CAIRO: The European Commission, in conjunction with the Samir Kassir foundation, presented two Middle Eastern journalists with the Samir Kassir Award for Freedom of the Press in Beirut on Tuesday.
Egyptian columnist Mona El-Tahawy was honored for her opinion article The Arab world’s dirty secret – racism, discussing Egyptian racism towards the Sudanese. Carole Kerbage, from Lebanon, won in the Best Investigative Reporting category for her article Lebanese and foreign women lease their bodies … to entertain men.
Each author was awarded ?12,500.
This was the first time in the award s four-year history that it has been presented to two journalists, separating the fields of opinion writing and investigative journalism.
The Samir Kassir Award was established by the executive branch of the European Union in 2006 to honor Middle Eastern journalists. In 2008, it was expanded to incorporate 18 nations, including those in North Africa and the Gulf.
El-Tahawy and Kerbage were each chosen from 12 semifinalists in their category from across the region. This year, 154 journalists from 16 nationalities submitted articles. Seven journalists from around the world served as the deciding jury.
The award honors Samir Kassir, the journalist and vocal advocate for the Palestinians and for secular democracy in the Middle East, who was assassinated in Beirut in 2005. The murder is still under investigation.
Patrick Laurent, ambassador and head of the European Commission to Lebanon, presented the award to the journalists in Beirut, with the symbolic ruins of the St. Georges hotel in the background. Four years ago, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 23 others were killed in a blast on that location.
Through the name of Samir Kassir, the European Commission wished to pay tribute to all journalists who have died, for no other crime than that of doing their job, Laurent said.
Submissions to the foundation must focus on the rule of law or human rights.
The award recipients articles were chosen according to their relevance, originality, quality of treatment and respect of professional rules, the award foundation said in a press release.
El-Tahawy s opinion article appeared first in Al-Arab daily newspaper in Qatar and later in Al-Masry Al-Youm daily in Egypt. The article criticizes what the author considers Egyptian indifference towards acts of racism against Sudanese, based on an encounter she had on a Cairo metro.
El-Tahawy, who was born in Port Said, Egypt, is based in New York and has written for a variety of American and international newspapers, including The New York Times, the Washington Post and the Guardian. She served as the Reuters correspondent from Cairo as well as from Jerusalem.
At the award ceremony, she addressed the threat to journalists around the world. Too many journalists are targeted and we have just our pens, she said.
Kerbage s article describes the experiences of two former Lebanese prostitutes and exposes the heavy prostitution trade in that country. Based in Beirut, Kerbage has written for several Lebanese and Middle Eastern newspapers and reported for the Voice of the People radio station during the 2006 war in Lebanon.
Both authors articles are available online at www.samirkassir.org.
The European Union award has grown considerably in the past four years.
Six times as many applications were received this year from 2006.
In four years, the Samir Kassir Award granted by the European Commission has become the most distinguished prize honoring freedom of the press in a region stretching from Morocco to the Gulf, the foundation s press release said.