african voices, becky anderson, CNN, connect the world, Egypt, forced disappearances, freedom project, immigration, inside africa, Media, metrojet, news, parliamentary elections, personal, plane crash, russian plane, sarah sirgany, sex and the citadel, shereen el feki, war, wedding dress
My 2015 resolution was more writing and less TV work. It turned out to be the year with the least amount of writing and variation in outlets I contribute to. Instead, I did more TV, much more TV than I had planned. And different from what I imagined, with more variety in story types and kind of work that made it an exciting year despite the failed resolution.
The Arab Summit in March, held days after the Saudi attack on Yemen started, was a window into the other and more influential side of war: the smiles of diplomats, the calculated anger of officials, and the hushed conversations tucked in the hallways of the resort town of Sharm El-Sheikh.
In the summer, I got the chance to take part in a lengthy investigation that spanned two countries. On the Egypt side, the team probed the factors and repercussions of illegal immigration of minors to Italy. Boys under the age of 18, usually 16 or younger, take advantage of Italian laws that prevent the deportation of unaccompanied minors. Their families buy them a spot on smuggling ships, hoping they would replicate the few success stories of illegal-immigrant-turned-business-owner in a short time. Kids picking up the main trade of sailing and fishing of the border villages they live in, like the Burg Meghizal village we reported from, are used by smugglers to sail the shaky boats. In case of arrest while en route to Italy, minors would be referred to shelters rather than prison, and if they make it safely, they would have worked the worth of their ticket to the other side of the Mediterranean.
In Italy, the rest of the team documented how these kids, under family pressure to make money, escape the shelters and end up in the prostitution or drugs businesses.
You can watch the three parts here:
It was turned into a 30-minute special with more interviews and footage, but sadly it’s not online. The story was part of the CNN immigration and refugee coverage that won the Association of International Broadcasters Award in November.
Also in the summer, Becky Anderson’s Connect the World started its annual tour of the region, which is making a habit of ending prematurely in the wake of wars and other upheavals. This year, Egypt’s week wasn’t cut short like in 2014. The show was aired live from Cairo for four days culminating in the café set that featured multiple guests discussing sex, politics, economy and art.
You can watch clips from the Egypt arm of the tour here:
And to diversify things a bit, I got to work with African Voices and Inside Africa, two programs that are more flexible with format. We got to profile Sondos Shabayek, the woman behind the Bussy Project and its gender-based storytelling and interactive performances; and Yasmine Yeya, the talented and exclusive wedding designer, among others. We worked on an art-themed episode for Inside Africa.
Every year has to have an intense cycle of news coverage. This year it was the Russian airplane that crashed in Sinai. I traveled to Sharm El-Sheikh on the day of the crash and stayed there for almost two weeks. The intense live hits schedule and the continuous demand for new information drove an adrenaline high. Despite my long-unfulfilled intention to leave news, that adrenaline rush is as addictive as much as nerve wrecking. News for TV is more demanding than print. It’s highly competitive; scoops, deadlines and the demand for official response are measured in seconds and minutes. It gives less time for verification and the exposure each little piece of information aired on TV gets magnifies the smallest mistake. Despite this, and the unyielding struggle of acquiring information out of Egyptian officials, it is easy to get into this news cycle and deliver, like latching onto the greased wheels of a robust machine.
Such attachment to news cycles remains scary; like a black hole drawing you in to a grinder that spits you out months later unaware of the time spent – or wasted – or how the stories had scared you.
You can watch some of our plane crash coverage here:
This year hasn’t been completely without writing. I contributed numerous stories to CNN.com, either to accompany TV reports we produced or on their own. You can read some of them here:
Is Egypt verdict a victory for LGBT rights? – Al-Monitor
The biggest contribution in writing has been on the research side. For over a year, I researched the disenfranchised electorate as a non-resident fellow at the DC-based Atlantic Council. The paper was postponed and consequently rewritten repeatedly as the parliamentary elections kept shifting from late 2014 to eventually October-November 2015. The paper surveyed previous and potential players and the voter base that would identify with them and why they would be sitting out the elections. According to the High Election Committee, the turnout for both phases was at 28.3 percent.
The paper, released end of July, can be read here:
During the election season, I met with Mohamed Badran and members of the party he heads, Mostaqbal Watan (A Nation’s Future). With rumored closeness to Sisi and impressive results for a one-year-old party, Badran and his team are still on shaky grounds. His ambition could be hubris, and the rising star could crumble without any solid ideology gluing the party together.
Despite the unrealized resolution, 2015 was gratifying career wise. I still aim to make the same resolution in 2016, and I’m trying to follow few steps to make it happen. But like last year, I’m open to what life brings my way. It has been nothing short of exciting and invigorating.