Program News

Egyptian radio show - Monday 5 June 2017, English edition [ 8pm ], Jerry Guirguis interviews Samia Sidhom, Managing Editor, Watani International, Newspaper & online.

Jerry Guirguis interviews Samia Sidhom, Managing Editor – Watani International, English-language version of Watani , in paper and online Egypt, on 96.5FM – Egyptian radio show [ Monday 5th June 2017, Melbourne Australia, English Edition, [ 9pm Melbourne Australia = 1pm Cairo Egypt ].


Samia Sidhom

            Managing Editor

            Watani International      


            English-language version of Watani, in paper and online


            Watani Newspaper

            27 Abdel Khalek Tharwat st, Downtown, Abdeen,Cairo

            Landline  +20 223 927 201  , Fax :        +20 202-23935946

            [email protected]


Hi Samia, thank you for accepting our invitation to be on our 96.5FM – Egyptian radio show,

            can we start with ...................... 


1] Tell us a bit about Watani newspaper's history;

    How hard has been for Watani as a press media in Egypt to survive against former regime [ Sadat, Mubarak, Morsi and now el-Sisi ]


1. Watani was founded in 1958 at a time when most independent papers were closing down because of tightened State control. Antoun Sidhom, founder of Watani, decided there had to be a platform for Copts to voice their views, and was able to obtain licence for a weekly paper: Watani. Since Day One, the paper had an all-Egyptian perspective, presenting Copts as part and parcel of Egypt.


2. During the Nasser years, which ended in 1970, there was full State censorship over papers. Anything not approved by the censor, who had to approve every issue before printing, had to be removed and replaced, otherwise the paper would not go to press. Sometimes the paper (all Egyptian papers, actually) would be handed by the State security apparatus full articles and headlines for required publication.

During these years, and in order to be able to survive, Watani tried to stick to the more general public-interest topics or to strictly church-related topics, but not to problems Copts were facing. These would have been sure to be rejected by the censor; worse, they stood to jeopardize the paper.


3. Sadat (President from 1970 to 1981) started off by trying to make it appear that there was freedom of expression and no censorship, but in fact censorship was very heavy in the years before the October 1973 War (the censor had a desk at the paper's offices). After the war, there was no censorship. But Sadat gave Islamists a free hand hoping they would counter the socialists who were his bitter enemies, and discrimination and attacks against Copts rose steadily. Watani reported on them. Antoun Sidhom's editorials strongly condemned the oppression of Copts. 

In September 1981 Sadat cracked down on what he imagined were the opposition, putting more than 1500 behind bars, and confining Pope Shenouda to a Desert monastery. He closed down Watani.

Sadat was assassinated by Islamist jihadis in October 1981.

In 1984, Watani went back to print by court order.



4. The Mubarak years, 1981 - 2011, saw full freedom for papers. Censorship was fully lifted. The Copts continued to suffer discrimination and occasional attacks, and Sidhom's editorials grew more critical. 

He was never told not to write but, occasionally, he would 'cordially' be invited to 'have coffee' with State security officials. They would then ask him to tone down his editorials, but there were definitely no threats.

Antoun Sidhom died in 1995 and was succeeded by his son Youssef Sidhom. In 2000, Watani became a joint stock company; Sidhom serves as chairman of the board and the paper's chief editor.


5. The Arab Spring in 2011 and the consequent Islamist year when Mursi was president (2012 - 2013) were a critical time for Copts, and Watani reported fully on rising Islamism and Coptic suffering. Freedom of the press had been solidly established during the Mubarak years, and was irreversible. Then came the massive revolution on 30 June 2013; the Islamists were overthrown and Egypt became a civil State. Freedom of expression for us is very real; in several incidents Watani criticised President Sisi.




2] Watani's recent editorial [ Busloads of Copts heading to monastery killed 26 May 2017 - Nader Shukry ];

    Did that piece get a lot of attention and reaction ?


The recent incident of bus loads of Copts killed has captured a lot of media attention and was condemned by all, locally and internationally, except the Islamists in general and the Muslim Brothers in specific who explicitly glorified it.


3] Let's talk about Egypt's Constitution;

    How hard will it be to take out these clause 

    1923 " The religion of the state is Islam" 1923 - 1952 ver

    1971, Article 2 : ISlam is a source of legislation [ Shari'a]"

    1981, Article 2, Mubarak ver. "Islam is the principal source of legislation.


The clause "Islam is the State religion" has been embedded in Egypt's constitions since the first constitution in 1923, which came at the height of Egypt's nationalist movement when there was supposedly no discrimination against Copts and at a time when Copts were very active in politics. Prominent Coptic figures objected to the clause then, but they were overruled. Today it has become a staple feature, and no Muslim but the very highly secular would hear of its being removed. 

When Egypt's current constitution was being drafted in 2013, there was a suggestion of changing this clause to: Egypt is a country with a majority Muslim population, a minority Christian population, and other religions too. But this was overruled. 


The clause 'Islamic sharia is THE principle source of legislation' was introduced by Sadat in 1980 as an amendment to the original 1971 constituent, to control through religion, and appease the Islamists he had empowered. 

Egypt's current constitution says that the PRINCIPLES of Islamic sharia are the main source of legislation. This is considered an improvement over the previous text, especially given that, according to the constitution, it is the Supreme Constitutional Court that decides on these 'principles'.


As obvious, once an Islamic provision is established, it is near impossible, but not altogether so, to go back on it.


Thank you Samia Sidhom, for being on our Egyptian radio show Melbourne Australia.

Jerry Guirguis


96.5FM - Egyptian radio show

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CD copy of this interview can be requested by email to:  [ [email protected] ]

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