In the many years I’ve edited this magazine, I’ve interviewed many enigmas along the way. But by far, none as enigmatic as Yosri Fouda. Even this interview was months in the making, as I slowly got to know Fouda and saw the different sides of his personality. What I discovered was fascinating even to an experienced journalist like me…
Yosri Fouda is a man of many contradictions; many it seems which even he hasn’t quite reconciled with. He is modest, intelligent, extremely hardworking and in his own words ‘very Egyptian’. Yet he is also complicated, refined and extremely selective with his time and what he chooses to do with it. At heart he is a private man, who loves nothing more than relaxing with his favourite books and listening to Om Kalthoum; preferably in a far away Egyptian destination in Sinai or Siwa. Somewhere where he can escape the crowds and be at one with himself and with nature. And somewhere where he can truly appreciate his first love: Egypt. Yet today his daily life is actually the opposite; stressful hours, constant pressure and tremendous responsibility.
It all started when this private man nonchalantly decided to study Mass Communications at several prestigious universities, then grudgingly found himself in front of the cameras of some of the biggest news stations in the world. And this year, with Egypt’s dramatic revolution, Fouda found himself thrust into the spotlight on the ‘station of the revolution’ ONTV; as the man millions of Egyptians tune into every night to help them unravel the complex political events of the day. As he would put it, he has become Egypt’s “accidental hero”; a role he has taken on with excellence and determination. And a role that has given him celebrity status in Egypt and beyond…
Yet, ‘celebrity’ is a term he would probably despise and is not what even a young Fouda would have wished for in his wildest dreams. Born in a small village near Tanta, Egypt, Fouda had a simple upbringing where he grew up in the fields, enjoying the beauty of village life. His father was a doctor and wanted Fouda to follow in his footsteps; so the young Fouda tried studying the sciences at school to please him. It was only upon graduating high school, when he was forced to choose a major for his university studies, that Fouda chose journalism and set upon a path that would change his life. As he recalls, “I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, so I joined Cairo University to study media; I thought if I studied media I could delay the decision of what I wanted to focus on in my career and then later specialise in anything I was passionate about.”
Yet somehow the media bug (or the academic world) caught his interest, and after graduating from Cairo University with a degree in Mass Communications, Fouda continued on as an assistant lecturer at the University. As he explains, “I didn’t have much ambition to actually work in the media; on Egyptian TV or elsewhere.” Instead, he continued studying and earned a Masters degree at the American University in Cairo, followed immediately by a diploma in TV production from Holland. Yet even that did not satiate his desire to learn and in 1993 he went on to do his PhD in Documentary Studies at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. It was there that his flatmate saw an advertisement in The Guardian newspaper for the launch of the new BBC world service TV in Arabic. That advertisement changed the course of his life. As Fouda recalls, “I thought a lot about it and finally decided to apply. Thankfully they chose me to be their first Arab roving reporter and I was able to work in the best media school in the world”.
Yet the BBC’s Arabic service only lasted for about two years, as it was a joint venture between BBC and the Saudi-based Orbit channel, and they had difficultly marrying their two contradictory mentalities. Nevertheless, just a week after BBC’s Arabic TV closed down, the BBC Arabic radio asked Fouda to join them fulltime. An experience he remembers fondly, “Ever since I was a child, I looked up to the BBC. Every time anything happened, even in our own neighborhoods, we used to listen to the BBC world service, because we never trusted our own media.” And there he was, suddenly working with the big names he admired. As he recalls, “it was a dream come true.”
As his tenure at BBC radio was coming to an end, Fouda was spoilt for choice from other media outlets and decided to join the Associated Press (AP) TV in London. Fouda was getting into his stride as media pro and the demand for an intelligent and experienced young Arab journalist like him was high. As he recalls “I joined AP for a year, as Al Jazeera was being set up. Al Jazeera also approached me at the same time and asked me to join them in Doha. But I felt my experience in London was incomplete. They later approached me again and asked me to set up their London office. So I did this in coordination with my work at AP. Then a year later, in 1997, I joined Al Jazeera full time.”
As the London bureau chief for Al Jazeera, Fouda was on the fast track for primetime success. Only a year after being there, he started working on his own TV show ‘Serry Lel Ghaya’ (Top Secret), which introduced investigative journalism to the Middle East. The show gained him fame in the Arab world and won him the Silver Award at the Cairo Festival for TV and Radio Production in 1998 and the Outstanding Production Award from the American University in Cairo in 2000. Then in September 2002, Fouda interviewed the masterminds of the September 11, 2001 attacks against the US and went on to co-author the book, ‘Masterminds of Terror: The Truth Behind the Most Devastating Attack the World Has Ever Seen’ in 2003. Fouda added to this international coup in 2006, when he uncovered the story of the “martyrdom video” done by two of the September 11 hijackers. With these investigations and his unrivalled access, Fouda helped put Al Jazeera on the map and became one of the most in demand journalists of his time.
