On Power, Machines, and Departures: Running Mada Masr in Today’s Egypt



What does it take to publish a critical daily news platform in the post-revolutionary context of today’s Egypt? Mada Masr’s co-founder and editor Lina Attalah answers this question with more questions fundamental to all political publications, which concludes in the best possible way this issue.

In the summer of 2016, I met Christos Giovanopoulos in Athens. The first time was in Cairo, two years earlier, when a western cultural institution dared to host a gathering where activists, engaged in theorizing their activism in different fields, assembled to talk about social movement building.  I write “dared” because of the ascending closure of the political space by Egypt’s rulers since the 2013 regime change. Christos, an activist and member of the Greek SYRIZA party, was animated like the first time we met in Cairo. You couldn’t tell his camp’s defeat the previous summer when the Greek government accepted bailout plans from its European lenders, despite a national referendum rejecting corresponding austerity measures.

Back in Cairo, Christos had rolled what continues to be one of my favorite political sound bites: “We don’t take power. We build power.” The context in which Christos’ superb expression came about was on how to create relatable political spaces where organizational logics and languages cease to be divisive and where people bring their everyday life resistance and coping mechanisms to the movement. Sentient and durable movement building starts here.

I appropriated Christos’ expression and started uttering it myself, especially around the time the Egyptian government (or its ghost) blocked in 2018 the news website I co-founded in Cairo, Mada Masr, deemed one of few independent voices in an impoverished media landscape since the aforementioned 2013 political closure. Something about the erosion of authorship in political culture, discourse and practice makes it appealing: the pervasiveness of the notion that overwhelms its traceability to one origin, the power of anonymity as a collective identity, the fluid proliferation of a compelling idea. I like the story of how Carol Hanisch, the radical second-wave feminist, rejected the popular attribution of the seminal expression of “the personal is political” to her. I like the fluidity of how the idea of building power versus taking power settled with me as one of its many homes. I also like the timeliness of its content with many of those who were part of the 2011 revolution in Egypt and elsewhere, mourning its decay today. In practicing publishing everyday, and building a surrounding space that caters to this practice, I like to think of myself as emulating the ethos embedded in “We don’t take power. We build power.”

There is relevance to building power at times of defeat. It is perhaps the only time when building power is possible, for, in other moments like those of revolutionary eruptions, the possibility of taking over is more palpable, and in a sense, overwhelmingly blinding. Revolutionary eruptions can, at times, trump the possibility of building counter power.