October 19, 2016
As censorship in Egypt increases, CNN African Journalist Award committee plays it safe
by Kait Howard
In the past few years, Egypt has seen an intensifying crackdown on journalists who question the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. In May, the journalists’ union in Cairo staged protests over the arrests of two journalists, apparently in retaliation for their reporting of Sisi’s decision to give control of two islands in the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia. Earlier this month, three journalists were arrested and allegedly beaten and tasered for conducting street interviews on the Islamic dress code for women. Even foreign journalists have found themselves fearing for their safety after the murder of the Italian student Giulio Regeni in February, and the suspicious government investigation that followed.
All of which makes the announcement that CNN has bestowed one of their 2016 African Journalist Awards on the Egyptian author of a light culture story all the stranger. As Aya Nader at Egyptian Streets reports, Ati Metwaly, editor of the arts and culture section of Egypt’s state-owned Ahram Online, has been honored with the award for a 2015 article about a Cairo orchestra comprised of visually impaired and blind women. Metwaly, who won in the Culture category, was the only Egyptian journalist to be nominated.
The story is undoubtedly touching. The Al Nour Wal Amal Orchestra has offered a sense of community and the opportunity to perform around the world to women from a range of backgrounds. Toward the end of her piece, Metwaly even brings in a political angle, suggesting that the government should be doing more to fund an organization of “multilayered importance to society.” And if the fact that three women interviewed for the article were sure to comment on how their husbands approved of their musical hobby makes any readers uncomfortable, oh well…
What is stranger is CNN’s decision, as Egypt faces well-documented media censorship, and as scores of journalists risk imprisonment and even torture to cover crucial events, to single out an Egyptian journalist working in such safe, relatively apolitical territory. Surely there are others doing braver, more challenging work— and surely now is the time to honor them.
Kait Howard was a publicist at Melville House.