Looking back, Fouda remembers that time as “the best period in my career”. This is the period from which we begin our truly personal and in depth interview…
itting at his home, in a high-rise building in Maadi overlooking the Nile, it is almost surreal to see Fouda in his element; away from the studio and the crowded streets of Cairo. His apartment is tidy and modern, with facets of his personality visible throughout. The walls are filled with framed published works about Fouda or written by Fouda; along with certificates from his extensive studies. And, since the revolution took place soon after Christmas, his living room is also filled with Christmas decorations he has been “too busy” to take down. His dining table is also filled with birthday gifts he has been “too busy” to open. Yet he sits quietly amongst these surroundings, engulfed by his new iPad, reading his Twitter feed carefully; almost oblivious to our five person crew fluttering around him.
When it’s time to start our interview, despite feeling under the weather that day, Yosri Fouda the Star takes over. He is charismatic, focused and totally on. When he speaks to you, it’s as if you are the only one in the room, and the Yosri Fouda magic begins…
Let’s talk about how you got into investigative journalism…
It wasn’t easy to begin with; it’s always difficult in news media to convince people that a new show is a worthy idea. The first time I suggested (quite shyly) to my boss that I wanted a few weeks to disappear and come back with 45 minutes of material of investigation, the idea wasn’t initially comprehended. Because the norm in Arab media at the time was more about quantity than quality. Thankfully, I was given the chance to do a pilot episode; but with almost no budget. And surprisingly, despite the lack of resources, they were really impressed with it and broadcasted it several times. The episode was even used to represent Al Jazeera in the first and last time they participated in a pan-Arab media competition and it came back with a prize.
Did this pilot become your show Top Secret?
Yes, but I didn’t even choose that title! I suggested more humble titles but our chairman thought the content we compiled was ‘top secret’. That title actually put more pressure on me to make sure the show lived up to its name and ensured every investigation included at least one document never uncovered before!
Your most famous investigation was with the perpetrators of 9/11. How much background work did you do for that episode and what were your expectations?
This is not the investigation I’m most proud of professionally, as it started with a lead from an outside source. But even when somebody calls with a lead for a story, they just suggest certain things and leave the rest to your imagination… but I could have said no and they would have found somebody else. So I have to give myself some credit for uncovering the story and taking the risk to do the investigation.
Other investigations which I completely initiated myself were not given as much credit as the 9\11 mastermind episode. But I understand why that episode was referenced around the world, because of the weight of the story and the global interest in it.
Do you feel that episode was a turning point in your career abroad?
Turning point is a very big term, but it added, of course to my recognition as a journalist. My name wasn’t well known at the time in the West, yet after that episode, media from around the world were asking to interview me. It was flattering but I always kept my feet on the ground. I knew it wasn’t about me and what a genius I was. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. I just worked out the small details, took the right decision and calculated the risk, which is crucial in investigative journalism.
My first few years with Al Jazeera were the turning point in my career; that was the golden period of Al Jazeera. I was honoured to help resurrect open dialogue in our culture on a political level and, more importantly, on an educational level.
So there you were in London, the bureau chief of a very big, exciting new Arab station. Why did you leave such an amazing position?
Well, it wasn’t that big in the beginning… at that time we used to be ridiculously flattered if someone even took notice of us. Then in 1998, The Guardian newspaper ran a story about what was really happening in Baghdad with a picture sourced by CNN from Al Jazeera (with the Al Jazeera logo on it), and the title read ‘Who needs CNN?’ The whole world actually sourced from Al Jazeera for this story.
Yet the response to Al Jazeera was very aggressive from day one, and it went through different phases. Phase one was political, with governments sending envoys to the Prince of Qatar and withdrawing their ambassadors in Doha. When this didn’t work, phase two began, when Al Jazeera correspondents were harassed, our offices closed down, and smear campaigns were started in the Egyptian and Saudi media. When this didn’t work, phase three started, when the world acknowledged us, even if they were against what we were doing. That was the ‘if we can’t beat them, join them’ phase; when the idea was to combat Al Jazeera by launching new media outlets with the flavor of Al Jazeera, but without its harsh criticism, to counter balance Al Jazeera’s effect. Yet once you delve into this territory you can’t get out. Freedom is like the experience of death; you cannot visit death and come back from it and you cannot visit freedom and come back from it.
