With a career spanning 26 years in print media, I must admit that the past few days have been the toughest and most challenging. Covering the uprising, which has rocked Egypt in an unprecedented manner, hasn’t been the challenge per se.
The Egyptian Gazette and its weekly edition, the Egyptian Mail, have been pursuing a balanced and impartial editorial policy for the past six years. How to impart the information available to us in the newspaper has been an uphill task over the recent days.
Last Friday, the Internet service suddenly stopped a sign of abysmal failure on the part of the decision-makers in this country, who laboured under the false illusion that they by doing this they could stifle protests and hinder the flow of information.
Like all other media outlets in Egypt, The Egyptian Gazette and the Mail, have felt the brunt of this blockage. Our reporters in several parts of the country could not file their stories.
At the same time, commentators around the world were unable to send their articles to The Gazette, which also meant that The Gazette website crumbled.
This was not all. The spectre of The Gazette not hitting the newsstands on a daily basis loomed large during the recent turmoil. For almost a week, half of the staff failed to show up for safety reasons.
“My father would not allow me to go to the office,” one female colleague told me over the phone. “I couldn’t come because I was a vigilante last night, protecting my family and neighbours,” another colleague told me in a sleepy tone. “Thugs are around and I can’t venture out,” said a third.
These excuses were common on the first four days of the turmoil. On the ensuing days, these colleagues, especially the female ones, stopped calling, apparently assuming that their absenteeism should be taken for granted.
In fact, they were not the only ones who chose to stay away. Many administrative employees in the institution, which publishes The Gazette, did the same. I spent three days looking for somebody to fix the telephone line in my office, but to no avail. Fear and demoralisation were rife and contagious.
Yet, the editorial staffers and technicians, who took the risk and showed up for work, admirably ignoring their own safety concerns, joined hands to make sure that the newspaper came out every day with the latest information available about the situation in Egypt.
One veteran technician, Mahmoud el-Samari, spent four successive nights in the newspaper after ensuring The Gazette was put to bed every evening, because he could not make it home to his flat in southern Cairo.
In fact, examples abound about the professionalism and bravery of other staffers on The Gazette.
Thanks to the resilience of these people, The Gazette and its weekly edition have continued to come out, despite the disruption in the delivery service. I would like to take this opportunity to express my sincerest thanks to each and every one of these Gazetteers.
Meanwhile, angry subscribers called to complain about not receiving their copy of the newspaper. “Are The Gazette and the Mail still being published?” I was asked more than once, prompting me to write a note on the front page, giving an answer in the affirmative.
Personally speaking, this is not the first time for me to experience turmoil in Egypt firsthand. I still remember the bread riots in 1977 and the mutiny staged by police recruits in 1986 coincidentally, the trouble happened on both occasions in January.
However, I have never seen turmoil of the scale of the past few days.
During its 131 years, The Gazette has only been suspended on very few occasions, the most recent being its 72nd birthday on January 26, 1952 (coincidentally in January again), when several institutions were torched in Cairo.
During the latest crisis, I hoped and prayed that the newspaper would not disappear even for a single day.
Due to the diligence of the Gazetteers, my hopes and prayers were answered, though the size of the newspaper had to be temporarily reduced for economic reasons. Is the worst over? Let us continue to hope and pray that it is.
By Ramadan A. Kader