Last updated: April 29, 2013

The brave citizen journalists of Egypt

It wasn't until the Cairo-based Egypt Journalism Project (EJP) quietly launched in late 2012 that the Program Director, Carmel Delshad, realized the urgent demand for citizen journalism training across Egypt.

Although still in its infancy, some Egyptians have taken multi-hour commutes to attend sessions that train members in the technical basics of media production and journalism. Like CitJo and Mosireen, EJP represents a rising class of educated citizen journalists stepping in to fulfil the demand for grassroots reporting in Egypt, much thanks to the proliferation of tools, platforms and methods for media professionals.

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Trainees have the opportunity to utilise their skills at any time, and any place. Just ask Muhammad Salem who was riding on a commuter bus when it got stuck in a traffic jam in the Mediterranean city of Port Said. Muhammad, with a video camera in hand, got his chance to pursue a “real” story as news reached passengers that 21 residents had just been sentenced to death after being involved in a deadly football riot at the Port Said Stadium that left 79 killed and over 1,000 injured. Violent riots erupted around them.

What ensued was horrifying, and Muhammad captured footage of a wheelchair bound resident being shot in the head by police in a part of the city that witnessed 20 civilian deaths and 250 injuries. The government lost control. Muhammad's footage is one of many reports featured on the EJP website, although surprisingly, the video never went viral, perhaps because of its image quality and the fact that similar videos surfaced.

Aside from the obvious emotional trauma, professional constraints and challenges like these are ever present for EJP trainees, which is why the program attempts to cover a broader range of topics, such as teaching social media marketing skills that larger outlets use to help amplify news distribution.

As Egyptian society continues to fray under the strain of new freedoms and possibilities, the systematic oppression of journalists seems as strong as ever. 

“We’ve never witnessed something like this in the Middle East,” explained a regional head of the Committee to Protect Journalists, Mohamed Abdel Dayem, referring to the hundreds of reports detailing the systematic abuse and detainment of individuals over the course of the revolution. Although no Syria, chronicling the events of the Egyptian revolution can be just as dangerous, or at least lead to prison time, beatings and confiscation of equipment.

To be more effective, trainees have the option of working in pairs, meaning that one person shoots the video, while the other works on audio. Egypt, like many other Arab countries, is a camera shy culture, although the revolution has gradually changed this.

“It's all a big negotiation. Capturing footage of a protest is normal now, but it can be quite unnerving and dangerous to do the same during a full-on clash,” explains Delshad.

One thing most participants in the program have already learned, however, is that making news requires one to use all hemispheres of the brain during the chaos of newsworthy events; whether it be talking oneself out of trouble in front of police or anti-revolutionary factions, fleeing from a scene, or deleting files on a camera, only to retrieve it later employing data recovery methods.

EJP trainees are fulfilling a pivotal role within their society, regardless of background and level of education. 

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Said Hamideh
Said is a Public Relations and Marketing consultant specializing in early tech ventures. Said has worked with numerous start-ups in the Middle East and the United States. Visit his blog New Marketing and Social Media books for 2013.
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