Reporting Egypt: From passion to purpose

Throughout the last year, my main challenge as a journalist has been to get myself to take the news seriously. But at times, when the absurdities became too tragic to laugh at, the bigger challenge was to deal with injustice on a daily basis, especially as it kept hitting increasingly close to home.

As journalists, we have been constantly alternating throughout the last year between being at the heart of laughable charades and unspeakable tragedies, and it has taken its toll.

It is not as easy to care about the details of the story when it has become crystal clear that the events are driven by the will of the powerful few and have little to do with any law or logic.

The feeling of futility was difficult to brush off as we compared platforms and public appearances of two candidates in an election with results that were determined months before. We covered these elections, looked for violations, interviewed voters, listened to their hopes and watched the state take frantic measures to ensure a higher turnout. Then we followed the predictable results, notwithstanding the facts of the election days. We saw the announcement of the high turnout and the unfolding of large festivities.

Part of the job has become to fight off that nagging voice in the back of my head: does it even matter?

Does it matter what the exact charges fielded against activists are when it’s obvious that they are unimportant details only serving to take them to jail?

When the prosecution was forced to release April 6 Youth Movement founder Ahmed Maher due to lack of evidence tying him to the charges he faced in November, new charges were cooked up before he was able leave prison, and he was eventually sentenced to the three years that were meant for him.

How many different ways can you speak of the war on the revolution and the targeting of activists to put every story about an arrest or a sentencing in context?

When does it become unnecessarily repetitive to follow every government decision with an analysis, fishing out the clause in the recently passed constitution that it violates and quoting experts wailing about the reverse of gains they’ve worked on for decades?

And if that is the fate of the constitution that we’ve dissected and analyzed, does it even matter what laws are being passed? How do you convince yourself of the worth of analyzing decorative measures?

When does pointing out ridiculousness become in and of itself ridiculous?

On another front, you notice your humanity adjusting to cope with the intolerable violations of human rights.

Recently, I was looking up the number of people who died in October 2011, when military tanks ran over Christian protesters in the incident known as the “Maspero massacre. “

When I saw the number, 27, it felt small. I felt I had become a different person than the one who was shocked by this very same number in 2011.

The casualties in the dispersal of Muslim Brotherhood protests in August were in the hundreds; over 50 were killed in clashes in front of the presidential guard building in July. Suddenly the numbers that were shocking in 2011 didn’t provoke as much of an instinctive reaction.

And, again, you alternate between losing bits of your humanity in order to remain functional and be able to put deaths and crimes against humanity into news stories, and the weight of all the tragedies you’ve digested, which hits you like a bus.

Most disheartening, I’ve had to come face to face with my own limitations.

An absent sense of danger is often a staple of good journalists. I look back with nostalgia at the days where I had no real grasp of the dangers of journalism. And even in the small place in the back of my head where I realized there was always a chance of being shot while covering a protest or arrested for my work, I wholeheartedly believed it was worth being part of Egypt’s moment of transformation.

I find myself heading to cover protests with an unfamiliar fear. The faces of those who were killed while doing this occupy most of my thinking. Having read the letters of those who are unjustly behind bars, I do not feel the romanticism and solace that I assumed comes with being locked up for a cause. Injustice is ugly, and I don’t want it happening to me.

The danger has become too real to ignore, and the situation too hopeless to justify the sacrifice.

I think of all the people who I used to meet in these protests and who, one by one, ended up in jail. I try to imagine whether they would do it again, and whether I’m willing to do it and end up with them.

I go out of moral and professional obligation, but I am no longer at peace with the risks that it entails.

The shocking sentencing of three Al Jazeera journalists last week to seven and 10 years in prison was an especially sad day, which demonstrated how much freedom of the press has suffered, and resonated deeply with journalists.

I have done Baher Mohamed’s exact job as a freelance producer with Al Jazeera English. I have worked out of the Marriott hotel room where he got arrested and was around for one raid on the AJE office. He was just sentenced to 10 years for doing something that I’ve done, but on a different day, and the sense of injustice couldn’t get more real.

However, my disenchantment with the practice in light of the developments of last year has come full circle.

Seeing injustice rise to unprecedented heights and mainstream media become a synchronized state-worshipping orchestra, the need for journalists who attempt to report the truth, broken and demoralized as we may be, is more evident than ever. While the joy of journalism may have momentarily escaped me, the sense of purpose is stronger than ever.


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