As hundreds of thousands of Egyptians entered Tahrir Square on Friday, they were welcomed by a human corridor of young men clapping and chanting “keep the faith countrymen – freedom is being born.” The protest was billed as “Yom El Raheel” – a farewell party for Hosni Mubarak.
There was something obviously different about the crowd that showed up to participate in what turned out to be the largest demonstration since the uprising began. For one thing, they came without their children and there were fewer women in the crowd. That was to be expected. Fear of violent attacks by the hired thugs of the Mubarak’s ruling party haunted the event and the square was littered with stones and debris from the battles on Wednesday. Many of the veterans of those attacks were limping or walking around with blood soaked bandages.
The few foreign journalists who came to cover the event were edgy and visibly concerned for their own personal safety. In a desperate effort to reduce coverage of the demonstrations, Mubarak’s goons had attacked them in their hotels and stolen or damaged their equipment. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 114 foreign journalists have been attacked or arrested in the last two days. The government blamed the intimidation campaign on unidentified rogue elements in the security forces but the harassment continues.
Neutering the foreign press was an essential tactic for a propaganda campaign by the organs of the State owned media which has been shameless in distorting the realities on the ground. The employees of Egyptian government newspapers and television stations are nothing more than ruling party hacks but they are not without their talents. While some of the rumors they were circulating were marginally plausible, others were off the wall.
Perhaps the most entertaining rumor was the “Kentucky Fried” allegation. According to one story circulated by the ‘national press,’ the million plus protestors came to the square in expectation of a platter of spicy chicken and 50 Euros. The fictional foreign agents serving the crowd came armed with tons of cash and the Colonel’s secret recipe. Whoever dreamed up that rumor forgot to mention that there is only one Kentucky Fried outlet in Tahrir Square and it’s been closed since the uprising began.
The general theme of the government’s propaganda assault has revolved around foreign agents organizing and deceiving the naÃ¯ve anti-regime protestors. One concocted report in Al-Akhbar had 300 foreign saboteurs caught red handed in Suez. In government media accounts, alien provocateurs were everywhere to be found. The source of the mischief all depended on which hallucination you were reading. The agitators are apparently Israeli spies sponsored by Americans and Hamas activists financed by Iranians on a joint mission to turn Egypt into a striptease club ruled by a Shiite theocracy.
To give you an idea of how disgraceful Egyptian state journalism can be; it took ten days for Al-Ahram to notice that the demonstrator’s essential demand was for Mubarak to abdicate his throne. Until yesterday, the flagship of the government’s propaganda machine portrayed the demonstrations as rallies against high food prices and unemployment and in support of unspecified ‘reforms.’ The day after the slaughter at Tahrir Square, Al-Ahram boasted this headline “Millions demonstrate in support of Mubarak.” The reporting is so scandalous that many government employed journalists have quit in protest and others are simply refusing to write.
The regime’s efforts at damage control were not ineffective. The campaign hit a chord with the argument that Mubarak had already resigned and was just waiting for his term to expire in September. Egyptians are a sentimental people and the appeal to treat Mubarak as the father of the nation had some resonance. They failed to mention that Mubarak was the kind of father who devours his own children. So far, over 300 hundred have died because of his stubborn refusal to accept early retirement.
To date, the government owned papers have yet to raise or answer questions regarding the virtual disappearance of the police force. On the one hand, their editorials paint the soon to be deposed president as the only man on the planet who can insure internal security and prevent chaos. On the other hand, they can’t explain where or why his police vanished, who gave the orders to disband them or why Egypt even needs a police force. For over a week, the people have managed quite nicely without them and crime stats are probably at an all time low. Thanks to the citizen security committees that were set up to confront the criminal elements, no burglar in his right mind would brave the gauntlet of checkpoints set up on virtually every block. It’s always been safe to walk Cairo’s streets. It’s even safer now. After we toss the dictator out, the costs of Mubarak’s bloated security forces obviously needs to be addressed.
Another part of the propaganda campaign is to portray the uprising as an organized plot by the Muslim Brotherhood. The truth is that the uprising was spontaneous and unorganized. While the fuse was lit by a group of liberal-minded internet-savvy activists, it has evolved into a nationalist movement dominated by citizens unaffiliated with any group or party. They have all rallied around a single cause – bringing down the regime. All you have to do is walk around Tahrir Square and read the home-made signs. “The people demand the removal of the regime,” “He Goes – We Stay” “Go already, Have some self-respect, I’m tired of holding up this sign.” What you won’t find are “Death to America” signs or anyone burning an American flag. When the demonstrators in Tahrir square got the badly translated message that Obama had asked Mubarak to step down – they were ecstatic. Of course, Obama had done nothing of the sort. It’s now clear that the United States has decided to throw its weight behind Mubarak’s regime. With or without Mubarak, America wants a compliant dictator to rule over Egypt.
If history repeats itself in Egypt, it will lead to a new polity in the Turkish mold not a replay of the Iranian Revolution. Unfortunately, Hillary and Obama have apparently fallen victim to the canard that this uprising will lead to a power grab by mullahs. Egypt doesn’t have mullahs and Egyptians don’t do theocracy. Win or lose, the American betrayal of the Egyptian revolt against tyranny will not be soon forgotten.
Another bit of slander against the young rebels is that they are agents of chaos. Nothing could be further from the truth. It wasn’t the rebels who resorted to violence – it was Mubarak’s goons. The rebels didn’t throw open the prison gates – that was a chore left to Mubarak’s security forces who then abandoned their stations and betrayed their duty to maintain law and order. Had the regime allowed peaceful demonstrations, the tourists in Sharm, Luxor and Hurghada would have stayed put.
It wasn’t the rebels who turned off the internet and cell phones. Again, that was Mubarak. It wasn’t the rebels who enforced the curfew that paralyzed economic activity; that was Mubarak. To extend his thirty year dictatorship, the strongman canceled train service, blocked highway travel, closed the banks and brought the country to a virtual standstill. So aside from being a ruthless dictator, the man is an economic arsonist.
The last time Mubarak bothered to speak to his subjects was last Tuesday night – five days ago. To say that he has a tin ear would be the understatement of the year. He’s always treated Egyptians with utter disdain and he’s most likely in a vengeful mood. If he prevails, Egyptians will pay dearly for daring to rise up against his regime.
There is really only one story here and it is ever so uncomplicated. This is an uprising against an octogenarian dictator who could have done us all a favor by retiring two decades ago. After he goes, the remaining 84 million Egyptians can sort things out among themselves. Everything else is fiction.
Keep the faith – freedom is being born.