Egypt: Internet Radio Station "Horytna"

Finding that the Egyptian press seldom provided independent sources of information or reported issues of interest to young people, a group of young journalists in Cairo decided to start their own radio station.
"Don't talk about the president, and don't talk about the army. Anything else is fine." Mohamed Ezz Aldin takes a pragmatic approach. Horytna's presenter and online editor knows which topics regularly lead to trouble with the Egyptian censor.
Nonetheless, the twenty or so journalists working for Radio Horytna don't mince their words. Not for nothing did they name their radio station Horytna – 'Our Freedom'.

They are constantly proving this freedom by tackling controversial topics that are not discussed in the pro-government official media, providing dedicated reporting on issues such as imprisoned bloggers, demonstrations that go unmentioned in the official media, the lack of women's rights, or unemployment.

Horytna also calls on its listeners to become politically active themselves. Recently it urged them to take part in the communal elections in early April, in an attempt to convince young people, many of whom are disenchanted with politics, that their voices do count, even under Mubarak's autocratic regime.

Broad range of topics

However, if they only ever broadcast serious political discussions about human rights, far fewer people would listen, says Mohamed Ezz Aldin. "We have to find a balance between serious subjects and entertainment." His weekend programme therefore also deals with films, music, and the activities of Egyptian stars and starlets.

It was both a conscious decision and a survival strategy to make discussion of Hosni Mubarak himself taboo, says the station manager, Ahmed Samih. Horytna is trying to create a new awareness of human rights issues. Blindly attacking governmental policy isn't going to help them do that.

"We want to continue to spread our message, not just to go around shouting so that at the end of the day the message doesn't come across. I try to take a long-term view," says Samih, laughing.

A minor success story

This editorial strategy has proved itself in the station's success. Since it started up in 2007 Horytna has been broadcasting twenty-four hours a day, and has already gained around 3,500 listeners. The broadcaster is celebrating this success at a time when the Internet in Egypt is becoming increasingly important, especially for young people. Horytna therefore also makes use of blogs, YouTube, Facebook and other such sites to communicate with its listeners.

It is almost impossible to reach these listeners in traditional ways, not least because they tend to find little more than official communiqués in the majority of the Egyptian media. Journalistic ethics and content often fall by the wayside, complains Ahmed Samih. "My generation doesn't want to hear lectures, and it doesn't trust politicians."

Egypt's new '68 generation?

There is a spirit of awakening among young people in Egypt, and not only at Horytna. Topics for which it used to be almost impossible to find a platform are being openly discussed online. Thus a group was formed on the Facebook network calling for a general strike on April 6th. Within just a few days more than 70,000 people had joined.

The second strike on the president's 80th birthday was less successful. But Ahmed Samih is convinced that something completely new is happening in Egypt.

He describes it as the country's own 1968 - a whole generation fighting to secure its place in society. "We have never seen a movement like this before in the entire political history of Egypt," says Samih.

The dream of a radio station for the Arab world

Horytna's founders are based in a big old building in Cairo. They've converted one of the rooms and insulated it for sound so that it can be used as a studio. Horytna currently receives financial support from the Dutch organisation 'Press Now', but its financial security remains uncertain.

The income from donations and advertising banners is not yet enough to guarantee the station's survival. Nonetheless, Ahmed Samih dreams that one day Horytna will broadcast across the whole of the Arab world.

However, everyone at Horytna fears that sooner or later the Egytian government will block access to blogging software, Facebook and other sites, and in doing so will circumscribe the work they are able to do.

It won't stop them, though, affirms the presenter Mohamed Ezz Aldin. He cites a quotation from the Spanish Arab philosopher Averroes: "Thoughts have wings. No one can stop them flying."

By: Sarah Mersch

Translated from the German by Charlotte Collins

19 May 2008