Al-Masry Al-Youm defies Cairocentrism

Independent daily Al-Masry Al-Youm made history on Sunday by launching Alexandria Al-Youm, Egypt’s first daily city newspaper in over a century.

Alexandria Al-Youm, Alexandria Today, is an eight page supplementary tabloid that will be sold inside the national edition of Al-Masry Al-Youm for the same price, LE1.

“Alexandria is Egypt’s second capital and it is an important economic, cultural and political center,” said Ashraf Gamal, the managing editor of Alexandria Al-Youm.

With a population of 4.7 million, Alexandria is Egypt’s second largest city, and the country’s largest seaport, serving about 60 percent of Egypt’s imports and exports. Alexandria is also an important tourist destination.

Gamal said Alexandria Al-Youm is a general interest newspaper that will feature articles on political events, crime, business, arts and entertainment, society, sports, and editorials. “Our mission is not about covering news with the highest journalistic standards alone, but we will also focus on presenting in-depth news features,” explained the 32-year-old journalist.

The first issue of Alexandria Al-Youm featured an investigative report on criminal gangs in the port city that abduct female street children and force them into prostitution. When the girls become pregnant, the gangs confiscate their newborns and sell them for illegal adoption, according to Alexandria Al-Youm’s report. The inaugural edition also included coverage of recent plans to build "New Alexandria," a modern residential compound west of the downtown.

Alexandria Al-Youm is expected to contribute to the political dynamics of the city, which is a hub for secular and religious political opposition.

During the 2005 parliamentary elections, the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition group, secured a landslide majority of Alexandria’s seats. The city is also a home of a strong Salafi movement and a large Christian community.

“Alexandria Al-Youm is a courageous endeavor to overcome the cultural hegemony of the capital,” said Abu el-Ezz ElHarirri, a former leftist member of parliament from Alexandria.

He added that the new publication will expand the sphere of public interest and encourage people to be more engaged in local politics.

Local newspaper distributors agree.

Ahmed Hassan, owner of Saad Badr Kiosk in Raml Station Square, said that many people were asking about Alexandria Al-Youm even before it appeared on the market. “It will definitely boost our business,” said Hassan, who described himself as one of Alexandria’s top five distributors.

Hassan noted that Al-Masry Al-Youm’s “journalistic reputation” and its concentration on “addressing the country’s problems” wi potentially add to larger circulation. Al-Masry Al-Youm has the highest circulation of any daily in Alexandria.

Local distributors say that around 120,000 copies of Egyptian newspapers–independent, opposition, and government-run–are sold in Alexandria each day.

“Alexandria Al-Youm could help expand the nearly 1.5 million newspaper consumers in Egypt,” wrote Ahmed el-Sawy, Al-Masry Al-Youm opinion page editor.

Sawy noted, however, that creating a vivid local journalism will entail “decentralizing the Egyptian state, as every reader knows that the true decision-making body lies in Cairo, not in his governorate.”

In the late 1990s, Alexandria had 13 weekly and monthly publications, the majority of which were forced to shut down for financial reasons.

“Alexndria’s publications always had tremendous financial challenges and lack of advertisement, which made them poor in content and usually unable to sustain themselves in frequency,” said Nabil Abou Shal, the journalistic content manager at Alexandria Al-Youm.

The city’s few online publications like Sout Alexandria and Alex Photo News are updated infrequently and are crticized by experts for having low journalistic standards.

Many Alexandrians take pride in the fact that their city was home to Egypt’s first privately funded newspaper, Wadi el-Nil, which was established in 1867.

However, modern Egyptian historians suggest that Wadi el-Nil, a bi-weekly paper, was secretly funded by Khedive Ismail, the country’s ruler from 1863 to 1879, who is traditionally hailed as Egypt’s first liberal modernizer. Wadi el-Nil was closed down by Ismail shortly after its editor-in-chief, Abu ElSoud Afendy, wrote an editorial about the Khedive’s policies.

Egypt’s flagship daily Al-Ahram was established in Alexandria in 1876 but moved to Cairo in 1889.

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