelted by stones on their way from the airport.

But let’s put it all in perspective.

This incident is given more space, in state and private media, than other more tragic ones. Without scientific research, it’s easy to notice the difference between portraying the ordeal of the fans who returned and the ordeal of the families that spent nights (stress the ‘s’ here) in Red Sea towns waiting for news on the fate of their loved ones after the ferry sank in 2006. No masses were agitated on the scale we saw over the weekend. No actors or singers cried on live TV from the shock of it. No one felt humiliated when the case was referred to misdemeanor court or that the owner of the ferry was tried in absentia, because he left the country. Not in disguise but like any respectable citizen traveling abroad with the seal of government consent on his forehead.

Remember no people were chased down streets or had their buses pelted with stones then; they were merely left to die in freezing water and their corpses were left floating in open water, all 1,035 of them.

It’s only when the anger would be directed to an outside enemy is it allowed to be fueled and to mushroom. And not any enemy. People were beaten in Tahrir in March 2003 when they tried to march to the US embassy to protest the Iraq War. They were described as barbaric and accused of vandalism. Last week, the media and the ministry of interior (which usually takes days to issue a statement, that if they decided to acknowledge the existence of an incident) hailed the protest at the Algerian embassy that left a lot of shattered glass in Zamalek as “civilized.”

This has led many to the verge of hysteria and some willingly fell off that cliff. The hysteria I’m talking about here can be summarized in the willingness of many to attack any person just because he or she is Algerian. Someone, usually sane, told me over the weekend he would randomly attack any Algerian he sees in Cairo. What about XX, an Algerian friend? What if the man you are attacking has just spoken in your favor? What if it’s a woman? An old woman?

This hysteria won’t only have violent irreversible repercussions but has the ability of distracting people from the right ways to seek justice and also other important issues on the local front.

The idea that Egyptians are allowing many to cash in on their ordeal is equally worrying. Aside from celebrities, Alaa Mubarak’s phone interjection on TV has left me speechless.

Suddenly, the business-savvy son of the president who’s been in power for 28 years has become the hero. He’s angry, he wants to avenge the masses and like the rest of the Egyptians he feels humiliated. Suddenly, he is speaking against Egypt’s policy of political posturing, a policy that thrived during his father’s reign (except for selected enemies).

Alaa’s popularity is off the chart. The past 28 years and his other ‘business interjections’ were instantly forgiven and forever forgotten.

Sorry, but I draw the line here: When Alaa rises in popularity as hysteria reigns.

My love-hate relationship with the Cairo Film Festival

This will be my sixth year covering the Cairo International Film Festival and I have to admit, I still feel excited about it. Fully aware of its shortcomings, I’ve had my share of its good moments and blunders.

Even though many critics would say (and I agree) that the selection of films are not the best, it’s still an opportunity to watch a lot of non-commercial non-Hollywood films and meet people passionate about filmmaking — artists not just stars.

But who am I kidding; it’s also an opportunity to rub shoulders with the stars.

Name dropping

It’s there that I interviewed Morgan Freeman, which became the highlight of my life for a year. I had the pleasure to have lunch with him along with Pakinam Amer, Tamara Yousry, Yasmine Shehata and Mariam Abu Ouf. He struck us all as a man with the spirit and passion of a 20-something, not the veteran actor in his late 60s.

It’s there that I met Mustafa Al-Akkad (director/producer of The Message and Omar El Mokhtar), one year before he died in Jordan’s 2005 bombings.

It’s there that I saw Omar Sharif for the first time in real life. I interviewed him later on.

And I briefly met Hany Abu-Assad (Paradise Now), during the premiere of Leilat Sequot Baghdad (a personal favorite).

I’ve also attended press conferences for Susan Sarandon and Charlize Theron.

SuzS small

Susan Sarandon in Cairo. By Sarah El Sirgany

CT small

A female reporter gave Thero a gift at this press conference and went out and hugged her. -By Sarah El Sirgany

During this year, a young Egyptian actor was relentlessly hitting on the stars (there’s no other way to describe his comments and questions to them at press conferences). I think he also told Theron at the press conference that she’s cute or something along these lines. And Alicia Silverstone eventually told him “I’m married.”

This actor and others like him aside, I’ve met a host of filmmakers from all around the world, passionate about what they do. Some swore never to come back — director Juanma Bajo Ulloa of the brilliant film Fragil is one of them — and others like French director Safy Nebbou, who I met in 2004, came back last year to win another prize.

