Egyptian history: The Director’s Cut

Egyptian history in six movies

Egypt’s post-independence history resembles a series of remakes of a classic film, with a fresh cast trying out traditional roles, enacting a familiar script of revolution and repression. Throughout these years, Egyptian cinema has flourished, with many of the best films serving as vehicles for satire, social commentary or national pride.

In this feature for the BBC News website’s Magazine, I used six clips from popular Egyptian movies to explore six decades of Egyptian history.

The clips are among dozens of snippets from Egyptian cinema featured in the three-part documentary, Egypt’s Modern Pharaohs, screened on BBC World. The documentary-maker, Jihan El-Tahri, uses the clips as illustration or counterpoint to her interviews with key players and witnesses. The result is enthralling – a spliced-up history lesson.

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Three wars in one

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How did Turkey enter the fight against Islamic State militants while simultaneously fighting a Kurdish rebel group whose allies are fighting Islamic State militants? I unpack the three-way conflict in this explainer for the BBC News website. From July 2015.

Lost at sea II

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Islamic State militants in Libya have threatened to attack Europe, while boatloads of migrants flee the collapsing state for European shores. Could the migrant flows provide a cover for the militants – as Italy and Egypt have claimed? Their warnings evoke a vicious logic, at odds with humanitarian imperatives: refugees bring conflict, as conflict breeds refugees. Analysis for the BBC News website.

Lost at sea

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Can the white specks spotted in the Indian Ocean come from the wreckage of Flight MH370? Or are they just ocean debris – the flotsam of globalisation? Scientists say it is virtually impossible to conclude anything from the images alone. For them, the hunt for the plane has only emphasised how little we know of the waters that cover two-thirds of the planet’s surface – a knowledge as shallow as the oceans are deep. Analysis for the BBC News website.

School for Scandal: How Bribery Devalued the Balkan Diploma

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An undercover investigation into the black-market in educational qualifications reveals how grades are exchanged for money, while plagiarism and cheating go unpunished. The corruption in the universities of Bosnia and Serbia has fuelled a brain drain, driving the region’s brightest students abroad. Report by Dino Jahic. My edit for BfJE/Balkan Insight and The Christian Science Monitor.

No Cure for Corruption

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Corruption breeds unchecked in Romania’s hospitals, where doctors are bribing each other for jobs. The cost, however, is being passed on to the patients. Report by Elena Stancu. My edit for BfJE/Balkan Insight and The Independent.

How to Get Ahead in Romanian Politics

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Romania’s EU-backed anti-corruption agency is a rare success story – upright and efficient. But the politicians it has targeted refuse to go away. They have been humiliated in courtrooms, only to be resurrected at the ballot box. Report by Vlad Odobescu. My edit for BfJE/Balkan Insight and New Statesman.

Soldiers of Misfortune: Serbia’s Abandoned Army

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The men who fought for the Serbian cause in the 1990s are now fighting the state for rights and benefits. Their lowly status is in stark contrast to the privileges enjoyed by their victorious counterparts from neighbouring countries. This story traces Belgrade’s neglect of the veterans to its wartime defeats and denials. Report by Mirko Rudic. My edit for BfJE/Balkan Insight and The Guardian.

Secrets and Lies: No Closure for Victims of Albanian Communism

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An investigation into Albania’s failure to address the excesses of its communist past. Former prisoners of the gulag system have spent decades in pursuit of justice. They have been promised disclosures and compensation by successive governments – but have yet to see much action. Report by Aleksandra Bogdani. My edit for BfJE/Balkan Insight and The Atlantic.

Football and Ultra Violence: Balkan Hooligans Escape Penalties

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An examination of the relationship between football hooligans and nationalism in Macedonia and Serbia. The “ultras” believe their violence serves a political cause, and will not be punished by the courts. However, the politicians deny any links with the violent hooligans. Report by Aleksandar Manasiev. My edit for BfJE/Balkan Insight and The Guardian.

Collective Punishment: A Forlorn Tale of Farm Privatisation in Croatia

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An investigation into the mismanagement and suspicious deals that stripped bare a Socialist-era farm – one privatisation scandal among many in the breadbasket of the former Yugoslavia. Report by Ana Benacic. My edit for BfJE/Balkan Insight and the Christian Science Monitor.

Better a Polish Plumber than a Romanian Builder

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An investigation into how British restrictions on EU workers have created a supply of underpaid and unprotected manpower for the construction sector. The UK government insists that its rules are meant to stem the tide of migrants. Report by Sorana Stanescu. My edit for BfJE/Balkan Insight and the New Statesman.

‘Pssst! Wanna buy EU citizenship?’

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Investigation into the racket in Romanian passports for fake applicants. Report by Adrian Mogos and Vitalie Calugareanu. My edit for Balkan Insight.

Prospect: Activism and apathy in Brixton

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Revolutionary hubris in south London. Prospect reveals the full story behind Unflappable, my documentary with director Will Aspinall, premiered at the Ritzy Cinema in July 2012.

