Thursday, 24 October 2013

The interviewer as co-author

Beware of Western journalists seeking interviews on Egypt’s political situation these days! More likely than not, you’ve been scripted already - or is it photoshopped?

I gave an interview a few weeks ago to a German journalist – and as usual forgot completely about it. Today I fell upon a translated version only to discover the good journalist had (as I put it in a tweet) “co-authored” my answers to his questions. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find what I actually said among what my interviewer decided to put into my mouth.

Some examples:

-        Title in quotes: “Egypt’s media are propaganda machines” – never said so, and being an Egyptian journalist I’m quite aware that the reality – as grim as it might be – is much more complex. (see: my most recent article on the subject: Coverage in black and white”:

-        I am standing in front of my life's work and thinking that it was all in vain.” Never said it, don’t think it, and would never dramatize myself in such pathetic terms in any case.

-        “It's opium for the people. With all of this, the military is bending the people to its will.” Never said any of it, would never use “opium for the people...” (since I’m well aware of the original, highly nuanced reference) and don’t believe the military or any other institution or force is “bending the people to its will”. Sheer fabrication.

-        Of course the criticism of the army leadership is right.” – What criticism? I don’t talk in inanities.

-        “Repression breeds repression.” Nor in banalities.

-        “In February, I was thrown out by the Muslim Brotherhood. They made sweeping changes in our team.” – I was thrown out (in January not February) and there were no changes made in our team.

-         Most shocking of all: “Egypt lacks everything that makes freedom of speech possible: education, equipment, knowledge.” This after a magnificent popular revolution, the supreme exercise of freedom of speech. Let alone that such a statement is purely and simply racist. Since I don’t have blonde hair (and having just returned from a week at the beach am for the time being more black than brown), was born and bred in this country and - it so happens - am an Egyptian citizen, I would actually thrash anyone who’d make such a statement in my presence.

-        Which reminds me: In 1991 I was invited by the Parliamentary bloc of the German Green Party to take part in “a hearing” on prospects for democracy and peace in the Middle East post-Gulf War I, (as it turned out to have been.) There was a host of Arab intellectuals and writers, many of whom had been battling for democracy in their respective countries for decades, and paying a heavy price. In one session, a German journalist stood up to state – with remarkable arrogance – that he doesn’t hear Arabs speaking of democracy and human rights except in Europe. His basic argument being that these were Western values that Arabs simply did not subscribe to.

-        Ahmed Al-Khatib, a veteran Kuwaiti parliamentarian and a great man replied politely and wittily that the reason the said German journalist doesn’t hear talk of democracy and human rights in the Arab world is possibly due to the fact that most of those who say this are already in jail. Not known for my politeness, I reminded the young Arian gentleman of the German nation’s contribution to democracy and human rights under a certain Adolf.

-        For the rest of it. Even the minor contributions I made to my own interview were bungled and misrepresented. The moral of the story being: don’t give interviews to Western journalists – at least, unless you know them extremely well, and especially while they continue to suffer from MB fever.