Detox | What was life like before 2011?


In the few days preceding this weekend we asked ourselves the question in the headline. Some of us mentioned the simplicity of 2010; everything was smooth sailing. However, after delving into archives, we found out that life back then was more turbulent than we remember: something was bubbling right under the surface, threatening to overflow. Did we really experience those fragmented events that the videos, news pieces and images tell us have happened?

Early in the year, Daoud Abdel Sayed’s Rasael al-Bahr (Messages from the Sea) is released in cinemas. In February, Mohamed El Baradei returns to Egypt, and is greeted in the airport by throngs of people hoping to convince him to run for president against Hosni Mubarak in the 2011 elections. In March, Lebanese musician Ziad Rahbani holds his first concert in Egypt at Saqiat al-Sawy (Sawy Culture Wheel), and a video of the Mubarak presidential residence goes viral. The following month, Amr Adeeb talks of a “hash crisis,” followed by a speech from Mubarak warning that “the future of Egypt is in the wind” due to conflicts caused by those he referred to as “gamblers.” In May, Galal Amer writes in one of his satirical columns: “The president has stated that the upcoming election will be free and fair, something he has said about all previous elections. I’m sure everyone would like to see — for once — what a rigged election is like.”

In June, the prime minister announces Egypt’s intention to completely open the Rafah crossing if the Israelis evacuate the Gaza Strip. The following month, silent demonstrations are held in Cairo and Alexandria protesting the death of Khaled Said at the hands of police officers. A report is issued by 20 judges in August against former presidential candidate Ayman Nour for offending Gamal Mubarak. In September, Al-Ahram publishes a photo-shopped picture of Mubarak leading the presidents of the U.S., Palestine, Jordan, and Israel, which the editors of the state-owned newspaper describe as “expressionist.” October witnesses the very first Mahraganat battle, between Figo and Amr Haha. In November, the Ethiopian Prime Minister states that Egypt would never win a war against his country over Nile water, accusing Cairo of supporting Ethiopian rebels, and the Egyptian Prime Minister asserts that Egypt does not seek a war with Ethiopia nor does it support a rebellion of any kind — and that is all pre-Renaissance Dam. Additionally, Suzanne Mubarak writes her first book Read Me a Book: A Story of the First Lady and her Grandson, expected to be released at the Cairo International Book Fair in January 2011. On December 28th, the Tunisian president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, states that “What is happening now — the extremist minority and the paid instigators resorting to violence and riots in the streets against the welfare of their country as a means of self-expression — is completely unacceptable and a negative manifestation.” 

On New Year’s Eve, the Two Saints Church in Alexandria is bombed, resulting in 21 deaths. The phrase “Egypt is not Tunisia” is repeated in statements by many Egyptian government officials.

In this issue, we try to recall this distant past that we’re certain we’ve lived through but can barely remember because of the magnitude of all that has happened over the past 10 years. We revisit our life before the revolution, in an attempt to understand and reflect on what was and what might come. 

May we live and remember:

(Interview with Gamal Mubarak, Hosni Mubarak’s son, on state TV’s leading talk show in 2010)


Shady Zalat

“I’ll conduct an interview with Hisham al-Gakh.” That was my contribution to the weekly editorial meeting in preparation for the Thursday, January 27, 2011 issue of the entertainment newspaper where I worked. It was my third year as an editorial assistant and the fifth since I had started writing for a newspaper, after years of being content with reading a limited number of papers in Egypt.

During my childhood in the 90s, I was brought up with my dad’s routine as a reader: Al-Ahram on a daily basis with special attention to the Friday issue, an exception for Al-Akhbar on Saturdays, a special appearance by Al-Shaab on Tuesdays as an opposition paper we follow closely (not solely because my maternal uncle wrote for it), and sporadic appearances by opposition/party papers, such as Al-Ahaly, Al-Wafd and Al-Araby Al-Nassery, or pure opposition papers like Al-Osboua (Hello there, Mr. Mostafa).

