At 36, Egyptian journalist Ibrahim Eissa has the distinction of having been involved with 10 newspapers that have been shut down by government censors, often because of his columns. Known for his sharp critiques of political Islam, Eissa is often censored even when he writes about literature. But he insists that he won’t be cowed. “I’m much stronger than others might think,” he recently told the Cairo Times.
That strength, Eissa says, derives from a sense of mission that started in his youth. At 15, he self-published a magazine called Al Haqiqa (The Truth) and distributed it after school to stores in his hometown of Menoufiya. As a student at Cairo University’s journalism school, he went to work at the prominent weekly paper Rose al-Youssef, confidently predicting that he would become its editor. His ascent up the paper’s masthead was indeed rapid. But when the Gulf War erupted, Eissa found his politics in conflict with the paper’s pro-government editorials. “I was reponsible for promoting opinions that I vehemently opposed,” he told the Cairo Times. He resigned from his editorship in 1991.
Of all the papers that Eissa has been involved with, he is proudest of the opposition weekly Al Destour, which began publication in 1995. This feisty paper made space in its pages for views from across the political spectrum: Marxists, Nasserists, and Muslims all contributed articles. Wild popularity delayed the paper’s closure for three years, but the government censor descended in 1998.
Still, Eissa points out, the success of Al Destour has meant that “other papers [are] more daring in their opposition.” For many Egyptians, he has become the embodiment of Egypt’s beleaguered independent press. Of his many reincarnations, Eissa says: “Let us hope to meet again at another time, in another place.”