So what made you decide to leave Al Jazeera and try a new challenge?
Several reasons. It had to do with the new way Al Jazeera was being run administratively and editorially, and I got to a point where I felt I couldn’t add to what I had already contributed. Another important reason was that I knew something was stirring in Egypt. I didn’t know what role I could play, but I wanted to be part of what was happening. I could have stayed in London and worked at another organisation or accepted some very tempting offers from Al Jazeera’s rivals, but I wanted to come back to Egypt. And of all the offers I had, I went for the smallest one with the smallest channel.
What made you take that decision?
I trusted the head of the channel, Albert Shafik; who is an old friend. I knew he understood the ins and outs of this business and I was impressed by the young generation working at the channel. I also trusted Naguib Sawiris, the owner of the channel. He’s a very successful, intelligent, patriotic businessman who doesn’t interfere in anyone’s work. And I just needed the opportunity to have my own space, where I could give my input.
But I originally came to Egypt after deciding to take a year off, as I needed the break and really missed my country, family and friends. So I took a year to reflect and discover places all over Egypt.
Yet with ONTV, you went from being an investigative journalist to hosting a talk show, which is a big change for somebody who didn’t court fame. All of a sudden you found yourself right in the spot light!
Yes and I had always resisted this. If you ask my former boss at Al Jazeera, Mohamed Jasem Al Ali, he will tell you I used to drive him crazy. He used to tell me ‘all your colleagues walk into my office asking to appear more on screen and you ask me to appear less!’ But for me it was never about being on the screen. Yet unfortunately in our culture, television is the most powerful media. And if you want to empower the most people with information, it has to be through TV. So I started with a one hour studio-based program on ONTV and then the revolution unfolded.
Ok, let’s talk about Egypt’s revolution. On a personal level, as an Egyptian who lived abroad and understood the injustice that was happening, how did it affect you?
Tremendously… it was so heartening to prove to the world, beginning with Egyptians, that Egyptians are not servile, they can revolt and they can say no. To see this first hand and be part of it made me proud. In front of giant events like this, you can’t find the right words to describe them.
You said when you moved to Egypt you had a feeling something was going to happen, but did you ever expect the revolution would unfold in the way it did?
Who would have expected that dissent would turn into such a beautiful revolution in Tahrir? It was the first time in history where after a revolution people cleaned up the streets! It was amazing to see Tahrir Square operate as its own state; as if people there wanted to prove a point. There was not a single harassment case, not a single person throwing garbage in the street. Everyone interacted peacefully and all segments of the Egyptian society cooperated and showed they could rule themselves democratically in a pure and sometimes beautifully naïve way.
And how did it affect you professionally?
On the 25th of January, not even those who protested knew the magnitude of what they were doing. It took a day or two until everyone could grasp that something real was happening. It was on Friday the 28th that everything changed. Fortunately, my show used to go on every Friday, so I had a show that night and had planned to get Robert Fisk of The Independent newspaper as my guest. Yet on the 28th, the central security forces were completely defeated, prisoners escaped prison, a curfew was imposed, tanks appeared onto the streets, the internet and mobile services were down and I was in the studio. I couldn’t call anyone, so I just prepared to cover what was happening on my show. Then half an hour before I went on air, my office door opened and there was Robert Fisk saying, “Yosri I’m here!”
For someone like Fisk who covered war zones, the situation gave him an adrenaline rush, to break the curfew and come. So we went on air and gradually made sense of what was happening.
So from that moment on, for the next 18 days you camped out at ONTV?
Yes I was there. Every four or five days, I would go home to get essentials and go back again. So I was basically living the story… I managed to also have a look at Tahrir Square every now and then on the way to the studio. I would have loved to have camped out in Tahrir but I had another role to play. And I hope I contributed through my coverage of the revolution.
Of course, you were part of ONTV’s turning point and their very honest coverage. Was that something the station immediately decided to do on the 28th?
That’s a very important question. Just before it, on the 26th or the 27th I had a serious conversation with Albert Shafik and my colleague Reem Magid to decide how to cover these events editorially. I remember telling Albert, we must cover everything professionally and courageously as it was happening on the ground. And I asked Albert to tell Mr. Naguib Sawiris that if we didn’t do it this way, then I am not in. So I’m proud of Mr. Sawiris, because even though it was risky, he said “If you guys are convinced and will cover things professionally and fairly, then they can close the station down.” He gave us the opportunity to present reality fairly, objectively, professionally and patriotically.