Frontline Club: Iraq film premiere and debate

How has risk rewritten the rules for Iraqi journalists? The Frontline Club in London premieres A Strange Animal, a short film featuring me and my colleagues in Iraq. The film, directed by Richard Pendry, reveals some of the techniques reporters have developed in a conflict where they are targeted for kidnap and murder.

The screening at the Frontline Club was followed by a debate about the growing role of local journalists in covering conflict. The Frontline website has a short article summarising the debate, as well as video and podcast of the entire proceedings. A short version of A Strange Animal was screened by Newsweek and The Daily Beast.

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Vanity Fair: Iraq’s Homegrown ‘Hurt Locker’ Team

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Top story for Vanity Fair’s homepage: “In 2008 The Hurt Locker introduced the Americans who defuse explosives in Iraq. Now that all US troops will be gone by 2012, meet the Iraqi soldiers left carrying the fuse.”

Photograph by Kamaran Najm/Metrography

Financial Times Weekend magazine: Policing Kirkuk

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Kirkuk’s anti-terrorist police ride around in battered pickup trucks, keeping a nervous lookout for the bombers that have killed scores of their colleagues. With the American military eying an exit from Iraq, the force has become a central player in a seemingly intractable conflict over land and oil.

I accompanied the officers as they carried out overnight raids in pursuit of an insurgent cell linked to al-Qaeda.

Photographs by Kamaran Najm/Metrography

European Press Prize 2013

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I have made it into the final selection of the European Press Prize for the second year running. The nomination – in the investigative reporting category – was based on stories that I have edited for the Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence.

Other contenders in the category include journalists from The Guardian and Der Spiegel, who exposed the extent of the NSA’s surveillance programme, as revealed in files leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden. Journalists from Reuters and the Organised Crime and Corruption Project are also shortlisted.

Smooth Operators: T-Mobile’s Macedonian Adventure

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The story of how a global telecoms giant got its foothold in a tiny Balkan country. A tale of mysterious contracts, destroyed documents, shady money transfers, massive corruption penalties – and, for your humble consumer, some eye-wateringly high phone bills.

And yet, despite the evidence unearthed by an investigation in the US, no action has been taken on the ground in Macedonia. Report by Goran Rizaov. My edit for BfJE/Balkan Insight. Featured at the top of The Wall Street Journal’s Corruption Currents.

Another Ten Balkan Tales

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Here are all ten of the stories that I edited in 2013 for the Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence. Our reporters honoured the annual theme of “integrity” by revealing its absence. So, we have some stories about corruption. We have some stories about migration. And we even have some stories about migration-because-of-corruption.

All very Balkan, you might say. But in fact, many of the problems our reporters uncovered can be traced to the heart of Western Europe, or to the unintended consequences of the EU’s policies in the east.

Other themes include the unsettled legacy of war – still very pertinent – and the troubling politicisation of civil society.

  • Macedonians used to pay some of the highest mobile phone bills in Europe – and not just because they like to talk. Goran Rizaov unravels the murky saga of a telecoms deal that has been ignored in his country, despite leading to a massive corruption settlement in the US.

Reporting Europe Prize 2013

The Reporting Europe prize for 2013 has been awarded for a story that I edited about the exploitation of Romanian and Bulgarian labourers in Britain.

Sorana Stanescu, a TV journalist based in Romania, received the award at a ceremony in Westminster, central London, on 13 May.

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Sorana Stanescu (left) and I pose with the prize against the Westminster skyline.

Her story, published by Balkan Insight and the New Statesman, revealed how the UK’s labour restrictions had left migrant workers underpaid and vulnerable to exploitation.

The Reporting Europe prize is organised by UACES, the world’s largest European studies association. Past winners include journalists from the BBC, The Economist and the International Herald Tribune.

Dr Martyn Bond, a jury member and deputy chair of the London press club, described the winning story as “particularly apposite” and “well-written”.

“The whole question of migrant labour in a highly developed economy… is illustrated through this,” he said. “But it doesn’t do it in a preachy didactic manner. It does it through a human story. And that’s the best sort of journalism.”

“It gives us facts behind the fictions… that we hear trotted out daily in the political ding-dong that passes for serious debate here on the immigration issue.”

The ceremony included a short discussion, where Stanescu and I joined the chair of UACES, Helen Drake, to talk about the background to the story and its impact.

The report was produced for the Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence.

European Press Prize 2012

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My work has made it into the final selection for the European Press Prize 2012. The selection was based on stories that I have edited for the Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence, as well as for the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network. The shortlist described the work as a “revelation”, praising the “excellent” way  in which strong on-the-ground reporting had been shaped for an international audience.

Other contenders for the prize’s Innovation Award include The Guardian’s Paul Lewis for his year-long research into the causes and consequences of the London riots, and Lukas Hassig of Inside Paradeplatz, a website that has investigated the practices of major Swiss banks.

Separately, an investigation that I edited about the racket in Romanian passports has also been shortlisted for the European Press Prize’s Reporting Award.