Aiming to bridge a gap between marginalised communities in Egypt and the media coverage about them, Ahmed El-Hawary, an Egyptian journalist, decided to give a voice to young people living in deprived areas in order to express their opinions and represent their problems. Through his initiative, bashkatib, he managed to provide a community-owned, youth-led, neutral, non-polarised nor politicised journalistic experience that serves as a representation of Egypt’s diverse range of voices, multiple narratives and plurality of cultures.
According to the initiative’s official website, bashkatib is a network of local publications run by youth journalists in socially, economically and geographically marginalised areas in Egypt. Simply, it can be described as an online portal to local news content produced by local youth journalists, and a forum for dialogue between them.
In his interview with Daily News Egypt, El-Hawary spoke about the beginning of the initiative, the number of young people who were trained, and the future plans they have for the project.
What is the main objective behind launching the bashkatib initiative?
The idea of launching bashkatib came to my mind after a workshop I organised in Ard Ellewa, Giza in collaboration with “Ard Ellewa Art Space”. I, along with other professionals, trained a group of young people from the neighbourhood on the basics of journalistic writing, creative writing, cartoons, photography, and publication layout. We asked them to use what they learned to create a publication from scratch in which they would express themselves and the views of their small communities.
I was taken aback upon seeing the results, the level of youth interaction, their openness to the idea and feeling of ownership, was inspiring. Without any interference from me, they collaborated together to design the publication, create the content through their own writing and interviews, negotiate with a local internet cafe that had a designer to design the layout and sell an advertisement space to the local supermarket. They used the money to print the publication itself and distribute it to the people in their community. When they came back to me with their product asking “what the next step could be”, I started to think about having a project to replicate what we did in Ard Ellewa and find out an answer for this question.
In brief, bashkatib is a leading movement that introduces an alternative community-based media stream to Egypt and the Arab region.
How many people were trained? Where do you publish their work?
We trained more than 120 boys and girls aged between 12 and 18 years. Their work was published in printed community media publications and on websites. Each community has its own website and they all feed bashkatibnews.com
Why did you choose this name for the initiative?
Bashkatib is an old Ottoman/Egyptian name used in Egypt to denote an enlightened person who serves as a community writer, and that is who we want to be.
When I decided to start this initiative, we spent a long time trying to find a suitable name that represent what we do. The first names that came to mind and our project manager’s minds, at the time, were all related to news. We did not like those names as some of them didn’t really represent what we do and others were either taken or boring. Until now, we cannot really remember who came up with the name. What we do remember is once it was suggested, our problem was solved.
What are the main social issues that bashkatib tackles? Why did you choose to focus on marginalised communities?
Egypt has communities of diverse ethnic, cultural, and social heritage and dialects that are spread across the country and concentrated in the Eastern and Western deserts and areas in Upper Egypt.
According to the Ministry of Housing, 40% of Greater Cairo residents live in ashwa’yat (informal housing). Since the marginalised areas in Cairo don’t usually receive much media coverage, a total of approximately 75 million Egyptian citizens (close to 85% of the population) live in areas in which their local news is not showcased in the media. This misrepresentation undermines and ignores the multiplicity of voices, narratives, perspectives, and cultures that exist outside of the urban capital, and consequently deprive people from a powerful tool that could allow them to monitor local governance, and participate more significantly in public life.
On other hand, the population of youth between the ages of 10 and 19 is estimated at 16 million, representing approximately 19% of Egypt’s total population. Youth in marginalised communities have no opportunities to develop, express themselves or participate in public life. Traditionally, community members do not appreciate the potential of young people until they have successfully graduated from university. The absence of self-development and empowerment opportunities for young adults results in low self-esteem, lack of orientation, and a loss of young people being encouraged to help change or reach their full potential.
Do you have any future plans to improve the project or expand its geographical coverage?
We are always working on improving the project, and what we do now is not the same as what we were doing in 2012. For me improving the project is infinite job. We started with what we now call prototype trainings for two to three months that will develop into a two-year model. We now work in four communities and our plan is to expand to six by the end of 2016.