(RHET 400) Magazine Review: Egypt Today

February 20, 2009

Egypt Today is an English language magazine that has been established during Anwar Al Sadat’s presidency in 1979 with a subject matter covering issues on the national, regional, and international front. It is a private independent magazine published once a month by International Business Association (IBA), Cayman Islands and it identifies itself as the “leading current affairs magazine in Egypt”. With an impressive circulation number ranging between 1,500 and 14,500 a month, the magazine certainly has secured the readership to back up that title. This review is divided into three parts: the first part represents the various sections constituting the make-up of the magazine, citing sample articles to accentuate the differences between each section. The second part focuses on the contributing writers, while the third critiques the magazine’s choice of audience.

The issues covered in the magazine tend to be predominantly, though not exclusively political which is reflected in the diversity offered by its six main sections: Newsreel, The Watch, Faces, The View, Cover Story, and the ET Guide. Newsreel is mainly a group of short-articles presenting a brief review of the relevant month’s news. The Cover Story section would then take the relevant month’s highlight event and expand on it with an extensive editorial. An example of this month’s cover story is “Negotiating Gaza” discussing the Israeli attack on the sector. The View section is similar except it attempts to capture all the various vantage points so, for example, if the Cover Story is on Gaza, The View would have an “Israeli Tail, American Dog,” to spice up the issue with more to offer than an extensive review of the facts.

The Watch, alternatively, is still among the longer sections yet its coverage is more colorful and time-independent, meaning it is not necessarily related to recent developments. The Queen of Coum-Booha is an example where the article talks about Egypt’s only female mayor with the title reflecting a more casual, albeit still professional, approach to the topic at hand. Faces, as the name suggests, focuses on a particular individual. Typically, figures are interviewed, and they could be anyone: acclaimed Egyptian actors, war crime judges, squash champions, best-selling authors, poets, Islamists, entrepreneurs, and finally just flat-out interesting people. For example, this month’s issue (February, 2009) featured Khadiga Amer, a seven-year-old whiz who, by exhibiting exceptional dexterity in reciting the Qur’an, has proven herself too smart for school. Finally, Et Guide is a section that is all about reviewing books, restaurants, art, music, films – it is the magazine’s cultural outlook on Egyptian society.

The contributing authors are a miscellany of nationals and non-nationals who, generally, fall in a 20s and 30s age group. In other words, they are considered young. While some may hold that against the magazine as a factor undermining its authority as Egypt’s leading magazine, I actually believe this to be one of the reasons behind the magazine’s ability to stay upbeat and attract a younger audience, all the while maintaining an admirable tenure of professionalism. Taking Ethar El-Katateny as an example, we find that she graduated from the American Univeristy in Cairo in Spring ’08 and an article of hers covering problems related to blood donations in Egypt was awarded second place by The International Center for Journalists. Gwynne Dyer is “an award-winning journalist and documentary maker based in London” and an example of a non-national contributing author.

One possible reservation that one might have is Egypt Today’s choice of audience. First of all, at a price of 15LE for the one issue, the magazine knocks out 80% of Egypt’s population who simply could not afford to buy it. That, however, is not some sort of miscalculation on the magazine’s part for ET explicitly specifies its target audience as “A-class” Egyptian nationals and foreign residents in Egypt with an interest in Egyptian and regional current affairs”. Indeed an excellent level of audience consciousness is reflected in everything ranging from the layout to their stylistic conventions to the fact that it is in a foreign language – and of course, the price.

However, it is the very choice of audience, limiting it to an “A-class” audience that I found somewhat problematic insofar as it inevitably undermines the objective of journalism. Targeting an A-class necessarily means that a certain level of quality has to be maintained to correspond to the audience. I am not referring to journalistic quality, but rather packaging quality (paper quality, color…etc). High quality means high costs; high costs means more sponsors which translates into higher dependency on sponsors; higher dependency inevitably means that sponsors get a say in what is and is not published, i.e. no longer is journalism unconditioned, and gradually autonomy is lost. This is clearly reflected in the massive amount of advertisements throughout the magazine – the reader has to flip through thirteen pages of advertisements before he/she even gets to the table of contents.

Someone might object saying that this is an unfair judgment because this is simply how the world works. I would agree that sponsor-dependency and its negative effect on journalism and a magazine’s credibility is by no means unique to Egypt Today. However, I also believe that, by accepting that as a fact of life without being the least bit critical, we are simply lowering the bar and, in effect, corrupting journalism – at least journalism as a vocation, not a job.

I realize that this may be a value judgment that is blown out of proportion. However, it stems from a personal conviction and, as such, I felt obliged to bring it up. Egypt Today is, by various standards, undeniably an excellent magazine, yet it is also representative of everything that is wrong with journalism in the 21st century: it has lost its spot on the pedestal as a vocation, and has become yet another desk-job.

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