It’s hard to reach presidential candidates for an interview, and it’s even harder to do so when they’re busy touring the country only a few weeks before the elections. For over a month, our team had been trying to reach Islamist candidate Mohamed Selim El Awa — in vain. Luckily, one night our colleague’s fiancé found him staying at a hotel in Minya and sprang into action.
My managing editor called me asking if I could do a quick interview with El Awa. At this point I was assigned other candidates and was busy looking up press clippings, platforms and histories of my candidates — not to mention trying to dig dirt on them to ask the right questions. I had no clue what I could possibly ask to corner El Awa and knew very little about his platform. So sitting at my laptop with dozens of papers scattered on the dinner table with tons of background information on other candidates, I frantically searched the web for an emergency Wikipedia entry on the candidate.
We are required to record our interviews, so when doing a telephone interview we use a phone tap to connect to our recorders — which means we need to use landlines for phone interviews. I couldn’t dial mobiles or governorates from my landline, so I had to bear the embarrassment of asking a presidential candidate to kindly call me. So I gave my colleague’s fiancé my number at around 9pm, and El Awa told him he would call me in half an hour. Come midnight, I was still waiting by the phone, racing to pick up whenever it rang so that El Awa wouldn’t have my nephew picking up and making small talk with him. He never called.
Iwas told Al Awa would call me in the morning at 10. I stayed up researching and researching, and at 10 sharp I sat by the telephone waiting for the long-awaited call.
The telephone finally rang and I managed to get to it before my nephew, but it was my colleague’s fiancé on the line telling me El Awa was running late and would call me shortly. An hour and a half later the candidate finally did call — only to tell me he was running late and had to rush out for a conference. He then asked me to call him at 3 pm. Of course, at this point I couldn’t tell him I couldn’t make mobile calls from my landline. I just sucked it up and thanked him.
At 3 pm, I called El Awa from my mobile phone. His assistant picked up and told me he is at a funeral and I should call back later. So I did, and I finally reached the candidate. But because he was racing about in Minya from one conference to the other, and because I had my speaker phone turned on to be able to record the interview from my mobile, we spent half of the 15 minutes repeating questions.
I asked him about four or five questions, to which he gave me very rushed, very brief and very vague answers. About 13 minutes later, he told me he was running out of time, the phone connectionwas bad and he had to go, and he hung up. He never said bye, he never allowed me to thank him even, he just hung up. Naively, or still in shock maybe, I called back thinking the line was cut off and I would at least apologize for it and thank him for the interview. I never did get that second call.
I understand candidates are busy, and it was nice of him to set up an interview with us on such a short notice, but I was expecting 30 seconds more to say bye and thank you. Should be quick enough, shouldn’t it?
I ended up with a too brief, too vague and overall too rushed set of answers to make into a proper interview that readers might actually get anything out of. I can honestly say it took much more time to try and clarify the answers than it did to do the actual interview. I can also safely say it was by far one of the worst interviews — and answers — I’ve ever had.