Mohammad Fadi is a truck driver who brings goods from his home country of Egypt to nearby Jordan. In April, Jordanian customs agents confiscated his truck for carrying goods that did not pass the inspection of the Jordan Standards and Metrology Organization. Not only was his truck confiscated, but he was also barred from leaving the customs area. Weeks and months went by without an apparent resolution until one of his driver friends decided to raise his case using the media. Ali, Mohammad's friend, contacted Sara the anchor of a newly produced radio program on Radio al Balad. Sara, an Egyptian national married to a Jordanian man, had begun anchoring the program after a training course conducted by Community Media Network with the support from the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung - Palestine and Jordan. After the training, Sara began anchoring Mahatat Masr (Egypt Station), a weekly radio program that focuses on the conditions of Egyptian migrant workers in Jordan, in an effort to give them a platform to express themselves and to try to help them in their struggles.
No one knows how many Egyptians work and live in Jordan. While half a million are officially registered and licensed as migrant workers, there are twice or probably three times as many working without a permit, risking the potential of immediate deportation if they are caught by the police.
When Mahatat Masr began to broadcast on Jordan’s leading community radio station Radio al Balad, it was unclear what the reaction would be. The radio program also live-streamed on social media and became an instant hit. It turns out that Egyptian workers are all connected and communicating through WhatsApp groups. Within a very short time, thousands of people were tuning in, sending messages, and calling the station with all kinds of complaints and problems.
Mohammad Shannak, Radio al Balad’s programming director who trained Sara and her co-anchor Baz Mohammad, and who has been helping them navigate the fine line between journalism and advocacy, said: “I helped them get in touch with governmental agencies in order to always have an official to respond to the complaints of workers.”
The huge reaction to the radio program was not limited to migrant workers in Jordan as the posts and live-streams on the social media account were viewed by many Egyptian workers who found themselves stranded and unable to return to their licensed jobs in Jordan. Sara Ghallab, the show's producer and anchor says that they were surprised by the huge reaction. “We clearly filled a huge gap that existed for hundreds of thousands of Egyptians that had nowhere to go to for help”, she says. She goes on to explain that helping stranded workers was one of the programs' first success stories; “When the COVID-19 pandemic had resulted in the closure of the borders, while Jordan was allowing Jordanians to return, no one was paying attention to Egyptian licensed workers who had gone home for a short family visit and found themselves stranded.” Not only was their voice heard on the radio, but Sara and her co-anchor Baz Mohammad also contacted the Egyptian Embassy and some fellow journalists in Egypt. “Within a few weeks, their issue was given attention, the Egyptian ambassador in Jordan met the Jordanian Minister of Labor and legally licensed workers were allowed to return.”
An opposite problem was also resolved. Egyptian day-workers were unable to make ends meet as the lockdown imposed by the Jordanian government meant losing their daily incomes. Most Egyptians had invested in the social security system, but they were told that their investment would only be sent to them via bank transfer once they are back in Egypt. Baz Mohammad, who is also active with fellow Egyptians, raised the issue with the spokesman of the Jordanian Social Security Institute. He says: “The Social Security responded to our request and allowed workers returning to Egypt to receive money in advance to pay for their tickets home, plus 100 JOD as pocket money.”
For many Egyptian workers, the radio program was God-sent. It gave them a voice and provided many of them with the kind of advocacy that the relatively small Egyptian Embassy was unable to provide. Sometimes help was done with big issues and other times it was done with small issues. Baz explained that many callers had simple problems that could easily be solved: “I remember one Egyptian worker who called, saying he was having a hard time filling information on the app that the Jordanian government had provided to organize the return of workers. One guy said he was asked to pay a huge amount of 80JOD to a local office just to fill out the online application.” Baz told the caller not to pay anything and helped him and others on air in figuring out how to do it. He also directed the caller to groups of fellow Egyptians who have been volunteering to help IT-illiterate Egyptians in filling out forms on smartphones.
It was this new discovery of a platform that is willing to hear out worker’s issues that the truck drivers’ friends of Mohammad Fadi decided to try out whether they can get their friend and his privately owned truck released. The call to the producers appears to have been the reason for the successful end of this ordeal. When Sara got the private call, she consulted with a legal advisor to find out whether what the officials were doing by holding the truck driver for seven months was legal, and he said it was not. With the help of the team, the story was broadcast on the radio program and the legal professor explained that not only is it illegal to hold them this long but that Mohammad Fadi is eligible for compensation for every day he was prevented from working.
The airing of the case appears to have moved the slow wheels of justice. Within two weeks, a Jordanian court ordered the customs agency to release the driver and his truck and now, a legal case is n being pursued to help compensate Mohammad Fadi for the months that he was held without cause.
It is not often that a simple radio program with dedicated staff can produce such impressive results. The seed support from Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung - Palestine and Jordan kick-started a project that appears to have cemented a platform that will help Egyptian migrant workers for the foreseeable future. The Copenhagen-based International Media Support (IMS) has moved in to provide the small yet essential financial support needed to ensure that Mahatat Masr continues to be a refuge to Egyptian migrant workers. Radio al Balad management believes that some commercial sponsors eyeing the large market of Egyptians in Jordan might agree to sponsor future episodes as well. Regardless of what happens on the financial end of things, Radio al Balad and the dedicated team of Mahatat Masr are adamant that this platform will continue to provide a refuge for the disenfranchised Egyptian workers.
All radio shows of Mahatat Masr are now available in our dossier on this website.