Ibrahim Eissa was born in November 1965 in the town of Quesna in the Monufia Governorate in Egypt. His father was an Arabic teacher. At 11 years old, he published his first magazine, Al Haqiqa, which he arranged to print himself and distributed by hand to local schools and newsstands. When he was 17, during his first year at the Cairo University School of Journalism, Eissa began working for Rose al-Yūsuf. He became the youngest editorial secretary of the weekly magazine. Rose al-Yūsuf is a state-run magazine, but was reputed for its openness to normally taboo topics as well as leftist and nationalist opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood and the Gamaa Islamiyya. However, when Eissa refused to support the 1990 Iraqi invasion, he was forced to resign within a year from his political editorship and assume the literary editor position.
Al-Dustour I and Aala Al Qahwa
A private publisher named Essam Fahmi approached Eissa’s coworker Adel Hammouda about starting a journalistic enterprise of some kind but was rebuffed. He then approached Eissa and the two created the weekly newspaper Al-Dustour under a foreign license in 1995. The paper took a critical approach towards the Egyptian regime that was unique at the time, particularly in its focus on government corruption, quality of governance, and Egypt’s relationship with Israel. The paper contained contributions from all ends of the political and religious spectrum, including Marxists, Nationalists, and Nasserists. As editor-in-chief, Ibrahim Eissa was a big part of the controversy that arose as a result. The paper was very influential in the evolution of Egyptian press – it became popular for other papers to “destourize” their pieces (the word destourize itself was used) by taking a stronger stance.[clarification needed] Its circulation reached around 150,000 copies per week. Eissa stated that the reason for its popularity was how the paper spoke to its core audience, the youth.
The paper was shut down in February 1998 after it published a death threat from the Gamaa Islamiyya against three Coptic businessmen. Prior to its shutdown, three issues had been confiscated for their controversial nature. According to Eissa, the paper was shut down after a personal appeal to President Hosni Mubarak by Naguib Sawiris, who complained about the paper’s publishing of the death threat.
After Al-Dustour was shut down, Eissa tried nine times to open another newspaper. Each of his attempts was rejected, under both party and foreign licenses, and for both political and cultural publications. He tried to write under a pseudonym for the People’s Democratic Party, but his efforts were met with government intervention. Nevertheless, he slowly reintroduced himself as a writer in the non-political arena.
When Dream TV was started in 2001, Eissa was called on to host the current affairs show, Aala Al Qahwa (At the Cafe). By 2003, the network was forced to drop Eissa due to the controversial nature of his program. During this period Eissa also wrote the first of a number of novels, entitled Maqtal Al Rajul Al Kabeer (The Assassination of the Big Man). None of his novels were received well by critics, and this one in particular was banned and confiscated by the government.
Al-Dustour II and trials against Eissa
In 2004, Eissa was offered two jobs. The first was as editor in chief of the El-Ghad Party’s newspaper. Ayman Nour, the party’s leader at that time, wanted to hire Eissa because his popularity would build a larger base for the party. At the same time, he was approached by Essam Fahmi about restarting Al-Dustour. Although Eissa chose to work with the El-Ghad Party, the move was blocked when the security services made Mostafa Moussa fire Eissa during 2005 while Ayman Nour was in prison. Eissa fell back on his second choice and became editor in chief at Al-Dustour. In 2005, he took over Fahmi’s other newspaper, Sawt Al-Umma and made regular appearances on the TV show Min Awul Sadr.
In June 2006, Eissa was convicted of defaming Mubarak in a piece that described a lawyer’s attempt to take the president and his family to court for corruption. He was sentenced to a year in prison, alongside his lawyer Said Abdullah. The ruling was overturned in February 2007, and Eissa instead had to pay $3,950 fine. The suit was filed on behalf of Mubarak by a private citizen and proceeded quickly, in contravention of Egyptian judicial norms.
