Challenging Egypt’s male-dominated media

By Michael Irving Jensen, Head of IMS’ Middle East and North Africa department

How do you balance out the male-dominated focus of Middle Eastern media? In Egypt, a group of dedicated female journalists are making headway with a new women’s magazine

The first printed edition of the new Egyptian magazine Masreiat (Egyptian women) hit the streets some two weeks ago. With topics like women and religion and women’s participation in politics, Masreiat is unlike Egypt’s other women’s magazines, which are more glossy and focus on fashion and celebrities.

The target audience is also different. In contrast to the existing magazines, Masreiat is aimed not at the Egyptian elite, but rather, “ordinary” women all over the country.

According to the editor-in-chief of Masreiat, Nafisa El-Sabagh, the paper and its team of dedicated, professional female journalists work to “contribute to creating a new image of Egyptian women, and get their voices out.”

The idea of establishing the new magazine came after “Women in Focus”, a photojournalism course organised in partnership with photojournalist Mia Gröndahl, and sponsored by the Swedish Institute in Alexandria. As a result of the training, a pilot edition of Masreiat was published.

“We wanted to take the idea further,” says Nafisa El-Sabagh, sitting in Masreiat’s newly established office in downtown Cairo. “We realised we are able to make a difference, and change the male domination and male-dominated focus of the media,” she says. In her perspective, most media in Egypt are “sons of the patriarchal structures”.

Although the space for Freedom of Expression is shrinking in Egypt, the editor-in-chief has no plans to succumb to self-censorship: “We intend to write about all topics. One issue in particular that we will follow closely is the relation between women and religion.”

The first issue of Masreiat focuses on women’s participation in the referendum for the new constitution held in January 2014. Other stories were related to forthcoming local elections. Egypt’s constitution stipulates that councils should consist of at least 25% women. This makes for a massive challenge for local female politicians, because their position in politics are contested on an ongoing basis, but the requirement could potentially put female politicians in strong public positions. Some female politicians are already taking to the scene.

Masreiat’s first issue also covered the election of the new leader of Egypt’s Constitution Party, founded and previously led by the prominent Egyptian Nobel laureate Muhammad Al-Baradei. The winning candidate, Hala Shukrallah, became the first elected female leader of a political party in Egypt.

The first issue of Masreiat is being distributed within Egypt’s NGO community, but Nafisa El-Sabagh is working on finding an agreement with a major publisher in Egypt, to let Masreiat become a supplement to one of the major national papers, thereby ensuring its further distribution.

Nafisa El-Sabagh is optimistic about the future of Masreiat. “The first issue was received well. There is an audience out there and the many issues women deal with in society are still not covered in a serious manner. We can fill that space,” she says with a hopeful smile on her face.

The first issue of Masreiat is available for free download here (Arabic) (PDF)