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Egyptian online fact-finder investigates topics on request

This engineer spends his spare time unearthing evidence while trying to put rumors to rest.
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CAIRO — The coronavirus pandemic has triggered many questions in Egypt: Does the state hide the real numbers of those infected? When will the crisis in Egypt end? When will it end in the world? Fo2sh Times, a website and Facebook page, may answer these questions and more, as the country's first on-request reporting platform that relies on nontraditional and unbiased fact-checking, analysis and explanation that depends on reliable sources.

Fo2sh Times introduces itself through its official Facebook page in this way: “We know that the Egyptian newspapers and talk shows are boring and not neutral. We know that you are unable to read international newspapers or to watch international talk shows and see what they say about us. Here, we will offer you all this. We will read, translate and summarize the most powerful articles in international newspapers and the most powerful topics presented by international channels.”

Ahmed Fouad (no relation to Al-Monitor's correspondent) founded Fo2sh Times in 2013. The company’s name comes from “Fo2sh,” an oft-used nickname for Fouad in Egypt. The 2 represents a glottal stop in pronunciation.

Fouad told Al-Monitor that translation was the starting point in 2013; however, the site’s scope of activities has expanded to include analysis and explanation for many issues, most notably the recent spread of the coronavirus. It also provides some fact-checking services.

Among the most prominent articles introduced by Fo2sh Times is the March 17 report "Controlling the Coronavirus: Between the Pharaoh's Stick [Tyranny] and Tenderness,” in which Fouad analyzes the influence of political ideologies on countries’ actions against the spread of the virus. He contrasts the Chinese model (which has been always described as tyrannical), which restricted individuals’ movement with the liberal model used by Singapore and Hong Kong, which imposed lighter restrictive measures and were late in doing so.

The article explains the defects of both models and their success or failure, based on information from the websites of the World Health Organization, The Times newspaper (London), The New York Times and China’s Xinhua news agency. Fouad presents graphs comparing the two models’ daily reported cases.

The website also introduced a March 20 report titled "Corona: How can this crisis be eliminated?” The article analyzes false or unconfirmed information such as that the virus is easily eliminated by hot weather or that discovery of a vaccine or cure is imminent. It takes three approaches to dealing with a pandemic — hard immunity, herd immunity or classifying it as endemic — while explaining the advantages and disadvantages of each. 

"Many of these reports were provided based on readers' requests, recommendations and suggestions for issues that they wish to read about or their proposals for information to be validated through Facebook comments and WhatsApp messages,” Fouad said. “On-request reporting is a genuine part of Fo2sh Times’ policy, since writers and websites shouldn't work based their preferences, but upon the readers’,” he added.

Fouad was motivated to launch on-request reporting by his history as an engineering student, when he used to provide his colleagues with written explanations and simplifications of curricula, based on their requests about the difficult lessons.

"Since then, I have discovered my abilities and passion for explanation, analysis and writing, and this was why I launched Fo2sh Times — as an opportunity to follow my passion,” he said.

Fo2sh Times’ Facebook page, which provides the same content as the website, has about 25,000 followers, while the newer website was being visited by around 5,000 unique users as of the end of 2019, and generating 9,000 page views monthly. These are promising figures, considering that Fouad operates them independently with no paid promotional campaigns on social media or search engines.

Hany el-Qady, one of Fo2sh Times’ followers on Facebook, told Al-Monitor, "The page and website are characterized by being unbiased concerning the information they provide. Some reports may include opinions of the writer in the introduction or the conclusion, but these are totally separate from the informative content — unlike other pages such as Al-Mawkef Al-Masry [The Egyptian Stance]," which Qasy said “picks topics and analyzes them based on a political agenda that opposes the Egyptian regime.”

In August and September, opposition arose against Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s regime following speculation that it had spent billions of dollars to establish new presidential palaces and a new headquarters for the Ministry of Defense. However,  Fouad — who in many situations seemed like a regime opponent because of the wording of the introductions and conclusions of some of his reports — analyzed the strategic importance of the ministry’s new headquarters.

His Sept. 17 report, which includes many detailed maps and satellite photos, shows that the massive headquarters, known as the Octagon, comprises eight separate buildings connected through underground tunnels. Any two of the units together can act as an on-duty building and a standby for Egyptian Armed Forces’ main branches and authorities in case Egypt is subjected to a military attack. 

Fouad’s report also examined speculation about the amount spent for building the Octagon, comparing this with facts about the costs of military headquarters in other countries, to show that Egyptians' conjecture about the cost involved might be inaccurate.

Among the most interesting topics Fouad has addressed, according to Hazem Gamal, a Fo2sh Times follower, is a Dec. 4 examination of the facts and speculation about the Ottoman invasion and rule of Egypt. The report follows the controversies surrounding the popular historical drama TV series "Kingdoms of Fire," which aired in November and December.

Gamal, who is a project manager at one of Egypt's leading real estate development companies, told Al-Monitor that Fo2sh Times’ deep, unbiased, on-request analysis indicates it could generate and sell business, economic and political studies and research — like, for example, Austin, Texas-based geopolitical intelligence publisher Stratfor. Fo2sh Times could become the first Egyptian service of its type. However, Fouad said he isn’t planning to provide paid services, since the website isn’t designed for profitability and he has his own work as a professional engineer. 

Ramy Attallah, a journalism professor at Beni-Suef University, told Al-Monitor he thought Fo2sh Times’ greatest advantages were its use of Egyptian Arabic slang that all readers can understand and its ability to draw in readers with headlines that correspond to Egyptian culture, such as using traditional folk proverbs to help explain major international issues such as the coronavirus.