We got the very sad news today that one of Egypt's leading English-language publications, Daily News Egypt, is closing.
I had known that the paper's owners were thinking of doing so for a few months now, as the newspaper was losing money and the shareholders could not justify investing more into it in the context of a bad economy. The DNE's business model largely relied on institutional sales to hotels, with guests getting the paper under their door in the morning. With the hit tourism took after the 2011 uprising, combined with dwindling advertising sales, this model was hard to make viable. And to be honest, even in better times the paper had taken a long time to be profitable, and then only narrowly so. Its shareholders are successful business people with bigger interests elsewhere, and not newspaper people. They'd invested in the paper because they thought it would be good to promote a certain type of liberalism, and because they thought it was a promising business opportunity in a country whose GDP was steadily growing. Now they faced all sorts of problems in their other businesses, and the DNE represented a steady continous investment just to keep going — not counting the additional investment that would be necessary to try to get it to generate more income, especially from the web, a question the newspaper industry the world over is still trying to grapple with.
But it still came as a shock. I feel the staff's pain — two publications I was involved with have closed in the past.
Many great people came up through the DNE, and like other publications before it, it was a combination of school for journalism and a school for Egypt — a place where people got to know a trade and a country. There are a lot of things to miss about the paper, but let me just single out one thing.
I've said it before, but for my money one of the best English-language editorialists in Egypt is Rania Malky, DNE's editor. In the last two years especially, she really seemed to have found her voice, her outrage over her country's sad state tempered by calibrated prose and a knack for the devastating turn of phrase.
Here's an example from February 5, 2011, a week after the occupation of Tahrir Square began and a day or so after the infamous "Battle of the Camel" ended with a victory for the protestors:
CAIRO: You can’t fool all the people all the time. The hawks of Egypt’s current regime should have learnt this lesson, if not over the past 30 years, then over the past 11 days.
As the events leading to the Friday of Departure today escalated, the counter strategy of a government well-versed in the arts of repression and propaganda showed its ugly face, with no regard for the people of this country, for its economic future or its present security.
It first began with the criminal act of high treason to order the withdrawal of the entire police force, following a bloody day of confrontations between riot police and peaceful protesters. People who took to the streets spontaneously demanding regime change were beaten, arrested, dispersed with teargas and water cannon, shot at with rubber bullets and some 300 of them killed.
But still, they continued their relentless calls on President Mubarak to step down.
When they upped the ante, the disinformation war started reaching new lows. No sooner did the President make his speech last Tuesday pledging not to contest the next elections, then the pro-Mubarak/stability camp started to appear in counter protests.
Next: Black Wednesday. Thugs we’ve seen all too often before during elections storm Tahrir Square, trampling peaceful protesters with horses and camels, wielding knives, swords, machetes and weapons one doctor on the field said he’d never seen the likes of before.
Eleven people were killed and over 1,000 wounded in a medieval battle between those calling for immediate regime change and the thugs hired by mercenaries benefiting from the status quo. Molotov cocktails and fireballs were thrown from surrounding buildings, rocks were hurled at women and children and absolute chaos ensued.
Yet, not a single word from the regime until the following day, when new Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq gave a press conference and made an “unprecedented” apology for the ruthless behavior of a deviant minority in an incident that will be “thoroughly investigated” and its perpetrators “severely punished”. (We’ve heard that before. Remember the ferry? The hundreds who died in train accidents?)
By Thursday morning, Egypt had become a completely different place.
Read the rest here.
I'm confident that Rania and the rest of the DNE team will show up elsewhere very soon. I know I'll keep on reading.