Cable news has been fixated on events in Egypt for more than a week now. The citizens are demonstrating; they want their president of thirty years, Hosni Mubarak, to leave the country — now. Not after the September elections, as he has promised, but now. We’ve heard detailed analyses of why the US government has supported Mubarak all these years, but also how it is, of course, very sympathetic to the Egyptian people who want a more democratic government.
Our government claims to support Egypt because of its stabilizing influence in the region and friendly stance toward Israel (although why we can’t let independent nations stand on their own, without our help, is a concern). But when the US “supports” another country, is it supporting that country’s government or that country’s citizens? And what’s all that talk about America being “on the right side of history” in Egypt? Is some modern-day Nostradamus calling the shots? Is that any way to conduct foreign policy?
Then there’s the media coverage itself. We’ve seen nothing but scenes in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, with widely varying estimates of the number of people there (thousands? tens of thousands? millions?). What about the rest of Cairo? What’s going on there? What about the rest of Egypt? It’s a huge country. What do the people in the Egyptian hinterlands think about all this? Tahrir Square is being represented as a cross-section of the entire nation. But is it, really? Could we have a little perspective, please?
Most adults probably remember when Saddam Hussein’s statue in Baghdad was pulled down. We’re still treated to iconic close-up images of “Iraqis reclaiming their freedom.” But if you watched the event live, you know the long shots, which we never see anymore, showed the area around the statue was occupied by only a few hundred demonstrators, not the thousands the media imply. In truth, American soldiers, using a military vehicle, had to help pull down the statue when Iraqi manpower alone proved inadequate. Nothing particularly glorious or historic about that.
I learned a lesson years ago when my employer was in Seoul, Korea, as student demonstrations broke out. The media had me believing the entire city was under siege and he was in grave danger. As it turned out, the rioting was confined to a mere one or two blocks downtown, and he was miles away. Certainly not the “massive” event the media had presented.
The point is, as you watch the video from Tahrir Square, maintain a healthy skepticism. Ask yourself what you’re not being shown. Events in Egypt may — or may not — be exactly as portrayed by the media.