Later, in the 2000s, when I had started my independent life to an extent, a number of the aforementioned newspapers were taken off my reading list, if they hadn’t been taken off the market altogether. To a lesser degree, I started following other papers like Sawt Al-Ummah and, on rare occasions, Al-Fagr (whether you took it to mean “dawn” in its original vowelization or mixed it up resulting in “Al-Fogr,” meaning “debauchery” — greetings, Mr. Adel). I dealt with them as opposition papers, until I read Al-Dostour and fell in love at front page with its first issue in March 2005.

My love affair with Al-Dostour went from reading to writing in May 2006. I began frequenting the newspaper office each week to submit my writings to my mentor Khaled Kassab, who bit by bit allowed me a glimpse of the sabeenat (seventies) — hard copy proofs printed on A3 paper, 70 percent of the original size — and started teaching me how pages are planned and laid out.

In November 2008, Kassab himself called me and introduced me to an entertainment newspaper called Al-Ain, which had been published for years and whose editorial board had just changed and was now led by Mr. Ibrahim Eissa along with Kassab. Kassab hosted me for two months at the paper, where I learned from him, Eissa and the rest of the team. Before the first issue of the new version was published following a temporary halt, I became the paper’s editorial assistant and remained in that position even after Kassab’s quick departure and later Eissa’s, whose name remained on the masthead even though he was no longer present in the paper’s daily operations.

By reaching the end of the first decade of the 2000s, the newspaper landscape in Egypt for me was as follows:

National/governmental newspapers that I felt obliged to read with the intention of “knowing one’s enemy,” and those were limited to Al-Ahram and Al-Akhbar because I couldn’t bear reading Al-Gomhurriya, Al-Messa and similar publications. I felt that in these papers, one could read the essence of the regime’s thoughts and learn its orientations and how it views events — or rather how it wants people to view them. I think that was their reality for many years in the sense that Osama Saraya’s Ahram was a natural extension of Ibrahim Nafea’s, just as Momtaz al-Qot’s Akhbar was an extension of Ibrahim Seada’s. Their readers were probably used to them being part of their lives or were too lazy to cut ties with them. So, they continued to purchase them even as they started looking for other options among independent newspapers.

Independent newspapers, which I was following closely at the time and where I often found good journalism and writing worth reading. At the forefront of these was Al-Masry Al-Youm, with Magdy Al-Gallad at its editorial helm and behind him a large number of youth who made the paper dynamic and gave it flavor even though that was balanced by a number of columnists with big names. This was not achieved, for example, in Al-Shorouk, which had been around for a year, but was rather solemn, like a man with one of those old-fashioned eyeglasses with a chain around the neck, given that its editorial board was more experienced and less open to experimentation.

Of course, being independent didn’t mean that these were opposition newspapers — at least, from my point of view. Nevertheless, I felt that they maintained the minimum level of alignment and concessions, in the sense that they were able to keep my respect as a reader, without either lying face down or opposing too strongly, of course.

This testimony could be totally biased since it is from someone who found both opposition and enjoyable journalism in Al-Dostour, with its different areas of writing and the youthful spirit dominating it. This wasn’t solely because I belonged to it in some fashion, but because I found that Al-Dostour had the loudest voice and was the only one breaking the “shake your fist however you want so long as you stay away from the president” rule (which had been modified to “the president and his son” a few years prior).

Surely, an important factor in balancing alignments went back to newspaper owners. For example, the relationships of a businessman like Al-Shorouk’s Ibrahim al-Moallem differ from those of Al-Masry Al-Youm’s Salah Diab. And both of their relationships differ greatly from those of Al-Dostour’s Essam Ismail Fahmy especially, since as a skilled, professional publisher, he let the paper be associated with Ibrahim Eissa’s name more than his own. This can be further clarified by noting the difference in the influence of Eissa’s Dostour and Sawt Al-Ummah led by Abdel Halim Qandil, both of which were owned by Fahmy.

Of course, at the time there was also Youm7’s attempt, but God bless Khaled Salah for he was competing in a completely different arena, far away from the quality of journalistic content or even the opposition/independence formula and all that “nonsense” that brought in no cash. He started to focus more on online presence, which was indeed an important factor in accounting for influence and readership at the time, even if those in charge at Youm7 focused only on how quickly they pumped out news, irrespective of the “content” of that which they pumped.

As for me, in addition to my writings in Al-Dostour — which I viewed as inspirational, provocative and revolutionary — I was still the editorial assistant of Al-Ain, which focused on celebrities and their realms. My own alignments there were rooted in trying to find a balance between art, entertainment and culture, with a focus on members of my generation among underground artists. That is why when Hisham al-Gakh appeared on the competition show Amir Al-Shouara (The Prince of Poets) and recited his poem Al-Taasheera (The Visa), where he hit Arab rulers hard and considered them the reason behind Arab fragmentation and loss, asking: “You have filled our minds with lies, falsehoods and creations / How could we be joined by the hand of God and separated by that of the FIFA?” I decided I had to conduct an interview with him, given that he was a remarkable phenomenon. After all, what is journalism if not running after trends?

(Hisham al-Gakh reciting his poem, Al-Taasheera)

Back then, not much trended in Egypt in terms of pop culture. The media was following up with developments in Tunisia after Ben Ali had fled, there were calls for protests in Egypt, declarations by officials that “Egypt isn’t Tunisia,” and focus on the repercussions of the Saints Church bombing and Minister of Interior Habib al-Adly’s announcement of its perpetrators. In the midst of all of this, Al-Hawees (a title given to Gakh meaning a canal lock that allows the flow of water to thirsty lands, a nod to his Upper Egyptian origins) stole his share of the headlines, with a massive campaign urging Egyptians to vote for him so he would win the title: The Prince of Poets. 

As an art and entertainment newspaper, Gakh was the only trend we could work on, especially in light of the attention people were bestowing on him at a time when they needed anything to give them a sense of pride in being Egyptian. And indeed, I met with Al-Hawees in City Stars, after he left me and my colleague — the photographer set to take pictures for the interview — waiting for an hour. On January 24, 2011, the day the issue was being finalized, I transcribed the interview, edited it, and it made it to the front page in the layout. We stayed up all night preparing the issue, and by dawn, as it was on its way to the printers, I was on my way home — where I planned to sleep for the entirety of the next day — fantasizing about readers’ reaction to the interview once the issue hit the stands on January 27, which I thought would play an important role in increasing Gakh’s chances at winning the top prize … Oh, how young, young, young we were. 

A most entertaining year
Rana Mamdouh

2 Essam al-Daly Street, Dokki — one of the most frequented addresses by Egyptians struggling for justice against the regime in 2010. It is the headquarters of the State Council, the institution whose daily news I was tasked with covering back when I worked at the opposition newspaper Al-Dostour. It was the destination I headed to every morning, the only exception being weekends and official holidays.

I know all of its corners, halls and offices; its judges and employees recognize me as part of the place. I reserve my spot in the front row facing the judicial panel in court every morning, and take pleasure in recording the verbal battles between the plaintiffs and the state’s representatives in many cases. I follow the reactions on the faces of the judges, and how the head judge manages the session, asking questions or requesting certain documents. It is all very entertaining; all decisions made by the government — from the president to the lowest-ranking administrators — are discussed in court: the plaintiff makes his complaint, the state’s representative details the reasons and motives behind the decision, and the judge ultimately decides which party’s argument is more sound. I try to guess whose side the court will take, but in light of the strict limitations that govern what can and cannot be, the council’s rulings often defy my deductive abilities.

The halls and the front steps of the State Council are familiar to all segments of society, laborers and engineers and farmers and university professors; Copts and Salafis and Muslim Brotherhood members alike. It constitutes an outlet for many citizens’ pent-up rage against the regime, and this is why most of its rulings are never implemented. 

2010 starts with a major dilemma in the State Council, created by the decision of its chairman, Chancellor Mohamed al-Husseiny, to allow the appointment of women judges, and initiating the process of employing almost 60 female graduates who have passed their admission tests. The intention of the chairman to start accepting women candidates in the council goes back to 2009, when he first put out a call for female law graduates to apply to the position of deputy secretary in newspapers, a move he made after the agreement of the members of the council’s Special Committee, made up of its seven longest-serving councilors. Yet five months after that date, the council’s judges held an emergency general meeting to counter their chancellor’s decision. Some of them argued that women were not fit to comply with the demands of the position, while others claimed — in an unofficial capacity — that the reason they didn’t accept the appointment of women was that they believed al-Husseiny made the decision based on instructions from the first lady, Suzanne Mubarak, with the hopes of securing a ministerial position upon his retirement, and that such a move would therefore jeopardize the council’s independence from the executive branch of power. By mid-February, the conflict finally comes to an end, with 334 judges rejecting the employment of the female graduates, and only 42 in favor of the decision. 

But the question of appointing women judges isn’t the only issue faced by the council in 2010. The biggest challenge was, on the one hand, the government’s refusal to implement its rulings, and, on the other, that the citizens those rulings were in favor of would often take to the council’s front steps in protest, and they were often joined in solidarity by members of the opposition. This led Chancellor Mohamed Abdel Ghany, who succeed al-Husseiny in June 2010, to announce in a statement circulated by newspapers at the time that he “will no longer allow” protests to take place on the front steps of the council: “This is a new era, and what happened before — if it happens now — will be met with consequences.” In the same statement, he reiterates that the council is not the entity responsible for implementing rulings, and therefore grievances regarding the matter should be taken elsewhere. 

What’s funny is how Abdel Ghany decided to execute his promise to halt protests on the council’s steps: he ordered that they be occupied with large, plastic pots filled with plants and flowers, leaving only a narrow path for visitors and employees to make their way up or down the steps. This, to me, encapsulates the difference between the judicial and security-oriented mentality when it comes to suppressing protests. Only a few weeks after the pots were lined on the steps as ordered, the Giza Security Directorate requested Abdel Ghany to remove them, the reason being that they could be used to hide explosives. Accordingly, Abdel Ghany replaced the flowers with an iron gate and a steel railing dividing the steps, appointing Central Security soldiers to stand guard at all times, leaving only a single-file space for people to ascend or descend the steps.



Between November and December, the State Council issues thousands of judicial rulings calling for the re-inclusion of hundreds of candidates that have been shut out by the High Committee tasked with supervising parliamentary elections, followed by a ruling that calls for suspending the announcement of the elections’ results and canceling them altogether in certain districts, then another one that invalidates the second round of elections in the majority of districts, and finally a ruling that nullifies the new parliamentary formation. I ask the chairman of the Supreme Administrative Court, Chancellor Kamal Lamei, what good those rulings were if they were never implemented, and he answers: “It is enough for us to hang them on the walls of our courts.” 

The year ends with Hosni Mubarak’s famous, dismissive statement: “Let them play.”


The Little Prince

Ahmed Wael

I grew up with very little information available on the “ruling family” since 1981. The father plays squash, the two sons play five-a-side football, and the mother urges the population to read (the first lady finally finishes her book near the end of 2010, but the revolution happens shortly before its release date).

Then, the nature of the stories told about the two “princes” of the almost-royal family starts to change: Alaa, the big prince, is all about money and Gamal, the little prince, is more concerned with politics. The big prince’s stories are more or less acceptable to the public. The same cannot be said regarding the little prince’s stories, however.

In 1998, Gamal establishes the Future Generation Foundation, an NGO whose aim is said to be human resource development reorienting business culture (it basically offered students and youth English language and computer courses). Thanks to these activities, which are state-supported and under the sponsorship of many businessmen, the Little Prince is able to create a following without much buzz around his own name. He then begins to delve into party work, becoming secretary of the ruling National Democratic Party chaired by his father, then becoming moving up to become its deputy secretary general. 

However, the true aspirations of the Little Prince are revealed by none other than Mohamed Hassanein Heikal (using his usual denial-as-confirmation method) when he writes that he “does not want to talk about the ‘inheritance of power,’” thus announcing that the process is well underway. This is preceded by a small breakthrough when much of the Egyptian media is freed from government ownership — however, it remains under its scrutinizing censorship from a distance.

Heikal’s phrase is not only perfectly tailored for the Little Prince, it is an obvious explanation of everything that has been going ever since the establishment of FGF upon the Little Prince’s return from the United Kingdom, where he had studied economics and worked in banking for a while. The prince takes advantage of being “little” and uses youth as his façade, falsely calling “empowering the youth” his one true ambition. He adds his “young touch” to a classic story that is recurrent in all non-constitutional monarchies, and had even taken place in Syria not long before.



The story of the Little Prince does not bore us; rather, it intrigues us, especially because he is not an actual prince. You see, Egypt is still a republic (even if it did seem like a monarchy at that time). As for the stories of the Big Prince, they are nothing but a natural result of the corrupt environment his father has cultivated and maintained, the stories of which are no less boring than everything about these ancient times — he is a predictable byproduct of the institution, that is. 

Many Egyptians, meanwhile, indulge in the stories of the Little Prince. Some consider it a safe gateway out of boredom, others oppose the inheritance of power. The slogan “No to Inheritance” becomes widespread, in sporadic protests and elsewhere, evoking age-old fables of Egyptian history with resounding declarations like Ahmed Orabi’s: “We were born free, and we will not be inherited!” (Has this dramatic confrontation ever really taken place between Orabi and the Khedive? We will never know.)

Politics, as usual, seep into literature and cinema. In 2008, Yousry Nasrallah releases Geneinat al-Asmak (The Aquarium), where we briefly see the slogan of the Kefaya movement against corruption and inheritance: i.e., the stories of the two princes.

And so the story goes: protests followed by false hope and a lot of propaganda; small bouts of release for the people that ultimately make way for the Little Prince to achieve his heart’s desire. 

During the events of the Little Prince’s story, we live in relative economic stability; the people’s biggest demands are expressed in protests that call for raising the minimum monthly wage to LE1,200 (US$217 at the time). But anger against the Little Prince’s growing presence in the political sphere continues to escalate:

(Iconic Egyptian poet Ahmed Fouad Negm recites a poem against Gamal Mubarak)

The image of the prince can only compare to that of a foolish peacock who was desperate for youth — with his hair dye, fashion sense, and the empty words that were nothing but an echo of his father’s own empty talk. A Little Prince that did not fully understand the harm he inflicted upon everyone, following a dream that overthrew his whole family.

Change is coming?

Lina Attalah


It is Friday, February 19, 2010. 

I am on assignment to cover Mohamed ElBaradei’s arrival in Cairo at the airport for Al-Masry Al-Youm. I had followed the campaign centered on his much-anticipated return as his 25-year term with the International Atomic Energy Agency had come to an end. Like a messiah bringing water to an arid desert, ElBaradei is thought to be the man who will press ahead with a change in the constitution that would allow for more plural presidential elections. The demand looks conservative if looked at from the lens of the nine years that ensued or from the lens of the thick present in which we currently live. But everything about this airport event is the opposite of conservative and I don’t realize it until I am there.

For the 10 years preceding that moment, the politically contentious act for me was limited to protests taking place in their assigned spots around the city: the stairway to the Journalists Syndicate; the stairway to the Lawyers Syndicate; the stairway to the State Council. They were often stairways, these very functional spaces moving us from the public to the private. But at Cairo’s protests on the stairways, bodies stopped and chanted, they carried signs, they socialized. The stairways became an active witness of still, repetitive contention, whose perhaps sole aim was to suspend the regular movement from the street to this or that syndicate or court of justice. Perhaps the deeper aspiration was to suspend reality, but that always looked impossible. Instead, the greatest hope was that the action on the stairway would act as a spectacle for the street that could poke ideas of demand, change and hope. I don’t remember a sentiment of hope at any stairway protest. It was rather a repetitive political duty whose sole function was a persistent and stubborn reminder of our existence. 

This day at the airport, there are mostly folks I don’t know. Some of them are here with their families, having traveled long roads from outside of Cairo. Some have also just landed from their cities of labor in Kuwait and Bahrain to witness this moment. There are also some usual suspects. Esraa Abdel Fattah is here. Hassan Nafaa too. Khaled Aboulnaga and Alaa al-Aswany. My friends Bahaa and Shahir are also here. The plane arrives from Vienna with a three-hour delay. The scattered, welcoming public socializing in clusters in the space of the terminal, suddenly given a new meaning to its function as a passageway to Egypt, congregates closer to the arrival gate. They clap four claps at two different rhythms and chant Masr at the end, the way we hear it at football games. And then again and again and again. With repetition, they reach more synchronicity, like the one you get in choirs. 



The end of the event, aka ElBaradei’s actual arrival, is really its anti-climax. Symptomatic of his penchant for withdrawal that would unfold in the years to follow, there is a moment when he is standing still and uneasy behind a glass fence at the arrival terminal, facing an inaudible agitated and joyous multitude. Through the smudged glass, I discern his features, mostly his tiny round glasses and well-trimmed gray moustache. He is finally a real body after so much preceding talk about him as a political idea. However, he turns away and leaves from a different gate, avoiding the crowds that have waited for hours in anticipation. It might have been security’s call. We don’t know. 

Why is everyone banking on one singular man to make change? Why does he have to be singular and a man? What’s so new about this (being ruled by a singular man since our birthdate) and why is there so much hope there? 

I quickly realized that day that the event was about all these people, these new faces, waiting and hoping, while jumping and chanting. ElBaradei was none other than a device, an instrument, a code word even. My story was about the people waiting for him and not him. My editor and I chose the title “Change Is Coming?” — with a question mark. We were trying to be cautiously optimistic. 

For me, the event was perhaps the first embodied lesson of how in politics, hope and hopelessness are twin partners. The months and years that followed are but a stretched version of this, with augmented sentiments of euphoria and pain. 





Revisiting Daoud Abdel Sayed’s Messages from the Sea
Yasmine Zohdi

I struggle to remember in which cinema it was that I watched Dawoud Abdel Sayed’s Messages from the Sea for the first time. I can’t recall if it was the one in the Nile City Towers, or the one in Ramses Hilton, or the one in the now-defunct World Trade Center. The one thing I’m sure of is the friend who was with me, and that for some reason we decided to buy popcorn from the cafeteria after the film was over. In my head, the cafeteria has the same set-up and decor of the quaint Alexandrian bar frequented by the film’s protagonist, Yahia (Asser Yassin). In reality, I know this wasn’t the case. 

It’s weird how fact and fiction intertwine in one’s mind after a certain amount of time has passed. 

There is so much in Messages from the Sea that reflects what life was like in 2010, the year before everything changed. There is a sense of helplessness throughout, but also one of quiet, subtle resistance. Yahia — a young doctor-turned-fisherman with a speech impediment — lives alone in the family home, a spacious apartment in a charming old building facing the sea. With his parents gone and his one remaining sibling out of the country, he is the only one left for the new landlord Hagg Hashim (Salah Abdallah) to negotiate with. He is asked to move out for a price, so the latter can demolish the building and erect a shopping mall instead. Yahia, as he describes it in the film, is witnessing the last stages of a gradual but massive change in the social fabric of his city. And while that change is portrayed as a negative force, and the film — with its recurrent, lingering shots of Alexandria’s colonial architecture — is steeped in nostalgia; to me, its central conflict lies elsewhere. 