Obviously he made the right decision because ONTV became known as the station of the revolution. And you gained so much influence as you even started to shape politics; especially with the episode with former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik.
Yes, that came later on, but I never had time to think about how this would affect me professionally. All I was interested in was conveying an honest and accurate picture of what was happening; especially as state TV was living in cuckoo land. And other channels hesitated and preferred to wait until they figured out what was going on.
Regarding the episode with former Prime Minister Shafik, that night everybody was watching ONTV. It was the first time Egyptians saw a high ranking official being questioned on live television. Then a few hours later he resigned! It was a turning point for Arab television, because that episode tackled concepts Arabs were not familiar with, like accountability; that no matter how important or how senior you are in the government, you actually report to the taxpayer. After that, for the first time, I saw Egyptians referring to themselves as taxpayers, which was huge. This is the real revolution; the ethics that were resurrected that made people feel ‘this is my country now’.
That was a historic point for Arab media and definitely Egyptian history. Did you have any idea what the consequences of that show would be?
In the moment I didn’t think of these big concepts, but I knew how important that episode was editorially. I just thought the panel they had planned for Reem’s show was a bit too soft so I wanted to offer a balance by inviting commentators to analyse what the Prime Minister said on my show. Albert agreed and I chose Dr. Alaa El Aswani and Dr. Hamdi Kandil to be my guests, as both were critical of the government and credible with the majority of Egyptians. I invited them to come in before the Prime Minister went on air so we could watch his episode together and choose the parts of the interview to comment on. Then during one of the breaks on Reem’s show, the Prime Minister was going to the restroom so Albert asked him “Mr. Prime Minister if you have time, would you like to stay on for Yosri’s show?” and the Prime Minister replied, “Oh yes, I like Yosri, I’ll stay on”.
He didn’t know what he was getting into!
Some people portrayed it as a conspiracy but when you say that you’re actually putting down the Prime Minister himself. For me, having the person at issue present, so he can present and defend his own views, is actually more credible. But I share Dr. Alaa El Aswani’s view proudly; I don’t like to be patronised. There is no contradiction between mutual respect and talking as equals. When you don’t accept accountability, you don’t accept your own people.
So after that episode and the revolution in general, you found yourself influencing events and becoming incredibly famous at this same time…
Believe me, I’m really not enjoying that part of it… I am a private person; I prefer to be low profile.
Have you been able to adapt?
I’m trying to… for example, one day I finished my show and went to Tahrir around four in the morning with some friends and felt like having koshary. Yet even that early at the koshary place, I found people saying hello, which is very flattering but it puts even more responsibility on me and it also means I can never be private in public.
How do you deal with fame in 2011 with the advent of Twitter and Facebook and the 24 hour attention and comments about you?
Actually when it comes to Twitter I’m very lucky. I have about 100,000 followers and it’s like I have 100,000 news agencies, because everyone proposes ideas and provides me with links to news items or pictures. I used to write more on Twitter but after the revolution I got a bit taken back, because when you tweet and forget to put a smiley for an instance, a statement can easily be misunderstood. But I enjoy Facebook and Twitter tremendously and I owe the Twitter and Facebook communities a lot for initiating ideas and suggesting guests for my programs. And this is reflected in my program as I get a lot of my guests from that community; either in the studio or on the phone.
And because you’ve got so many fans, they talk about things like your funky new glasses.
Yeah funky, you can say that!
Is this the beginning of Yosri the Trendsetter?
No no, it’s a functional thing. It’s just because with my new set up, the autocue is so far and I need glasses to read it. I took an eye exam when I was in London and they found a small error with my short sight. I didn’t even choose these glasses, some friends who went with me to the optician suggested this pair!
But in general on television you always look put together and elegant. How important is style to you?
That’s the last thing I think of until the last minute before I leave home to work! I never even know what to wear. Some people actually criticise me on Twitter and say I have only one suit, because they all look the same. Maybe it’s because I lived in Britain so long and the preference there is for black, dark blue or grey suits… so that’s my style. But it’s not only just one suit! I have a lot, they’re just all the same colour! This summer, I decided to mix things up, so I went on air with a light blue suit; one of my favourite colours.
Is style something you enjoy?
I’m a field man; I’m in the studio by default because of the revolution and therefore I need to dress up. Personally, I’m into being casual; whether it’s how I behave or what I wear. So, this is all new to me. I’m not the type of person who is taken by the appearance of things.
