KSU hosts Egyptian journalists‚ activists and scholars

Forums focus on media’s role in shaping perceptions and Egypt’s civil society

Georgia (Apr 23, 2009) — The growing influence of Egypt’s civil sector — as many as 33‚000 non−governmental organizations (NGOs) by some estimates — and the role of media in shaping how Egyptians and Americans view each other were part of discussions during the first Egyptian−American Dialogue held at Kennesaw State earlier this month.

The dialogue — a joint project of KSU’s Center for Conflict Management‚ the Washington‚ D.C.−based Hands Along the Nile Development Services‚ and Egypt’s Forum for Intercultural Dialogue — was the latest in a series held in the U.S. and Egypt since 2004 to promote “citizen diplomacy” and foster better cultural understanding. Most of the sessions held during the three−day dialogue at KSU were reserved for the academics and activists who periodically attend the dialogues.

Two of the dialogue’s public forums featured Amina Shafik‚ a reporter and columnist for Al Ahram‚ a state−owned newspaper considered the most widely read in Egypt‚ and the first woman to head the Egyptian journalists’ syndicate.

Shafik said the media has helped further the causes and influence of civil society organizations‚ which until the early 1980’s primarily concerned themselves with issues like feeding the poor. With the advent of organizations like the Arab Association for Human Rights‚ a segment of the NGOs began tackling the issues of democracy‚ human rights‚ community development and civil rights.

As the number of NGOs assuming the role of rights advocates has increased‚ more journalists — especially those working for privately−owned media — are covering them. Shafik estimates that about 1‚000 of the estimated total of NGOs are engaged as advocates and activists‚ and their leaders sometimes run into opposition from the government.

As a result‚ Shafik said‚ “NGO leaders have become as recognizable as politicians and government leaders. There are now reporters who specialize in [covering] civil society.”

Shafik was joined by Fathy Abou Ayana‚ former dean and professor of human geography at Alexandria University. He estimated that there are some 1‚800 NGOs working in Alexandria alone‚ primarily on the problems of the growing number of homeless in Alexandria that has resulted from population explosion.

“The high rates of poverty and illiteracy have reduced the influence of newspapers‚ Ayana said. “They don’t read papers‚ books and magazines‚ just listen to radio all day and watch films.”

Ayana explained that satellite dishes make it possible for locals follow world events more closely than they follow local news and issues. However‚ independent and government owned newspapers like Al Ahram‚ continue to be widely read among the intelligentsia.

As an outspoken journalist and advocate for women’s rights‚ Shafik has criticized the government and its news media — even her own Al Ahram — “too many times to cite” on human rights‚ women in electoral politics and the rights of religious minorities‚ suffering repercussions along the way.

“I was fired under [former president Anwar al−] Sadat‚” she said. “But when you choose your way‚ you choose it with all its ups and down.”

Even so‚ there is no “tangible censorship‚” Shafik said‚ noting that her writing was only once refused — a column she wrote criticizing the government on the Palestinian issue.

“I later read the article and determined that it may have been too aggressive‚” she said. “We have to remember that the freedom of the press is not the freedom of the journalist‚ but the freedom of the owner.”

Joining Shafik on the panel discussing the media’s role in shaping perceptions of Egypt‚ the Middle East‚ America and the West were: Mona Eltahawy‚ a New York City−based syndicated columnist and journalist of Egyptian descent‚ who was the first Egyptian to report for a Western news agency in Israel; and Nabil Abadir‚ general director of the Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services‚ which promotes community development in Egypt and creates opportunities for journalists and other opinion−shapers of different faiths work together on social issues.

To view coverage of the Egyptian−American Dialogue on Atlanta Interfaith Broadcast News‚ click on www.kennesaw.edu/ur/video_files/Eygptian_American_dialogue.mov


A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu