The first of the Arab-West Report’s regular blogs for Egypt Today online
by Cornelis Hulsman, Editor-in-chief, Arab-West Report
We are grateful for the blog space Egypt Today is providing Arab-West Report, an electronic magazine and database founded in 1997 to foster understanding between people of different cultures and convictions. We believe in pluralism, which means that we have to accept that people, both individuals and groups, may hold convictions that are different than ours. Arab-West Report produces free regular newsletters that refer to reports that we have produced as well as activities that we have been involved in.
Since our reports are mostly written in English, we mainly address a Western audience that we want to understand the dynamics in Egyptian society. We thus often address issues that, in our opinion, are insufficiently understood in the West. This can range from describing Muslim-Christian incidents and showing that while tensions unfortunately happen, there is also much cooperation, to describing Islamists or the Egyptian constitution.
Addressing Western misconceptions is in no way a luxury for Egypt. Much negative reporting in the West is based on misinformation and can negatively affect the relations between Egypt and the West. Some political activists in Egypt distrust their own media reporting to the extent that they often believe Western reporting to be more accurate. While this might be true in some cases, it is certainly often not true. Western media critique on Egypt in turn can create negative feelings in Egypt toward the West, which would not have been fostered if the focus would have been on creating understanding and not advocacy of particular partisan positions.
Being non-partisan is very typical for our reporting. Being non-partisan means a willingness to hear all parties involved in a particular issue, particularly parties whose religious or political views are totally the opposite of ours.
We also want our work to be very descriptive. This means a description of what happened, often presented in chronological order. Being descriptive also means documenting existing opinions of involved people — whether we agree with them or not does not matter. Opinions in a particular area reflect sentiments and show how people involved have been informed or want to inform others. Comparing responses with factual events and documents shows how credible or not some sources are. Being credible is of major importance to convince an audience that a particular issue is not all black or all white, but that many shades of gray exist.
The purpose is understanding, not an effort to advocate a particular political or religious point of view.
We believe that the key to dialogue is being informed, for which transparency is needed. This applies to both government and citizens.
Reporting needs hard work, collecting data on particular issues that we want to explain in our reporting. This includes translating Egyptian media reporting, searching for key documents if needed for a particular subject, interviewing actors in a particular issue and asking them to respond to conflicting statements and information so that we can bring more nuance in reporting. The help of Egyptian experts in understanding issues is much appreciated. Once information has been collected, we analyze this for comprehensive reports on a particular issue.
Arab-West Report not only translates from Arabic media and documents, but also works with student interns from Egypt and other countries, who collect and analyze data under the supervision of one or more experts. It is obvious that for this a large substantial network is needed, which we do have.
Obtaining information this way is very rewarding. Things are rarely fully black or white, as we would tend to believe if we would follow claims in media reporting only. But this is also a procedure that demands a good deal of experience and time.
Student interns are doing a great job with Arab-West Report. Diana Serodio, a Portuguese student of political science, works on a comprehensive comparison between the constitutions of 2012 and 2014. This study is of major importance because many people in the West have dismissed the removal of President Morsi as a coup d’état, and consequently, have not given much attention to the amendments made in the 2014 Constitution. The German organization Missio is ready to publish this in Germany.
Omar Ali, an Egyptian studying political science at Canada’s University of Toronto, is working on a paper on Egyptian political party institutionalization. Political parties in Egypt are weak, but one needs to understand the background of this before making denigrative comments on Egypt’s political party system.
Weston Trent Bland is studying Coptic population statistics at the village level in three Egyptian governorates with statistics from 1927 until today. The study shows that in some villages the decline was substantial while in other villages and cities the number increased. This reflects substantial internal migration. In villages that we visited, we saw strong economic reasons explaining these patterns.
But students, as enthusiastic as they are, cannot work alone. They need to have access to information and contacts. Arab-West Report is trying to help them with this as much as possible. We are grateful for Egyptian experts and scholars who have provided our students with their time, knowledge, and connections.
Results of all studies are always published on our website, because they form documentation for any follow-up research. Many of these reports are fascinating. They provide information that one can find nowhere else in print. These are studies that help to understand Egyptian society.
Our blogs for Egypt Today will be written by different people, staff, student interns or myself, depending on the things we encounter in our work and would like to share with you. This could include a focus on a particular study or a seminar, visits through the country or other activities. For whatever one can say about Egypt, the country is fascinating and certainly not boring!
Cornelis Hulsman is a Dutch sociologist who first came to Egypt in 1978. He became correspondent for a Dutch newspaper in 1994. Together with his Egyptian wife he founded Arab-West Report in 1997 in response to Western media generally neglecting Egyptian voices. Work later expanded to include investigative reporting and student internships.
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