Thursday, 4 May 2017

About journalism… again

I postpone writing about the recently established councils of journalism and media until later despite that I have – like many others – a lot to say… the reason behind postponing is to let those new entities work and produce something useful in the field of writing and not for the benefit of those people chosen over top of those councils… no one knows – at least me – how those people were chosen… what criteria were used to choose them… and even who chose them… I did not bother to ask or even know the answer although some of them are dear friends and colleagues to me.

However, postponing writing does not mean to stop continuing writing about the profession of journalism that I started in last week’s article… I waited for anyone of those concerned with what was written in that article to reply… not with the aim of having an empty argument… but to work together to pick our profession from the current bad state it ended up in.

Two years ago, I wrote that the first time for me to know that every profession or craft has its own congregation and each group has a leader called “Shiekh” was when I was seven years old; meaning sixty four years ago… that was when Uncle Mansour Gerges; owner of the house we used to live in, asked my father; the Arabic language and religion teacher in Al-Masaa’i Al-Mashkoura school, to be the judge in the conflict he had between him and Uncle Faam; the carpenter and owner of the carpentry workshop near to our home.

I had an order from my father to have the wooden chairs lined in the backyard of the house for them to sit on… after they drank tea, they talked and it ended up that the matter is more complicated and difficult for the man whom the two parties trusted – despite he was Muslim and they both were Christian – to be the judge… and so my father declared that they should consult the Sheikh or leader of the craft congregation; meaning Sheikh of carpenters because he is more capable of settling the matter between them.

When I grew up and studied history in Ain Shams University… I read Ibn Eias and al-Gabarti… and then I knew that there were tens of crafts’ congregations including those working in Khayamiya, blacksmiths, people working in coal, carpenters and also Warraqeen; those people working in the field of papers and books… that was until Muhammed Ali Pasha started building his new modern state… he tightened his grip around crafts’ congregations and started establishing factories… he gathered the young men who were to be masters in every craft.

I also knew that people working in all those fields used to make deals with each other by verbal agreement; meaning the word… their word represented more binding commitment than written contracts… and the honor of any man or Osta[1] – that later changed to mean Ostaz or master in Arabic – has to do with the respect he had for the word or promise he gave… any one of them, no matter his losses were, used to say: “I gave my word and cannot take it back”… also the Osta or head of work used to respect the word that anyone of aides gives because he believed that the honor of his aide is exactly his… and that the reputation of the place exceeds the rank of the one who made and deal and gave the word.

Also, books of history and folklore is full of funny stories about the traditions and habits of those crafts’ congregations… for example, bakers and people working in dying used to start their work by taking off all their clothes and then wearing the outfit or Galabiya of work over their naked body… and so if anyone of them got angry and decided to quit work, he rushes to wear his clothes… but once the Osta comes to appease him, he tells him “calm down and take off your clothes”.

And even thieves of Gypsies, bandits and pickpockets have their traditions and agreed-upon commitments where they respect each other areas of influence and in-between connections… reaching to Manaaser; plural of Mansar or the home of eagle… such name was given to the professional strong gangs, especially in the countryside… each Mansar used to have its leader that decides its policy and gives his word that he is willing to sacrifice his life and not go back on it.

Maybe the profession of journalism is the historical evolution of the profession of Warraqeen… and like the rest of professions, it had its own leaders generation after generation… my generation used to read for Muhammed el-Tabe’i, Ahmed el-Sawi Muhammed, Muhammed Zaki Abdel-Kader and also Taha Hussain who combined between working in literature, University and journalism… also al-Akkad… not to mention the twin brothers Mustafa and Ali Amin along with the big master Mr. Heikal… also Mr. Ahmed Bahaa ed-Din and Kamel esh-Shennawi…

I believe I was a so close friend to an old man who stayed young in heart until he left our world; that was my mentor and friend Kamel Zoheiri… I also was close to Mr. Muhammed Ouda and many others… but despite their different political and intellectual orientations and ideologies, they all had their own traditions and criteria to distinguish the good from the bad in our profession.


Then happened what happened in Egypt and many professions, including journalism, deteriorated… and now we see newspapers opening to close after a month or two because its owner wanted to make some money and just go… we also knew newspaper forcing journalists to sign their resignation alongside signing their job application… others asking the journalist to pay for employing him… others do not pay salaries and insist journalist must pay his social insurance from the allowance he receives from the syndicate; meaning he is paying money for the owner of the newspaper…etc.

Later we had another phase in the course of journalism… that was when TV shows started and began to have an audiance… such field has now many considerations that made it almost like Mafia world that man cannot penetrate unless he has the required tools… here the journalist turned from a star spreading his shine over papers and who gains his credibility from what he writes and the battles and stances he adopts into a different kind of star where lights are shed on him instead of shining from him… and maybe he himself is a star-like dim planetoid; meaning that light falls on it from other source that makes him look like a shining moon!

Amid all this, many traditions, ethics and customs that once ruled our profession decayed… and everyone is now dealing with bad intentions in advance… and that “we are all thieves, my friend” so do not say “I gave my word” or “this is a moral commitment”… but come and bring your lawyer with you and write and sign your contract according to temporal and penalty clauses!

I believe that some – including me – still behave like dinosaurs of political and intellectual honor… once they are asked to write in a newspaper, they start writing without paying attention to financial dues, article space or publishing period… and in many times they write for free… and when they do, it is after they study and think well about what they write… they aim at providing information, if not a stating one, then it is historical, literary, folkloric, political… etc.

The question now: does journalism still have sheikhs or leaders of the profession, or prominent figures for our congregation?... and if the answer is yes, do anyone of those has the knowledge, cultivation, manners and behavior comparable to other former figures I mentioned some of them above?

This could be the subject of my next article in this space.

Translated into English by: Dalia Elnaggar

This article was published in Al Ahram newspaper on May 4, 2017.

To see the original article, go to:

#alahram #ahmad_elgammal #journalism_in_Egypt

[1] Meaning master head in profession.