Mahmoud Hussein: Freedom of expression is valuable

An interview with Al Jazeera’s journalist before he was detained on his life and career.

Al Jazeera journalist Mahmoud Hussein, an Egyptian national, was arrested upon arrival at Cairo’s airport on December 20 without charge.

Five days later, Egypt’s interior ministry accused Hussein of “incitement against state institutions and broadcasting false news with the aim of spreading chaos”.

Keep reading

list of 4 itemsend of list

Al Jazeera rejected the charges and says Hussein was in Egypt on holiday and not for work. He visits his family several times a year.

Here is the transcript of an interview he did with the network before he was detained.

The interview was conducted by Al Jazeera’s Eihab Sewidan in March 2016 for an internal staff magazine.

Al Jazeera: Tell us about where you grew up.

Mahmoud Hussein: I was born in a village very close to Egypt’s pyramids and the Sphinx. During my childhood, I used to play in the green fields and listen to the farmers discussing, debating and getting along in a friendly way. My father used to listen to the radio all the time to learn about the world and follow political affairs.

I was the first of my family to go to school. I loved school very much. I used to be top of my class through high school, when I came in first place among the student of my governorate, Giza, in 1984.

READ MORE: Groups call for release of Al Jazeera’s Mahmoud Hussein

I went to Cairo University to study economics and political science. I continued and earned a Master’s of Arts in International Law from the University of Ain Shams in 1989. I also earned another bachelor’s degree in law in 1994.

I also started studying history and completed three years, but did not complete my studies because of the demanding job I got with Nile TV.

I never thought that such a simple lifestyle – curiosity, questioning, discussion, public service and radio – would come together to lead me to journalism.

Al Jazeera: When and how did you start your career as a journalist?

Hussein: During my childhood, I used to sit with the farmers while they drank their tea. I would listen to their discussions about society, politics and people’s concerns. I heard them agreeing and disagreeing all the while on good terms and still friends. My father enjoyed the radio, always following the news and political affairs. All that prepared me for the profession, along with my studies.

However, my start was all by chance. During my military service, a friend of mine read a research paper I had written, and asked me for a copy. He showed it to the head of national affairs in the Sawt Al Arab (Voice of the Arabs) Radio, who read it and offered me a job as a politics editor in 1989.

[Mahmoud Hussein/Al Jazeera]
[Mahmoud Hussein/Al Jazeera]

Later on, I became a broadcaster; then I assumed the duty of the correspondent for Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I covered many international events and affairs. In 1996, I moved to Nile TV and covered so many political events and affairs. I spent a long time in Palestine as a correspondent for Nile TV.

During that time, I interviewed the Palestinian president, Yasser Arafat, in 2000. I also covered the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in 2006. I worked afterwards as a freelance reporter for Al Alam TV, Al Arabiya, and the Sudanese TV, where I held the position of the Sudanese bureau chief in Cairo.

Al Jazeera: Tell us about your time with Al Jazeera?

Hussein: In 2003, I started working with as a freelance correspondent. I had written dozens of reports before I joined the Al Jazeera staff in 2010 as a journalist and correspondent for their Cairo bureau.

With Al Jazeera, I covered the Egyptian revolution, mainly in the Canal area; Suez, Ismailia and Port Said, where I covered the notorious massacre of the stadium there.

READ MORE: Egypt extends detention of Al Jazeera journalist

Like many of us, I was attacked many times. One time was during reporting the news on air; another time I was attacked with a knife, in addition to smashing my car.

I kept covering from Egypt over the phone, even after the bureau was officially shut down. The administration in Doha asked me to stop working from Cairo and moved me to Doha in the wake of the events known as “The Marriott Case”.

Al Jazeera: You have worked for a number of different media organisations, how do you see Al Jazeera compared to the rest?

Hussein: Freedom of expression is valuable to me. I cherished this principle throughout my professional journey, despite being questioned from time to time by my superiors.

Since I worked for Al Jazeera, I was never asked to change or stop anything I write or report. I was never asked to say anything in particular, either. Moreover, I would say that Al Jazeera always seeks the accurate information and news that it has earned it credibility in the world.

Al Jazeera: Do you have any hobbies?

Hussein: I got involved in the voluntary works when I was a kid; I used to help my uncle in community work [during the October War] and that inspired me to service later in my life.

When I was in high school, I gathered children and youths, between the ages of six and 16 years old, at the governmental youth club, which had been completely inactive. I started a number of activities, such as sports and social and intellectual activities. We formed acting groups, poetry competitions and public speaking events. Some of the acting groups competed later at a national level. During my studies in college, I directed a number of plays, for one of which I was awarded “Best Director” by my university.

[Mahmoud Hussein/Al Jazeera]
[Mahmoud Hussein/Al Jazeera]

At my village youth club, we also formed social responsibility groups to clean the streets, and we fixed the streetlights in our village at the beginning of Ramadan. Many youth and children responded positively, and the number of participants reached around 250.

Our village did not have a preparatory school. We found an abandoned school in the village and we fixed it, rebuilding as much of it as we could.

We worked hard to have the Ministry of Education recognise and license it as a preparatory school.

I always believed in the new generation. I am so proud of what I have achieved with the youth of my village.

Al Jazeera: Will you tell us a bit about your family?

Hussein: I am married and have a big family, just like my father, which I believe is an advantage. Every family member has their own character, which enriches the family as a whole.

I was eager to have my children attend public schools and rely on their education and their own skills and capabilities.

My oldest daughter, Aya, has been offered a scholarship to study biotechnology at Harvard University in the United States. My other daughter, Zahra, is in her final year studying mass communication and journalism, and she speaks four languages. Unfortunately, most of my children were born while I was abroad fulfilling my duties as a reporter.

Source: Al Jazeera