Editorial: Finding the story in 2011

Sunday, December 11th, 2011
Everyone is always the main character of their own story. In your own personal narrative of events, you are the protagonist. Your life is significant, your actions define reality, your emotions are worthy of sharing and discussing.

But this is normally a fantasy world of our own making, and in the past I would rarely let myself indulge in these thoughts. I would weave my own story in my head, singling out themes and definitive moments in the plot. When you tell a story you make something magical out of reality, and that is what drew me to journalism to begin with. But then I would remind myself that elsewhere there are wars being fought, civilians dying, and natural disasters destroying entire cities. Surely my own stories pale in comparison.

My stories were no more remarkable than anyone else's, distinguished perhaps by my tendency to over-think things, and a lively interest in politics and current events.

Mostly, I shared them with friends as we discussed the state of the country over cups of coffee, and mused about where we would fit into the social and political landscape once we graduated. I was in an incubator, waiting along with others, for something to happen to break the monotony.

Then foreign journalists started calling, asking to hear my stories. As protests in January intensified, they started flying in, bombarding me, and us, with questions about our lives, about Egypt, about "how Twitter and Facebook brought down a dictator." All of a sudden, the whole world seemed to be interested, and I viewed their interest with wary skepticism. Where were these cameras and microphones during the incessant suppression of rights and freedoms over the past years?

Like everyone else who lived through this historic year, I found myself at the center of events. The whole world was eager to hear stories that had in the past been interesting to only a small community of activists, intellectuals and politicians. I indulged their interest, and told them the stories they wanted to hear, which they would then craft into concise articles for a Western audience. But in the process, I came to realize that storytelling, sharing our raw experiences, is really all we as individuals have.

As a journalist I have been trained to look for facts, to be unbiased, to provide objective reporting. But nothing is ever completely objective, everything is subject to the context in which it is being viewed. Historic events create their own language, their own symbols, that resonate only with those who have experienced them.

I am certain that, twenty years from now, if someone mentions the Battle of the Camel, I will immediately think of Tahrir Square. If someone says Khaled Said, I will immediately think of police brutality and the corruption and injustice we endured for so many years. If someone shows me a picture of the majestic lion of Kasr El Nil bridge wearing a makeshift eye-patch, I will immediately think of the battle that had raged in Mohammed Mahmoud street over the past few weeks. If someone says felool, my mind will conjure up an entire list of faces and names that fit that description.

These symbols, terms and images, mean nothing to those who have not lived them, and will likely mean nothing to future generations who will read simplistic accounts of the revolution in history books. "Mubarak was a dictator, he was bad, the January 25 revolution overthrew him, everyone lived happily ever after. The End."

But things are not so clear cut, and I have come to see that, despite what I have been taught, facts and figures mean little if they are not accompanied by true, genuine accounts of personal experiences. Recounting what happened without conveying how it happened to you is to portray a person as bones without flesh. My story matters, and it matters just as much as the story of a business owner or factory worker or painter or poet or Nobel prize winner. Subjectivity is inevitable, and personal experience is what gives our lives, no matter how mundane they may seem, some kind of meaning.

Looking back at 2011, I have amassed such a wealth of experiences that if I were to recount this year as a story, with a beginning and an end, I don't know where I would begin, or who the main character would be, and if there is an end at all. It is my story, but it is simultaneously everyone else's as well. The prospect of telling it sometime in the future is daunting, I am afraid I won't do it justice.

But as we wind down the academic semester, and the year, I have decided to continue to experience as vividly as I can. I have decided to be a participant, as well as an observer, and to tell my story from my perspective and hope that, somewhere, it resonates with someone and moves them.

I have decided not to undermine the change I can bring about, or the influence of a well told tale. I will continue to tell my stories as best as I can, and I encourage you all to do the same. When everything is said and done, and when we all look back at these events as bullet points in a history book, our personal stories are, ultimately, all that will remain.

Lara El Gibaly, Editor-in-Chief