THE KEYS TO EGYPT’S REVOLUTION
Ctrl. Alt. Delete.
For the generations of young Egyptians who used the power of the World Wide Web and laptops to spark the revolution in Egypt, three function keys were decisive: Ctrl, Alt, Delete. Press all three keys in quick succession over the span of 18 days and certain things disappear. Like the mummified and megalomaniacal dictator Mubarak.
The Ctrl Key. One of the first things Egyptians had to control in order to fight back was fear. For 30 years they had been kept in a state of shock and awe by the mukhabarat, the shadow police infrastructure numbering over 1 million that beat, tortured, humiliated, raped, and disappeared people without consequence. They were able to instill terror with impunity because of the State of Emergency Law locked in place for 3 decades that made most forms of protest illegal and subject to attack. So it was telling when one Egyptian protester after another made comments like, “We are no longer afraid,” and “When we lost our fear, we knew we could win.” Fear fell away after a small group meticulously planned and executed a protest drawing thousands that marched into Tahrir Square. The protesters were attacked with tear gas and rubber bullets by the mukhabarat and driven out. But the next day tens of thousands of Egyptians energized by what they’d witnessed the day before, marched again and this time took and held the square. Confidence replaced fear.
Egyptians were ready to die for change. It is an astonishing fact that in the 21st century people have to be willing to sacrifice their lives in order have basic freedoms and human rights: enough to eat, housing, employment, health care, physical security, freedom of speech, and the right to protest and vote.
Overcoming fear was a crucial first step and the second was the need to control and create media that honestly reported the struggle. Egyptian state controlled media was a sick joke and the butt of many Egyptian jokes. It was a Mubarak genuflecting lie machine staffed by lobotomized anchors and reporters. It could not be called journalism. Its broadcasts were a bizarre concoction of Orwellian logic and Stalinist, yawn-inducing party line. One wonders how those media workers went to the studio every day and “produced” and reported all those lies, half-lies, lies of omission, white lies, and bald-faced lies. The power of the people’s revolution forced a massive reconciliation between truth and lie and led media workers to resign in shame at what they’d been a part of and join the protests.
Which brings me to the U.S. media. The privileged, patriotic, paparazzi flew into Cairo. You know their names: Christiane Amanpour, Cooper Anderson, and Nicholas D. Kristoff. The celebrity stenographers for the American State Department descended on Tahrir Square.
Amanpour has built a career on demonizing Arabs and Islam and anyone else Washington defines as a terrorist. Just two months ago she attended a private memorial gathering in Manhattan for deceased Richard Holbrook, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Holbrooke: warmonger run amok onto the world. Holbrooke: defender of torture at Bagram and Abu Ghraib. A New York Times reporter wrote, “Christiane Amanpour welled up recalling how Mr. Holbrooke, in her view, restored the faith of a generation of journalists who had doubted the West would ever act to stop genocide in Bosnia.” In the crowd of mourners was Bill Clinton who as president refused to call the genocide in Rwanda genocide. Journalist neutrality? Political contradictions? Ha! That’s for journalism 101 students to grapple with, not Amanpour.
Cooper Anderson, CNN bad ass, Vanity Fair cover reporter, scion to the Vanderbilt fortune has an uncanny knack for turning the story back onto him. He did it in Haiti and he did it in Cairo. Blasted around the world was the headline, “Cooper Anderson Just Got Beat Up by Pro-Mubarak Thugs in Cairo!” Anderson practices a “Reality TV” style of journalism, rogue and rough. He’s not interested in investigating why the United States supported Mubarak for 3 decades with 1.3 billion a year in military aid. That story wouldn’t be about him and would expose the profoundly undemocratic prerogatives of Washington.
Mr. Kristoff is the savviest of the American rat pack press. He practices a liberal sophistry designed to confuse his readers. He is a loyal backer of the Israeli state, he opposes the blockade of Gaza, then argues, “Palestinians were locked for years into a self-defeating dynamic of violence and self-pity that led to terrorism and intransigence.” In a column for the New York Times on Afghanistan titled, ‘A Merciful War,’ he wrote: ”One of the uncomfortable realities of the war on terrorism is that we Americans have killed many more people in Afghanistan than died in the attack on the World Trade Center…So what is the lesson of this? Is it that while pretending to take the high road, we have actually slaughtered more people than Osama bin Laden has? Or that military responses are unjustifiable because huge numbers of innocents inevitably are killed? No, it’s just the opposite. Our experience there demonstrates that troops can advance humanitarian goals just as much as doctors or aid workers can. By my calculations, our invasion of Afghanistan may end up saving one million lives over the next decade.” The two-time Pulitzer Prize winner supported protesters and the oppressed from Tiananmen Square to Tahrir Square, to Sudan and Darfur. But Kristoff stubbornly and naively endorses American foreign policy, that even though presidents, secretaries of state, special envoys, and Pentagon generals get it wrongand he’s called them outnot to worry. Kristoff believes it’s possible to remix and reboot a kinder, gentler imperialism based on “our values.”
American press support for the Egyptian people, their temporary populism, won’t last. And wait till protest on a mass scale is unleashed in the United States. Which side do you think they’ll be on? Will CNN defend our right to march on the Whitehouse? To occupy the National Mall? How will Amanpour or Kristoff report on a general strike or an angry civil rights movement fighting the racist criminal justice system that uses the death penalty and imprisons 2 million Americans?
Other media outlets played a crucial role during the Egyptian revolution, in particular, Al Jazerra. They are reviled in the United States for being biased, but their coverage was enormously important, as was Facebook, citizen bloggers, photographers, tweeters, and independent journalists from other countries.
The Alt key. Through struggle, Egyptian protesters in Tahrir Square created an embryo of an alternative society. There were communal kitchens, Mosques were converted into free health clinics, security teams were created, and trash was collected and sorted into recyclable and non-recyclable. In 18 days, millions of people achieved staggering changes in consciousness. Women, long unequal in Egyptian society, were involved in organizing the protests and fought the police. A chief complaint of Egyptian women is sexual harassment. Women reported that was noticeably absent and one commented, “During the demonstrations, I didn’t face any kind of harassment, or even someone looking at me in a strange way.” Religious divisions between Muslim and Coptic Christians disappeared. Young and old debated the way forward. There was cooperation and sharing, not competition among people as they figured out with immense creativity how to organize the day-to-day operations of the revolution.
The delete key. The revolution erased Mubarak from office. The billions of Egyptian tears shed out of despair, of humiliation and hopelessness, of rage that could not find an outward or collective expression for 30 years gave way to tears of happiness, of euphoria, of pride that are produced only when people struggle for liberation and win. But there is much more deletion to come. And that is the deletion and dismantling of capitalism, the economic system that creates presidential billionaires and $2-a-day paupers, is built on division and inequality, and needs a military and police terror squad to maintain it.
Helen Redmond is a member of the International Socialist Organization. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org