What I meant is that even CNN, BBC and those stations are going to have a hard time covering these elections, because they will probably not be allowed to shoot at polling stations and all the papers will be governmental or semi-governmental. They just won’t have access. And what’s more, this is an experiment for the big event next year. If this experience with the parliamentary elections works, the regime will continue with the same strategy for the presidential elections.
What’s the objective of this experiment?
The satellite channels and the newspapers have taken on the role of the opposition parties in Egypt, because the opposition parties here do not speak out. So they’re trying to shut us up for these coming elections. My sense is there’s going to be a lot of fraud.
The regime said they were shutting down the satellite channels because of religious violations.
It doesn’t matter what reason they give. They closed those satellite channels for two reasons: to gag the press and to put fear in the channels that were not closed. Plus, since a lot of them have relations with Muslim Brotherhood, this is an attempt to close off an avenue of campaigning for candidates from the Muslim Brotherhood.
What are Egyptians going to miss in their media coverage?
A lot. They won’t know what happens in the presidential palace, what’s behind political agreements between the regime and the opposition, the backgrounds of the people that make decisions, the stories behind companies that include politicians, government, and businessmen.
How well have foreign journalists covered these issues?
A lot of their reports are translated into our newspapers, and they often offer deep insight into events here and the Egyptian regime. But I will say that the foreign reporters that just come for a few days or a week and leave write better than the ones that stay here in Egypt. It’s because living in Egypt they become used to the garbage piles, the corruption, and these things begin to seem more normal.
Would you say that Egyptians are apathetic?
When you’re talking about Egyptians you’re talking about people that fifty-eight years ago, just a couple generations ago, lived under a military system. And Mubarak has been running emergency rule for thirty years now. So it’s understandable that it’s a society with ideas and ideologies different from the U.S. and other places. But the people thirst for change. They read newspapers, they go online and make it known that they want change. So, the people want change, and the media calls for change, but we are missing the key third part: politicians who are fighting for change. This is why Mohammed ElBaradei has stirred great hope.
Hosni Mubarak used to tell foreign governments, ‘If I go away, the Muslim Brotherhood is going to take charge.’ Now they are scared, because ElBaradei gives us an option for a leader that is neither Mubarak or the Muslim Brotherhood. The regime realizes this and is trying to shut down all variety of media before the elections. ElBaradei is a man with the knowledge, with experience, with the people behind him.
What’s the chance he will run for president next year?
You can’t say. Elections can happen any time and the rules would have to change for him to run. But I’m confident ElBaradei is going to be the one that makes this change happen.
You’ve been working for change for a long time. Is that why you and this government don’t seem to get along.
(Laughs) It’s because I represent the true opposition. I do not feel this pressure, I don’t fear people. The government is what it is. Mubarak is Mubarak, I am a journalist. When the regime changes I will change.
Do you write whatever you want?
I don’t censor myself ever. I’m the only one who wrote about Mubarak’s health and who told him he was going to die eventually. This is my job.
You say you’re the true opposition. How large is this true opposition?
There are many: Alaa al-Aswany, Mohammed ElBaradei, Ayman Nour, the kiffeyeh movement, people protesting on Facebook and other places. These are the true opposition and they are the ones who are keeping me going.
So what’s next for you?
I am going to sit in my garden (laughs). No, I’m not going to give up, I’m used to this regime. Whenever we have a disagreement they close the fire exits on me, but I can take it. I was just talking a few minutes ago on Skype with a friend about launching a new newspaper.
Being a journalist in Egypt, has it been what you’d hoped?