Tuesday,14 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1288, (24 - 30 March 2016)
Tuesday,14 August, 2018
Issue 1288, (24 - 30 March 2016)

Ahram Weekly

A life in journalism

Leading Egyptian journalist Shahira Amin talks to Aya Nader about her career

Al-Ahram Weekly

Growing up, leading Egyptian journalist Shahira Amin used to read newspapers aloud to an invented audience as part of a childhood game. Little did she know then that she would grow up to become one of Egypt’s top broadcasters. With passion in her eyes, Amin spoke about her ongoing adventures and her love of the media.

Amin’s journey started by chance in 1978 when she moved to Abu Dhabi after getting married. Starting her family, she wanted a part-time job and found one at the national radio. Returning to Egypt in 1989, Amin’s TV career was launched on Channel Two news, and from there she moved to Nile TV.

In 1999, Amin was Egyptian anchor for CNN’s “World Report”, a programme discussing news reports from television stations around the world and showing the viewpoints of different countries. She won awards for the programme twice, in 2004 and 2008.

Amin believes her lucky break came when she did a story about Muslims in America after 9/11 as part of a CNN fellowship. The story landed Amin a correspondent post on the programme “Inside Africa”. Female genital mutilation, the plight of African refugees, Nile water disputes, and landmines in the Western Desert were only some of the issues the broadcaster tackled.

A mother of two, Amin used to take her children with her when on reporting assignments or to the studio. “It wasn’t easy,” she says. “It is a dual responsibility.” Her full-time career really took off when her kids had grown up.

Amin’s moment of pride is quitting Nile TV when she did. At the start of the 25 January Revolution, her boss only wanted coverage of rallies in support of then-President Hosni Mubarak. “It was history being made in our own backyard. I refused to do what he asked, and that night I couldn’t sleep.” The next morning, Amin walked to Tahrir Square instead of to her office.

Women’s rights have also been an important part of Amin’s journey. As a feminist, she believes that women are not just equal to men, but sometimes they do a better job.

“Women are more capable and have a different angle to bring,” she believes. When female genital mutation was still a taboo subject, Amin was the first journalist to be vocal about it in 2000. Girls’ education, early marriages and domestic violence have all been tackled throughout her career.

Speaking of the challenges female journalists face in Egypt, Amin said that some people will not open up to a woman journalist. The culture in places like Upper Egypt can play an important role. A reporter may be looked down upon just for being a woman. Sexual assault and violence are particular challenges.

“These things, horrendous as it may seem, may be used as a weapon to silence you, especially if you’re a critical journalist,” says Amin.

In an effort to change things, Amin led a conference in Alexandria to draw up a national plan for women’s empowerment. “It’s a big challenge because of the local culture. Some women don’t trust other women as decision-makers, for example,” she says.

Out of the current 568 parliamentary seats, a mere 89 are occupied by women. “I think the country would be in a very different place if there were more women in thinking roles,” she adds.

The International Women’s Forum recently elected Amin as one of its board members, making her the first Egyptian to assume such a position. She put together an Egyptian chapter of the Forum made up of 13 women leaders in various fields. In partnership with the National Council for Women, a state body, Amin hopes to host a conference soon in Egypt.

Amin is currently a writer and filmmaker for a number of media outlets. Viewing every story as a challenge, she says, “Journalism is a life’s mission. You either give it your all, wholeheartedly, or you’re better off doing something else.”

A true believer in advocacy journalism, Amin says, “Being a journalist means taking an unspoken oath to tell the truth.” She added that she wants to be remembered as having been a truly independent voice.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

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