The villain here is a rather flat archetype: the greedy businessman with no regard for heritage or history, adamant on profiting at any cost. While Yahia fishes the traditional way, armed with nothing but his rod and a tiny folding chair in the face of the sea, Hagg Hashim — a fish merchant himself — uses dynamite, killing full populations of fish in an instant. But the villain and his power aren’t the story — it’s Yahia, the struggling outcast who slowly makes his way to freedom after the death of his father: the man who’d forced him to study medicine, and for whom he’d suffered years of bullying by his peers, unwilling to disappoint him. 

“I stutter when I talk to people. I don’t when I talk to myself — but I don’t want to be alone,” Yahia says in the voiceover narration, his words steady and clear. Messages from the Sea depicts the journey of a man attempting to detangle himself from a patriarchal legacy (even though his father is only mentioned once or twice throughout the film), and the bonds he makes with other individuals along the way. The most important of those is Qabeel (Mohamed Lotfy), another man resisting society’s expectations of how he is supposed to act: a former boxer and current bodyguard who — aware of his physical power — has made a vow not to ever lay a finger on another man. Another important character is Nora (Basma), a woman trapped in an unhappy marriage that drives her to self-loathing, until she, too, decides to fight her husband’s perception of her by choosing to be with a man who is his total opposite.

Halfway through the film, Qabeel discovers that he has a brain tumor and must undergo a surgery in which he could potentially lose his memory. In one scene, he lists the names of his relatives and friends to his girlfriend so she could remind him of them in case he forgets everything. They are in the fishing village of al-Max, and behind them we can see the narrow strip of water and the small blue boats go by. Today, the ramshackle houses of al-Max no longer exist; they were entirely wiped out in 2018 in a governmental plan to “eradicate slums.” Once again, fact and fiction come together: Qabeel is afraid of forgetting his home and his people; now his entire village is gone. I will never see al-Max, and in my head it will always look like it did in that scene — the same way the cafeteria in the cinema I can no longer visit looks like the bar where Yahia and Qabeel first meet. 

The world has changed, but in 2010 our world — and our struggle to survive within it — often mirrored that haunting, final image in Messages from the Sea: Scared but hopeful individuals, huddled together on a rickety boat, amidst an endless sea of floating dead fish.






In October 2010, nearly 200 musicians in the Culture Ministry’s Arab Music and National Music orchestras protested payment cuts, demanding their salaries be raised to equal those of their peers in the Cairo Symphony Orchestra and threatening not to take part in the upcoming edition of the Arab Music Festival. Meanwhile, on the front of mainstream pop, Amr Diab released his popular single “Aslaha Btefrea” (It Makes a Difference) with Rotana, upon the Saudi company’s near-total takeover of the Egyptian music market. Mohamed Mounir had no new releases, neither did Shereen or Mohamed Mohie, while Tamer Hosni released his sixth solo album, Ikhtart Sah (I Made the Right Choice). 

Apart from official releases, however, this was the year when the image reached its peak as a much stronger force than sound, as it marked the end of the decade where the music video ruled, unchallenged. The “golden age” of Melody — the biggest in a slew of  channels dedicated solely to music videos, with its very questionable “boredom-defying” ads and “Bitter Truth” series — was, however, drawing to a close, as the advent of social media that ensued would create alternative platforms and dynamics for their propagation. Meanwhile, the Mahraganat trend was just beginning.

But the year’s biggest musical event was in fact cinematic: the release of Ahmad Abdalla’s second feature, Microphone, celebrating the underground music scene. You will find many tracks from the film’s score in the playlist we created for this issue, which includes a selection that we deem to be representative of the moment that preceded 2011.  


At the end of this dip into the past, and on the anniversary of the biggest event of our lives, we look forward and wish for more moments of collective inspiration and insight. 

Until next time.


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