Criticism from participating filmmakers range from lack of organization to allegations that the winning films are known way before the closing ceremony. Concerning that one of those winning filmmakers told me, award in hand, that he had received a call a couple of days before the closing telling him to travel to Egypt and he’ll find a pleasant surprise, this proposition isn’t that far fetched.

There’s a consensus in criticism that the local press are only interested in covering Egyptian and Arab films, leaving the screenings of beautiful foreign films relatively empty. (Foreign press is largely absent). One Indian producer/director approached me a couple of years ago, asking if I could help him invite more journalists to his morning screening. I did, but still, my film contacts at the time couldn’t fill the hall.

Live Scandals

I’ve also watched a lot scandals unfold. An Egyptian producer and a critic took the ‘discussion’  to a whole new level, and if it weren’t for the stage separating the two, the fight would have definitely got physical.

Aside from how they described each other when interviewed later (‘Ostaz eh, da combarss,’ the producer told us), it turned out that the reason for the fight wasn’t the film as we thought. A knowledgeable source from the industry claimed that this specific critic was criticizing the performance of one new actress, who was secretly married to this producer, who didn’t want anyone badmouthing his trophy wife. But that was unconfirmed.

In the screening of Dunia (officially translated as “Don’t Kiss Me in the Eye”), Lebanese director Jocelyne Saab and Egyptian film critic Khaireya El Beshlawy were also inches away from physically attacking each others after yet another scandalous press conference, with each calling the other crazy in later interviews.

Hala Khalil’s Cut and Paste’s screening wasn’t scandalous but it was full of theatricals.

The screening of Inas El-Degheidy’s El Bahethat An El Horreya (Freedom Seekers) should be credited for uniting the feminists female critics with the all-mucho male critics, as both camps struggled to hold their laughs during and after the screening. Some laughed out loud though. And they all joked about its absurdity and bad filmmaking in harmonious unison. Bless You Inas.

Lost in Translation?

The problem, which can be blamed for the scandals and the unintelligent comments that plague the post-film discussions, is the labeling: In English-language schedules, it’s referred to as a press conference, but in Arabic-language schedules, it’s referred to as nadwa or a panel discussion.

It leaves room for people, some supposedly established film critics, to take the microphone and share with the rest of us their experience watching film. Aside from the fact that many of them have a lot of space in their newspapers and magazines to do just that, often enough time runs out before more important and relevant questions about the film, its script and production are asked or answered.

Sometimes, the nadwa/press conference moderators feel obliged to either tell off the person with the mic or take the opportunity to share their own experience with the class. Some of those moderators/critics even offer more elaborate and opinionated translations (usually from English to Arabic) of the filmmakers’ answers.

My reaction ranges from bored to embarrassed. My dear friend and colleague Joseph Fahim (Daily News Egypt’s culture editor and film critic and the person to follow in this or any festival) once wrote that my way of coping with these nadwa/conferences is to draw people hanging or shooting themselves. Unfortunately, it’s true.

TV, grrr

But my problems aren’t limited to the questions. Every year I get really close to punching a TV reporter in the face, with ART’s Bousy Shalaby on top of the list. All have a sense of self entitlement to cut off any conversation to grab any director/actor/scriptwriter by the hand and lead them outside the hall. There’s absolutely no regard to the journalist or critic talking to this filmmaker or the others who have been waiting for their turn in the conversation/interview.

They brush off anyone loud criticism with “It’s TV” with a how-can’t-you-understand-you-insignificant-creature look. I have no idea if I should blame the video cameras for fueling this sense of entitlement. But if you ever hear about a journalist beating a TV station’s crew with their own camera, there’s a 90 percent chance it’ll be me.

I’ve met few filmmakers who didn’t allow this to happen, politely telling off people who cut into conversations. Dutch filmmaker Albert ter Heerdt is one of those people.

I’ll still go to this year’s festival, but I like every year I’ll be cautious about blunders. This is however not a professional analysis of the festival or the unconfirmed allegations of financial corruption. Many of the world’s top film critics and publications have wrote detailed studies of its shortcomings and how it can be fixed. But every year, festival organizers choose to ignore that. They don’t even invite those top critics and others like them. And that’s only one of the reason why the festival doesn’t get adequate coverage in international media, that if it get any at all.

Disclaimer: I’ve put too many links here, more than I usually do. This post is readable without those links. But if you a drama addict, some of the stories I linked to document in more detail some of weirdest incidents I’ve witnessed. Unfortunately, some stories are not available online anymore or have been included in online archives that require payment for access. Some of those unavailable stories though were aggregated by other websites and blogs and this is why, some links don’t direct to newspapers/magazine websites.

A round up of last year’s festival: