Mada is probably best-known for its coverage of Egypt’s political scene, but beyond the headlines, Mada is also interested in the long-term social forces at work and how people negotiate their lived realities in a rapidly changing context — where much also stays the same.
Below are the stories from our society coverage that were most popular with readers over the past year.
1. Egypt’s shady world of sex videos
While pornography is officially banned in Egypt, the creation and distribution of homemade sex videos is booming. However, the phenomenon brings its own problems — including the filming of sex acts secretly or without permission, and the leaking of private videos as acts of revenge or by third parties, such as computer repair shops.
Mada Masr spoke with women turned away from hotels across the country finding that they faced rejection at hotels whether they were alone, with children, in groups of female relatives, in mixed groups or even with male relatives who were not next of kin. Many hotels — particularly middle level hotels (three or four stars) — appear to have a policy against accommodating women travelling alone, requiring them to be accompanied by a male next of kin, or obtain a permit from the morality police or a letter from a family member, employer or place of study acting as their “sponsor.”
3. Why do so many Egyptian women not breastfeed?
Egypt’s social and economic context discourages breastfeeding, with rates far lower than that recommended by international health organizations. Most of the women Mada Masr spoke to cite work as the main reason they did not breastfeed at all or less than they wanted to. Most working women are in full time jobs and have short maternity leave.
Many women rely on subsidized infant formula, but there have been shortages in recent months and the criteria to qualify are arbitrary.
The implications of Egypt’s recent pound devaluation on quality of life and broader living conditions across classes are yet to unfold. Two of our editors sat with two anthropologists to discuss what might be useful questions to ask in the current moment in light of their research into the history of Egyptian rural communities’ responses and suffering in the face of hardship induced by economic repression.
Through these experiences, we try to articulate some pertinent questions to understand how people may handle the current economic circumstances. The conversation meandered through notions of coping, how social relations are affected, who is scared of the revolution of the hungry and whether coping and resistance are on the same spectrum or are actually entirely different registers and processes.
This piece was published in our lifestyle section but we’re including it here as it was a popular read this year that also has a social aspect. Set up last summer, Zeit Zatoun delivers food prepared by seven Syrian refugee women. From the start, the vision behind Zeit Zatoun was that it would be a business not a charity. It would be a business that generated income for refugee women, but one that depended on the quality of its product rather than empathy.
6. Selling pleasure, reaping hardship
This piece was actually published in 2014, but remains one of our readers’ favorites. Mada Masr spoke with sex workers with a range of experiences, from the married civil servant who turns down clients when she has met the costs of her children’s private lessons, to a young woman whose journey toward sex work began with sexual abuse by her brother and his friends, and who now uses drugs so that she can cope.
Prostitution is illegal in Egypt, and when sex workers are prosecuted, their clients are considered witnesses to “moral depravity.” Whatever their reasons for getting into the work, sex workers remain unprotected amid discriminating legislation, health costs and an antagonistic society.
A team of research scientists from Alexandria University has developed a relatively cheap and simple method of water desalination that may improve access to fresh water for millions of people. Mada Masr tells the story of their discovery. The research findings are among the most promising in this field in years and drew headlines around the world when they were published in August. The team behind them has attracted less attention, but as a group of Egyptian scientists using a government grant to achieve outstanding results, their story serves as a model for what local researchers can accomplish when they work together and are supported properly.
8. On the question of food
The piece gives an overview of some of the issues discussed at AUC’s annual Cairo Papers in Social Sciences symposium this year, which addressed questions of food in the Middle East and the politics of hunger — from the ways that food is embedded in a matrix of power and influence, the politics of hunger and food security, to questions of food sovereignty, what indigenous food means and the various food initiatives that have sprung up in recent years promoting clean local food alongside the empowerment of agricultural communities.
Egypt’s ratio of nurses to population is below international averages, and private hospitals have turned their gaze overseas to fill nursing job vacancies, employing a significant number of foreign nurses from locations as far-flung as India, Bulgaria and Algeria. Widespread aversion to careers in nursing may be due to social stigma that depicts nurses as second-class citizens providing services akin to a maid or cleaner. Some actors in the field think that better training may lead to nursing being less undervalued by Egyptian society.
Women journalists share stories of the sexual harassment they face at work, both in the newsroom and in the field. Mada Masr investigates who the main perpetrators are, and why these incidents go largely unreported. Many fear that speaking out against such practices may lead to smear campaigns and endanger their careers and ability to get membership with the Journalists Syndicate which for many journalists is necessary to be hired on a fixed contract.