My Dream: Building a Hyperlocal News Network in Egypt
December 4, 2013
Hussein Nagah

I am working towards a dream of creating a hyperlocal news network in Egypt to become a platform for people to speak and participate in making their future.

In March of 2013, I received an email from the Institute of International Education (IIE) to tell me that I have been selected for the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship. It was great news. I have been trying for two years to be accepted. Through this fellowship, I am attending the University of Maryland to study hyperlocal news networks so I can eventually build one of my own in Egypt.

Before coming here in May of 2013, I was a writer and editor, covering international affairs for Al-Akhbar newspaper, located in Cairo and one of the biggest daily newspapers in Egypt.

Al-Akhbar newspaper

Al-Akhbar newspaper

But my dream is completely different.

I started to think about my hyperlocal project after the Jan. 25 revolution in 2011.  I realized the importance of online news websites and social media for Egypt’s future after watching its role in the revolution. Through social media, I watched people mobilize to participate in efforts to change the Hosni Mubarak regime after 30 years of iron rule. 

For example, a Facebook page created in honor of Khaled Said, a young man who had been beaten to death by the police, attracted hundreds of thousands of followers, becoming Egypt’s biggest dissident Facebook page.

But at the same time, I believe social media is playing a negative role regarding the spread of false news and rumors, especially in local communities, which lack professional media coverage.

Moreover, there are a lot of problems and no services available in the local communities. Most of services are in the big cities around Cairo, the capital city of Egypt.

For example, I live in a city with around 300,000 people, located about 35 miles south of Cairo. The local authorities in this city did not pay attention to people’s problems.

This is where my project becomes very meaningful.

Places like my hometown need media coverage to uncover these problems. However, media in Egypt are nationally oriented. In the rare cases that outlets cover smaller communities, the news is only focused on crime or disaster.

Local communities need professional and independent media to discuss their problems and monitor the local authorities.

This is what I want to create.

And I think it could work. Here’s one reason: Internet use has skyrocketed among Egyptians. In 2011, there were 12 million Internet users in Egypt, most between 18 to 30 years old, according to the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology.  

The ministry estimated there were 35.95 million Internet users in August of 2013, which is about 43 percent of the 85 million population.

Even so, it is rare to find information online about most cities and villages. There is no information about hospitals, schools, businesses and services. For example, we have 27 muhāfazāt (governorates). Every governorate is composed of 5 to 15 villages. Most of the online information available about these governorates is very simple and only discusses the biggest governorates.

I want to increase the content about these places and services available through my hyperlocal project.

Finally, I think that with a hyperlocal news network, I can help those who live in rural areas speak about their problems and come up with solutions. I want my platform to be a forum for their discussions on rights and demands for a better life. I hope to spread awareness through articles and events organized by the network.

Hussein N. Zaky ( deputy chief of the foreign news desk at the Al-Akhbar newspaper. He was a Middle East Fellow at International Journalists’ Programmes in Berlin in 2011, and served as a mentor and trainer at “Media Neighbourhood Project” organized by BBC Media Action and the European Union in 2012. He holds Humphrey/Fulbright scholarship for graduate studies at University of Maryland.

  • Madiha Ouakkach

    I’m Madiha.I’m a fulbright scholar at the University of Maryland. I teach English as a foreign language in a rural area in Morocco. When I first met Hussein Nagah Zaky,he told me about his distinguished project of setting up huperlocal news network.The idea sounds AMAZING!! I teach in a rural area,and I know that people over there feel unvalued,underestimated and not Worth living in a world where true realities are unspoken of,veiled and overshadowed ,sometimes,by the power of traditions and restrictions,and more often,by the power of LAW! It is very sad to see that rights and obligations differ from one part of the same country to another,to see justice taking different turnings,feel that some people are looked up to and many others are looked down on.I believe we are all different.Different in our political stands and religious beliefs.Different in our dreams and objectives in life;yet, none of us is less, and the amount of love,recognition,respect and devotion we should all have,share and show towards our country,our homeland has to be equal and beyond compare.That is what Hussein Nagah Zaky is wonderfully expressing through his project.He seems so worried about the current political and social events Egypt has been undergoing for a long time now.His concerns are extended to rural areas where people’s voices are not heard,which leads to more tension at all levels among people.I hope that such a unique project finds all kinds of support not only from the government and local bodies,but from people it is targeted to as well. I hold my hat off to the very big sense of citizenship Hussein Nagah Zaky is making proof of,and hope the best for Egypt and all Egyptians.

    • Lisa Rossi

      Hi Madiha, thanks for your comment. I can’t wait to see what Hussein does and I love his idea. He’s working very hard to see how the model works in the U.S. — of hyperlocal news — and is looking for any and all information on the topic.

      • Madiha Ouakkach

        Hi Lisa.the idea is just great and I hope he will get all the necessary support to make his dream come true.

  • Iman Osta

    Way to go Hussein! History has shown that many times powerful ideas are the most important ingredients in projects for success and development. This is a powerful idea and a direly needed project considering the situation in Egypt, and in the whole region, as a matter of fact. Pooling together the voices of remotely living communities can be a precious platform but also a strong resource for pushing forward reform and development. I sincerely wish that your idea will find listening ears and an organization willing to invest in the moving voice of communities for a better Egypt and may be a better world. All my best wishes of luck for such an important endeavor.

  • Susan Steinbach

    Glad to see you working towards this reality! Go, Hussein, go!