Young Egyptian journalist bags CNN award

An Egyptian reporter has for the first time won a prize in CNN’s African Journalist Award since the establishment of the contest fourteen years ago. Over the weekend, twenty-two year old Cairo-based journalist Ethar Kamal el-Katatney bagged the award in the Economics and Business category for her article “The Business of Islam”. MENASSAT caught up with El-Katatney over the phone in London.
Egypt Ethar Kamal El-Katatney
Ethar Kamal El-Katatney is the first Egyptian to win the prestigious award.© Daily News Egypt

BEIRUT, July 23, 2009 (MENASSAT) —Winning the prize certainly came as a big surprise to Ethar Kamal El-Katatney. In fact, she was so sure she was not going to win that she had booked a flight from Durban, South Africa - where the contest was being held - the morning the award prizes were to be handed out.

The majority of the finalists in the contest, says Katatney, were all established reporters in their thirties and forties with many years of work experience. When she read the announcement that she had won, she almost thought the organizers of the contest had made a mistake.

“Maybe they mixed me up with someone else, I thought,” El-Katatney told MENASSAT.

El-Katatney says she applied for the award only “on a whim” without expecting much. Contest organizers then informed her in March that she had been chosen as one of the finalists.

It wasn’t a mistake, however, and El-Katatney ended up leaving South Africa with $3500 more in her pocket and with a new laptop and printer. The money, she says, will be saved for a long vacation sometime in the future.

But considering El-Katatney’s busy schedule one may wonder when that vacation will come. For the last two years, she has worked full-time with the publishing house IBA Media, writing for their publications Egypt Today and Business Today. She also contributes on a regular basis to the Internet news portal Muslimah Media Watch.

El-Katatney is pursuing double degrees at the American University in Cairo, and is currently studying for her MBA and masters in TV and Digital Journalism. As a highly accomplished, el-Katatney oftentimes surprises her interviewees when they find out how young she is.

“They jaw-drop often and usually get surprised. One didn’t believe I was the same person he spoke to over the phone,” she said.

Her winning article, “The business of Islam” shed light on the business perspective of Islam and was published in Business Today Egypt in July 2008. It was chosen among more than 800 entries from 38 African states.

In their remarks, the judges complimented El-Katatney for covering Islam from a business view rather than the usual political and social angles that readers in this age are most accustomed to.

“This subject, Islam, is usually covered from a political and social perspective. But here we are given a business perspective. It's very accessible and covers many interesting aspects of the business of Islam,” read the judges’ citation.

This year’s event and prize ceremony in Durban marked the 14th annual African Journalist Award. Founded in 1995 by Edward Boateng, formerly African Regional Director for Turner Broadcasting System Inc., and the late Mohamed Amin, it aims to recognize and encourage excellence in journalism on the African continent. 

In a country like Egypt, however, el-Katatney says it’s easy for reporters to become discouraged due to what she describes as the low appreciation of their profession in the country. Winning the award though has given her a big boost of motivation and she says she feels more determined than ever now to pursue a career in journalism.

“I feel so motivated after this. You become disheartened in Egypt at times where we journalists are not appreciated, both financially and professionally,” said el-Katatney.

She also wants to pass on her message of hope to her Egyptian journalist peers, urging them to “not get disheartened in Egypt” and to “continue their work” despite the hardships.

In total, more than 1665 entries were submitted to the contest this year.

Kenyan reporter John-Allan Namu was awarded the top prize for his stories 'In the shadow of the Mungiki' and 'Inside Story: Scars and Sufurias.’