Sahar El-Nadi, an internationally known Egyptian journalist with an impressive CV, is rushing into the lobby of Hotel Concordia. She smiles and is in a good mood, even though her schedule is hectic. She complains about the cold weather but emphasises how beautiful Lund is. This is her first time in Scandinavia and yesterday she was in Malmö.
I wanted to see how rich people here live so I asked my host to take me to the wealthy areas. When I got there I was surprised, in Cairo rich people live in palaces.
We move to the empty conference hall and start to talk about her memories from the protests at Tahrir Square, a year ago.
The first picture that comes to my mind while thinking of the revolution is the one of smiling and laughing people. Egyptians have a beautiful sense of humour but during the opression they lost that. They regained it as soon as they realised what the taste of freedom is like.
It has been more than a year since the revolution started, and the former president Hosni Mubarak is far from the corridors of power. Yet the fighting continues and Egyptians appear to be far from satisfied with the current conditions of the country.
The revolution won’t be over until the day we finally get an elected government that is civil and not military. We still don’t have a constitution and we need to give the parliament the right to form one. We need to get the military back to its baracks. And, finally, we need to regain our money that has been smuggled out, mostly into Western Europe and the USA. But I am optimistic and my belief is that this will happen before the end of the year.
The Arab Spring has turned into an international concern and from all over the world hands are reaching out to help. What kind of help would be most useful is sometimes hard to assess.
The last thing Egypt needs now is an international government. What we need is expertise in issues such as sustainable development, education and healthcare: things that can easily be implemented. People are not after money anymore, they are after solutions.
The media gave a lot of focus to the division between ethnic groups in Egypt, particularly between Muslims and Christians. According to Sahar, the revolution has helped to decrease this gap.
The previous regime manufactured events to divide these groups but the revolution has shown people how they can act together and save each others’ lives. Every day we saw explicit examples of this, such as a mosque opening its doors as a field hospital or a church doing the same thing.
She continues and clarifies how the impact is also to be seen between different social classes:
Prior to the revolution people from different classes would rarely meet. A year ago one of the criminal strategies the government used was to open all jails and let all the criminals out, withdrawing all policemen. This lead to all Egyptian men going out on the streets to defend their families, side by side. Today I also hear people who normally wouldn’t care about politics talk about what they want in the constitution. This is why I am optimistic, people are now aware.
As an Egyptian journalist, Sahar is representing an occupation whose work is associated with great risks.
Earlier, the biggest obstacle for Egyptian journalists was censorship. Today it is violence. Journalists might lose their lives in order to cover a story. The most recent example, and this is pretty ironic, was on Egypt state-TV, where a reporter was going to show that the regime is no longer using bullets on journalists. This reporter lost his eye. Unfortunately certain rights have to be gained by blood, and this is a sacrifice that someone has to make. Journalists are paying a very high price, but it is working. Noone would be able to cage freedom of expression in Egypt anymore.
Sahar is often addressed as “young, successful, female, Muslim journalist”. I ask her if this title ever gets tiring.
There has to be some kind of positive example somewhere. I don’t mind being one. It is not as much a label as it is a tool for me to educate others. Muslim countries that are more conservative than Egypt have to see that Muslim women can do these kinds of things.
Sahar stresses the point that Egyptian women are also facing a visibility-problem. In the government, as well as in rural working areas and in IT business, women are overrepresented. In the international press there is too little focus on this, on the fact that Egyptian men and women get equal pay and on the fact that in high status occupations, more women than men are to be found.
Besides being a journalist, Sahar has gained reputation for her website zero-net.net which aims to combat prejudices about Islam. We talk about how to decrease the gap between Islam and Western society and what kinds of prejudice towards Islam she encounters.
Healthy communication is crucial. Ignorance is our worst enemy when we want to deal with each other. I would urge especially young people around the world to search for information and to reach out to each other. The most common prejudice towards Islam is that it does not have rights and is an opressing religion. If you see opression in the name of Islam, blame the person who practises the religion falsely! Another misconception is that women in Islam society do not exist. After my first lesson in Sweden I wrote to my Egyptian female friends “You’re doing a great job, but you need to be more visible”.
We move on to talk about what prejudices Muslims have towards Westeners.
There is still a prejudice that Western people are demanding Muslim land and resources. This was a fact in the imperialistic era of history but still creates suspicion when Muslims have contact with international organisations. Many Muslims are surprised when they hear Western organisations ask questions such as “what can we do to help?”
Time is running out and Sahar has to prepare for the next meeting. She leaves and heads resolutely on her way.