Egypt through the media’s eyes

Cairo's Tahrir Square on a normal day

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?

Crowd prepares to topple Hussein statue

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.

5 comments

  1. I’ve had grave misgivings about the news from Egypt from day one, as it’s seemed to me that the media’s “documenting history” felt too much like the media proving that it can “be a driving force for change in the world.” I won’t pretend to know what’s right for the people of Egypt, but I feel so bad that their what’s right for them may play little or no role in the outcome. I also felt bad for president Obama, at least in the beginning, for having to deal with a nightmare not of his creation. I’ve since changed that opinion after seeing the way he’s allowed the media to drive his own actions as well.

    BTW, I saw in a documentary recently that the crowd’s struggling to pull down Saddam’s statue were doing it in the name of Muqtada al-Sadr, who they hoped to replace him!

  2. Frederic Bastiat wrote a piece titled “That Which is Seen, and That Which is Not Seen” You’ve written a valuable piece here that carries with it the same admonition… On the surface, sometimes what is seen is less significant than the things that aren’t easy to see.

    My own view is that we shouldn’t have been supporting this dictator in the first place and what happens in Egypt is their business.

  3. I don’t think of myself as an isolationist – at all – but I do believe in minding my own business.

    I think this view will become more popular when China begins to assert it’s more justified rights as our landlord.

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