Zahra Hussein said her own career in journalism was affected by her father’s arrest [Courtesy: Zahra Hussein]
The daughter of an Al Jazeera journalist jailed by Egyptian authorities without charge has condemned the silence of the international media on his continued detention.
Zahra Hussein, the daughter of Al Jazeera Arabic reporter, Mahmoud Hussein, said she felt let down that journalists have not covered her father’s plight more extensively.
Tuesday marks 300 days since Hussein was detained in Cairo during a visit to see his family. He was later accused by authorities of spreading “false news”.
Al Jazeera has rejected the accusations against Hussein and has called on Egypt to unconditionally release its journalist.
The father of nine holds Egyptian nationality but was a resident of the Qatari capital, Doha, where the network is based.
Al Jazeera spoke to the younger Hussein about how her father’s arrest has impacted her ambitions of becoming a journalist, and about her fears that not enough has been done to draw attention to his case.
Al Jazeera: You studied journalism yourself, how big of an influence was your father in your decision to pursue the subject?
Zahra Hussein: I studied journalism and media at Cairo University and at the moment I’m studying for a media translation diploma.
I chose to go into the field because I was so influenced by my father’s work.
As a child, I used to watch my father from behind the camera as he reported in the field and when I got older he used to take me with him around Egypt as he produced reports or filmed documentaries.
I saw how he would reflect people’s emotions and feelings, their needs and their dreams.
They let him go inside their minds and souls in order to express how they felt and that affected me.
I knew then that was what I wanted to do; I wanted to be what my father was.
I wanted to help people; I wanted to reflect their emotions. I wanted their voices to reach as far it is possible.
When I was studying media in school, whenever I went into the streets holding my camera, I would notice people hoping for a space to speak out and to express themselves, to tell the world that they existed.
Al Jazeera: Do you have any particular memory of your father’s work that you’re proud of?
Hussein: As a young girl, I was so proud just to see my father on TV. I used to walk to school, and people in my village would say ‘Oh look that’s Mahmoud Hussein’s daughter, her father is on TV’.
But it wasn’t only that; I felt proud because I’ve seen his reporting change the lives of people whether that was in the revolutionary squares of Syria, Egypt, or Libya.
I used to love watching the respect and admiration the people around him would show when he told them that he was a reporter working for Al Jazeera.
I remember one of his reports where he was working in a big crowd and beads of sweat were streaming down his face. The people around him started to dab away the sweat from his face.
They respected him so much that they were helping him live on camera.
|Mahmoud Hussein on holiday with one of his daughters [Courtesy: Zahra Hussein]|
My favourite story about my dad is about this time he was in Darfur in Sudan, where he was producing a short documentary about a very poor village there.
The central character of the film was a young Sudanese boy, who at the end of the production was so touched by my father that he told him that he loved him.
He said, “My entire life I haven’t heard a kind voice and I believe you will make people hear my story.”
The boy sang a song for my father, which they featured in the film. Even now I find myself singing it in my mind.
Al Jazeera: How has your father’s arrest affected your ambition to pursue journalism?
Hussein: I was training to be a reporter with an Egyptian TV channel, but when my father got arrested, I was fired.
State TV channels were airing videos about my father where they accused him of being a terrorist and spy.
They also disseminated information about me, my siblings and other relatives, including details about where we live and our ages. Our pictures were also spread across the internet and television channels.
When my boss saw my name and my father’s videos, without a second’s thought, he told me that he could not have the daughter of such a man working with them.
So right now, I’m not working, and I’ve stopped pursuing this dream, but I hope it’s not a definite thing.
I do as much translation work from home as possible but a lot of my time is consumed visiting my father in prison and looking after my sisters and brothers.
Al Jazeera: How are your siblings coping?
Hussein: I have six sisters and two brothers. They were not coping well with this situation at first, and in the beginning, we didn’t tell the younger ones the whole truth about what was happening.
Of course, when they went to school, the students and teachers would bring it up and would tell them that they had seen our father on TV and ask whether he was a terrorist.
They would ask questions like, ‘Why did your father want to harm his country? Why does he work with Al Jazeera to help destroy his homeland?’
They were shocked, and they came home crying, asking ‘did my father really do this, am I a bad person because my father is a terrorist?’
|Hussein’s family say attempts to get international interest in their father’s case have failed [Courtesy: Zahra Hussein]|
Of course, I explained to them that not everything on TV is true and not everything people say is true and that our father is an honest man and a professional journalist.
It took me a while to convince them to go back to school but they still face this social stigma, and they can’t run away from it.
My eldest sister is studying in France and feels depressed that she can’t get any organisation to take an interest in our father’s case.
Al Jazeera: Do you think journalists have done enough to shine a light on your father’s plight?
Hussein: The world media has done nothing to help my father’s case, their silence is honestly freaking me out.
I’ve always had this image of the international media jumping on human rights cases like this, but the silence is deafening.
I can’t express how angry I am, whenever I send anything to any organisation asking for them to help us and to support our case, I get nothing, absolutely nothing.
At the beginning of this struggle, I only saw one or two reports about my father and then nothing, not a single word about him.
These journalists don’t care about a 51-year-old man with nine children, who is spending each and every hour wondering what he’s done to deserve what he’s going through.
What has my father done to spend 300 days sleeping on the floor of a dirty cell with insects and cold weather?
What has he done to deserve having a person watch over his every move?
The international media has failed us, and we have been in pain each and every hour for 300 days,
In Europe and the US, don’t they always speak about human rights and freedoms?
Now I’ve found they mean nothing; they are only words … because if they held meaning, they would act.
I just wish one or two journalists would ask, what about Mahmoud Hussein, what about the other Mahmoud Husseins?
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
|Hussein has been jailed for months without charge [Courtesy: Zahra Hussein]|