Another topic discussed on Twitter is your bachelor status, how does it feel to suddenly be the object of that kind of attention?
‘Object’ is the right word! All this started when I was interviewing Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei and we were talking about the job description of the president in the constitution. He was saying you can’t run for the presidency if you have a foreign spouse and said “Yosri you lived for many years in Britain, maybe you’re married to a non-Egyptian…” to which I automatically said “No, I am not married”. From that moment on, Twitter was on fire with ‘Yosri Fouda is not married!’ and the hash tag #YosriFoudaWedding was created. I was taken aback by that as I don’t want people to talk about me as a person; I want them to talk about my work. It’s not flattering when people put aside what you are doing and talk about you. But I had two options, either to voice that this was upsetting or to joke it off in the hope it would go away. And it just took a day or two and went away; but every now and then it comes back again…
Well for the female fans who want to know, what is the status of your personal life?
My personal life is my personal life, that’s what I’d like everyone to know!
Ok… you’ve stated that after the elections you are going to leave ONTV, is that true?
Yes, after the Presidential elections. But I’m not going to leave ONTV or leave Egypt, I just want to go back to a more relaxed lifestyle. Maybe I’ll go back to doing one or two hours a week. Being on air almost daily is a killer but I accepted this because I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to play a part in Egypt’s revolution; especially when I’m at the height of my career, in my own country, in the right place at the right time.
Has this job taken over your life?
Oh yes. People think I’m just on air three hours a day, four days a week. But I prepare before the show and even on weekends. I live the revolution.
I am also an Arab, so I’m also taken by all the trouble across the entire region – in Syria, Somalia, Libya and the Gulf. So there isn’t much time to enjoy myself amongst all this. I haven’t seen many friends in a long time; hopefully I’ll be able to when Egypt has a minimum degree of stability again.
Egyptians historically are tolerant people, but right now everyone is in a hurry; skeptical of each other and that’s not working to our benefit. I hope we overcome this period soon, so we can ensure the demands of the revolution are met and we don’t fail our country.
If you did have a month off, what would you ideally like to do?
A lot! First of all, I want to sleep for a long time. And I miss Sinai as I’m truly in love with it. I also like the North Coast and the Mediterranean, but it’s changed a lot nowadays. Luckily, there are newer places in Egypt that are quieter, more original and not as crowded. I particularly love Siwa and enjoy driving there; as the journey is a joy in itself, allowing you to truly see the country.
Do you have any hobbies?
Not watching TV!
You don’t watch the competition?
I really don’t have time because we are on air almost at the same time. Even if a program goes on before me, I’m busy preparing for my show. But thanks to the internet, if there is something I should watch, it’s usually there.
One of the hobbies I miss is playing football. I nearly became a professional footballer; I was captain of my university team at one point and in London, I used to play every week. I also like listening to music and enjoy reading a lot.
Which are your favorite singers and authors?
Om Kalthoum, definitely. Her music makes me reflect. It’s thanks to Om Kalthoum that I’m any good at Arabic and at feeling every word, and relaying the feeling of the word. Plus I actually went to a Kotab (Qur’an School) before going to primary school, upon my father’s insistence, God rest his soul.
Did that influence you?
No doubt about it. When you read the Qur’an at such a young age, not only do you learn the meaning and the sound of it, but also how to balances the rhythm in your head and your chest. And life is all about rhythm, in everything you do. But I also really love Arabic; it’s such a vast, rich, beautiful language and that helped me a lot,
as our culture historically is an oral one. The Qur’an itself was not written until the age of Othman Ebn Afan. People used their hearing more than any of the other senses. Throughout history, our culture moved from one storyteller to another, not through what was written; and that’s a crucial element for a TV journalist. You may have a strong message, but if you don’t know how to tell it, you can kill it.
What five words best describe you?
I’m just a human being, born in an Egyptian village, into Islam, who believes in good for all humanity.
What do you love most about the Middle East?
The charm, the kindness of its people, the rich history, the food and the tolerance.
What do you hate most about the Middle East?
The hypocrisy, the oppression and when people forget the beautiful values that are part of our culture and religion (whether Islam or Christianity); like the values of work, being honest and caring for people.
What qualities in people do you most admire?
Honesty, spontaneity and empathy; the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. And tolerance; understanding other points of views, even if you don’t agree with them.
What qualities cause you not to trust someone?
