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"It’s Time to Push the Borders of Freedom": Egyptian Students Defiantly Publish Newspaper Without Government Permission (FULL INTERVIEW)

Sanaa El Seif

Egyptian high school student and protester

Ziad Tareq

Egyptian student and protester

Sanaa El Seif and Ziad Tareq are Egyptian students who are helping to publish a newspaper in defiance of laws requiring government permission. So far, the publication has focused on the voices of Tahrir Square.

Senior producer Sharif Abdel Kouddous shows one of the first printed copies to Democracy Now!

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: The youth here has been critical to this revolution. A lot of people here call it the revolution of the youth, while they first took to the streets, but they were joined by all Egyptians eventually. And they are really taking some of the boldest steps in this uprising, going forward. And what they have done is, I’m holding in my hand here the first edition of a newspaper that’s called El Gornal, which just means "newspaper" in Egyptian Arabic. It just means "journal." It’s kind of our word for it. And they have printed it, and they’re distributing it online. It’s basically voices of protesters, and it also has a list of the martyrs in the back, of people killed in the revolution. But the reason that they are also printing it, in addition to putting it online, is intentionally to break Egyptian law, which bars the printing and distributing of newspapers without permission.

So, this is Sanaa El Seif. She’s a high school student, and I spoke to her about this paper.

SANAA EL SEIF: My name is Sanaa. I’m 17. I’m in my last high school year. We thought that right now is the very — it’s the perfect timing to push the borders of freedom further. So, we thought, "Why not? Let’s make a newspaper, and let’s not get permission for that. Let’s just sell it in the streets." It’s a very symbolic thing. We are not counting on it. We don’t have like a big budget or anything. But we want to force this. We want to have like the freedom of expression. We want to force further.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: So, usually you have to get permission to print a newspaper in Egypt?

SANAA EL SEIF: Yeah, I think that’s the first time this will happen. So, we’ll see.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And what kind of paper is it? Describe it.

SANAA EL SEIF: OK, it’s called Voices of Tahrir, which is "liberation." And well, we thought that the first copy has to be like, each one of us, after this experience of the revolution, has something to say. So we called everybody we know. We called people from Tahrir Square, people from Alexandria, people who have been there doing something in this revolution, and everybody wrote something. And we’re just — it’s like a blog. That’s the first copy.

Other than that — that’s an open space for people. And other than that, there’s our opinion. We have a Facebook page, and we are a group of young people. We want to say our demands we have that we want to say. So, there is an open space for anybody to write in it, and there’s our space to write. And, well, later on, we think it will be mainly, let’s talk about what we want to do next, how we want to see Egypt later on.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And why do you think it’s important to do this now?

SANAA EL SEIF: I think it’s important to express. It’s always important. And I think it’s very important for us to communicate. But I know the internet is enough. As I said before, the newspaper is very symbolic, because we want to have this right. We want to make newspapers and sell them. That’s it.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And what’s the role, do you think, of — you’re in your last year of high school. A lot of people who have been working in this space, this activist space, are very young. What has been the role of the youth in this uprising?

SANAA EL SEIF: Well, I don’t know. I mean, it all started with an event, and we kind of told our friends and everything, and somehow it got bigger and bigger. And we realized that we have a very effective tool that we didn’t realize that until it all flamed, kind of. So, that’s when we thought, well, we can actually do something. We have tools, and we can do it. And, well, we’ve done it, while the grown-ups didn’t, so we can actually do it. So that’s when we got involved and started thinking of other things to do.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And did you ever imagine that this would happen?

SANAA EL SEIF: No, not at all. I mean, it was a joke. I mean, people asked me, "What are you going to do on the 25th?" And I was like, “Yeah, I have a revolution. I’m not — I’m busy.” But it was amazing. It was a perfect timing, actually.

ZIAD TAREQ: I’m Ziad Tareq. I’m 20 years old. And this publication that we started, our aim is, first of all, since this is a revolution and now there is no certain law on the journalism or anything, so we were thinking that we should break all the things that were put by the former system and to break it in order to create a new place for the freedom of speech, absolute freedom of speech, without any agendas, without any certain ideologies. We would welcome anyone to write in this newspaper, online and in the typed version.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: So, what’s the newspaper called?

ZIAD TAREQ: Aswat al-Tahrir, which is Tahrir Voices.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And why did you feel it was important to get people’s voices out like that?

ZIAD TAREQ: Because the international media, other than — the Egyptian media was saying nothing close to the truth. Nothing, absolutely. And the international media also, they were saying most of the things — they were documenting most of the things that are happening, but at the same time sometimes they exaggerate in order to let the people, you know... So we were trying just to tell the truth, that we don’t want anyone to say or control how we’re trying to operate this. I mean, we’re not operating the revolution, but somehow we’re in it, and we felt that we have to contribute in order to say, no, this is — these are — we’re fighting for these principles, and we have to abide by it. For example, that journal, that newspaper, is for freedom of speech. We were fighting those days for freedom.

JACQUIE SOOHEN: What did your family and your parents and everything think of everything that was going on?

ZIAD TAREQ: Well, my mother was very excited. She came a lot of times to the square, but she leaves at night before the curfew. But my father, yeah, he didn’t like it at all, because he works with them, so...

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: What do you mean?

ZIAD TAREQ: He’s a member in the NDP, in the National Democratic Party. He talks on TV, on [inaudible], something like that.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: So your dad is — right, so your dad works in the NDP. And you’re...?

ZIAD TAREQ: And he’s also the chief editor-in-chief of Al-Ahram al-Messa’i newspaper, which is a governmental newspaper. So, yeah, he was totally against that. And I just did it, because it’s the right thing to do.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: So, your dad is editor-in-chief of the government newspaper, and you are starting a newspaper —


SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: — voices of the protesters of the government. How does he feel about that?

ZIAD TAREQ: I don’t know. We haven’t talked much in the last — yeah, we stopped talking to each other.

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