On 5 December 2007, Eissa faced trial in Algalaa’ Court after he published an article about Mubarak’s health problems. On 31 March 2008, he was found guilty of damaging the national economy after the Central Bank testified that $350 million in investments left Egypt on the days at the time that the article was published. On 28 September 2008, the Boulak Abul Ela Appeals Court upheld the guilty verdict, but reduced Eissa’s sentence to 2 months in prison, charging Eissa with reporting and publishing false information. The appeal was originally brought by state security prosecutors, who argued that the six month term was too light. Eissa was quoted saying, “This sentence opens the gates of hell for the Egyptian press.” NGOs such as Amnesty International and the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information denounced the verdict. On 8 October 2008, Eissa’s sentence was pardoned by Mubarak.
On 5 October 2010, Ibrahim Eissa was fired from his position at Al-Dustour after the paper was purchased by Sayyid Badawi, a businessman and member of the Egyptian Wafd party. According to Eissa, Badawi’s takeover of the paper was engineered specifically to stop him from writing. The immediate reason was his desire to publish a piece by Mohamed El Baradei who opposed President Mubarak and was a potential presidential candidate. Earlier in the same year, Eissa was fired from his position as host of Baladna bel Masry, an ONTV political talk show.
Post-Mubarak media projects
This section may require copy editing for inconsistent spelling (Al Tahrir or Al-Tahrir?). You can assist by editing it. (April 2012)
Since the revolution, Eissa has been involved with two media projects. The first is the launch of a private satellite television channel titled Al Tahrir TV Channel in February 2011, and the second is the launch of a private newspaper also titled Al Tahrir in July 2011. Though carrying the same name, the television channel and the newspaper are separate media projects.
Al Tahrir TV Channel
Al Tahrir TV Channel was the first television channel in Egypt to be launched following the resignation of Mubarak. It was launched in February 2011. The channel’s slogan is “The People Want To Liberate The Minds”. Ibrahim was one of three owners of the channel, along with Ahmed Abu-Haiba and Mohamed Morad. However, in October 2011, following serious financial challenges, Eissa sold his share of the channel to two businessman who co-owned Eissa’s share, Nabil Kamel and Dr. Said Tawfiq. Ibrahim Eissa continued working with the channel serving as a television reporter for the show Fil Midan. But in February 2012, he quit the show and is now no longer associated with the channel.
In December 2011, Tawfiq sold his share to businessman Suleiman Amer, who now owns 84% of the channel’s shares. The channel has been under widespread criticisms from its top television reporters, including Eissa, under speculations that the new channel’s administration was serving the interests of the Egyptian state.
Al Tahrir Newspaper
Al Tahrir Newspaper was launched in July 2011. The newspaper was the second to be launched following Mubarak’s resignation, following the publication of the previously weekly periodical Youm 7. Like Al Tahrir TV, the newspaper is named after Tahrir Square. The ownership of the newspaper is divided between Eissa and publisher Ibrahim al-Moalem who is also works in another daily independent newspaper Al-Shorouk as its chairperson. Eissa is currently the Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper. When the newspaper was first launched, it had the same tone as Eissa’s previous newspaper Al-Dustour, which was dominated by satire and opinion pieces. The newspapers executive editor claimed that in addition to news reporting, Al Tahrir aimed to provide insights and analysis of news events. The newspaper has also sought to redeem the importance of print media particularly in the eyes of the youth who have resorted to new social media for their information.
Post-Mubarak death threats
In December 2011, sources indicated that Eissa, along with other prominent individuals working in various media outlets had received death threats because of the controversial stories they covered.
In March 2011, Eissa was awarded an Index on Censorship’s 2010 Freedom of Expression Award. The award has been described as commemorating many who put their lives at risk for their right to express their opinions. Eissa was characterized as a “one-man barometer of Egypt’s struggle for political and civic freedom”. He dedicated the award to Tahrir Square.
In April 2011, Eissa was also awarded the International Journalist of the Year 2010 award by a British institution titled Society of Editors. This award similarly recognized journalists’ commitment to the freedom of expression and press and bravery against threats. Eissa was specifically awarded as a result of his insistence on democracy, and as a result of his journalistic position and brave opinions against Mubarak’s toppled regime.
His novel, Our Master, was shortlisted in the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (2013).
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