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Obscuring the Obvious

The Egyptian Uprising in the American Media

by JOSHUA FAROUK GEORGY

It has been one week since the Egyptian revolt began, and the mainstream American media has wheeled out many of their standard, self-appointed “experts” to illuminate matters. They attempt to solve the riddle of what could possibly have driven the thoughtless throngs into the proverbial “Arab streets,” while providing their set of contrived scenarios about how things might develop. Even as our “experts” set about to demystify what they themselves have mystified, they are quick to turn to what really matters – the effects these events will have on the United States and our allies. There really are two fields of discussion here. The first deals with a fantastical world of wild imagery, a world where monsters wait in the shadows with plans to lead a retreat from civilization (or worse?), and where heedless masses may unknowingly (or knowingly?) stampede into their arms. This is an encrypted world that must be decoded with the help of experts trained to make sense of the senseless. And the second field is a very rational one – American interests in the region.

It is no wonder then that most Americans are hopelessly in the dark. Middle East “news” in the mainstream is constructed so that people remain in a perpetual state of confusion and fear. A favorite question now being tossed to the experts is “what do Egyptians want?” If their expertise included anything but obfuscation, they might respond, well, what the hell does anyone want? We want to feed our families; we want our children to grow up with the prospect of a decent standard of living; we want to come out of college with some hope of finding a job; we want to have a say in the present and future affairs of our country.  But that is expecting a bit too much of our controlled, corporate media and their favored talking heads. If a serious treatment of the present matter is to be made, it requires a probing analysis of issues that interested parties would rather not be had. And so the cryptologists and fear mongers do their job.

President Mubarak used his own brand of fear mongering as he tried to justify the renewal of the “emergency law” every five years across his three-decade rule. The law allowed him to claim democracy in Egypt while running the country like a giant prison. But as he went on protecting Egyptians from themselves, young people of the Facebook generation managed to pull back the curtain. They revealed to the world that the mighty Wizard who was keeping the whole thing together was a shriveled up old man. And what did the Egyptians do as “order” broke down? They united to protect each other; all segments of society came together to defend their streets and properties, to defend their homeland. Meanwhile America’s favorite stooge, the dictator we call “moderate,” sent his goons out against peaceful demonstrators.

Western governments have been intimately involved in the innumerable injustices wrought on the Egyptian people during the Mubarak years. But who has time to sort through all of that when we have ghoulish “worst-case scenarios” to bandy about? And so we have a character like John Bolton, of Bush administration disrepute, rising from the political graveyard with predictions that in all likelihood “a radical, tightly knit organization like the Muslim Brotherhood will take advantage of the chaos and seize power.” And he quickly directs his prognosticator’s spotlight onto the Christian minority, warning that they have reason to be alarmed. And the chatter goes on and on, as talk of America’s strategic concerns is punctuated with grim potentialities designed to frighten the American people.

In reality, what the political scene in Egypt will look like after the revolution nobody knows. But given the choice between what they have known and the unknown, Egyptians have chosen the latter. This uprising does not belong to a specific segment of the population – and as much as some in the West might like to present it in a sectarian or partisan light, this is an Egyptian uprising. Christians alongside Muslims from all backgrounds and walks of life are participating in the protests, many holding signs featuring the “cross and crescent” that since the 1919 Revolution has symbolized Christian-Muslim national unity.

My own family in Egypt, who are Christian, are gratified by the demonstrations of solidarity between Muslims and Christians in the face of grave circumstances, the rotten fruits of Mubarak’s reign. And if we look to history, we will find that this is hardly surprising.

When Egyptians have risen up and demanded their rights, they have done so as a people. This was the case during the revolution of 1952 as it was during resistance movements to British occupation in 1882 and 1919. Now we are witnessing a revolutionary moment in 2011, and the structure of Western mainstream discourse obscures the obvious.

A long time ago foreign powers, with the United States in the first place, cast their lot with the dictator. Now the Egyptian people are having their say. 

JOSHUA FAROUK GEORGY is an Egyptian-American Ph.D. candidate in modern Middle East history at Columbia University.