In my work, I distrust until proven other wise and in my social life, I trust unless proven other wise. Some people think that’s naïve but I like to give everyone a full opportunity. Yet if at a certain point I see another side, then I drop them. That’s the other side of me. But at least in my social life, I start off by trusting people and being open.
Are there certain qualities that attract you to people?
Yes, people who are themselves. Being superficial means being motivated outwards rather than inwards; when your behavior is based on other people’s expectations and judgments. And if this stays with anyone long enough, it’s a killer. Sigmund Freud said if the gap between your inner and outer remains, one of two things will happen: either you change your inner values or you change your outer behavior. Unfortunately most people change their values to fit their behavior. And that’s hypocrisy.
Given that you lived so many years in a liberal society, how do you adapt to living in a hypocritical society?
It is not easy and it has a price. You’re either at one with yourself, so long as you have nothing to be ashamed of, or you conform to the expectations of others. I know it’s not easy, and it’s easy for me to say this now, but as long as you don’t hurt anyone or go against your religion or the law, you should always be yourself.
But a lot of these outer expectations are directly or indirectly related to religion, does that ever cause a conflict?
No, there is a difference between Islam and Christianity on the one hand and what we understand as Islam and Christianity on the other hand. All the beautiful values in the West now are part and parcel of Islam; like being honest with yourself.
People lie when they are afraid; they try to go around fear by lying. But when you lie, you lose a little bit of yourself and you lose your self-confidence. Eventually some people end up hating themselves. And when you start hating yourself, you won’t be able to love anyone else. And that goes into the spine of society and into our very humanity. And it’s not easy to combat; it takes courage. But Egypt is much better now than it was 20 years ago; more people are refusing to conform blindly. After all, culture and traditions are supposed to be things we celebrate, not things that cause us to be hypocrites.
What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
That no matter how dark it is, there is always hope. Sometimes I split people rigidly into people who are always negative and disseminate negative energy and people who try to be positive, no matter what. Everyone goes through negative experiences, but you can always try to find the positive side to a situation. And if you grab hold of the tiniest bit of light, you will get over it.
What is your biggest regret?
I don’t believe in regret. I believe in learning from your experiences because regret is a negative concept. If you learn from experience, you don’t have to despise the way you behaved at a certain time and cry over it. That’s totally negative and will always hold you back. Instead respect your way of thought at that point in time. Because when you do that, you respect yourself and you turn this into positive energy. Then you can learn from your experience and try to be more vigilant in the future.
What keeps you up at night?
Nowadays, there is only one thing unfortunately and that is what’s happening in Egypt. And how I will deal with it on my show; if and how we should discuss a topic and who should be a guest at the studio etc…
You don’t have personal fears that keep you up at night?
I do because in Egypt our personal dreams are now intertwined with the future of our country. We want security to return, equal opportunities, social justice and these are big concepts that won’t happen over night. But in order to reach them there is so much to be done. And if you’re in a position like mine, you can do something about it. People are pushing me to act and I don’t want to let them or myself down, but in the end I’m just a journalist. Sometimes I really get depressed and frustrated, but I can’t show it because I’m supposed to always look cool and confident and assure people there is hope; even if I feel depressed. So this takes most of my emotional energy.
What makes you laugh?
A lot of things make me laugh! We Egyptians take pride in our sense of humor and it just takes a small thing to make me laugh; a friend cracking a joke or even when I’m on air and reading a joke on Twitter. These things keep me going and optimistic.
If there was a book written about your life, what would the title be?
I don’t know… I don’t want to read a book about me! I want to read a book about my work.
Ok, so the title would reflect your work I assume..
Yes, but there isn’t anything really particular about me. I hope by the end of my life, there will be something particular about what I tried to do. That’s what matters.
If this book about you was made into a movie, who would you like play your part?
Fathy Abel Wahab, with all due respect to everyone else because he looks and acts very Egyptian. And I like to think of myself as very Egyptian.
When will you feel personally fulfilled?
Never. If you start thinking this way, you’re history. This is the way Allah created us; until the very last moment of our lives, we think tomorrow we can do something better.
What is your ultimate dream?
I have a lot of dreams. Many of them unfulfilled. I hope that before I leave this life, people will say that I tried my best with whatever I was given and that I always tried to maximise the benefit from it. And that I had more friends than enemies. And I hope Egypt will see a new generation that I, along with many honest Egyptians, contributed to; shaping their future, the way they think of themselves and their country. That would be a dream come true.
What is most precious to you?
Ironically, the dearest things in life are the two things that you had no hand in; the land you were born in and your parents.