A month ago, Tunisians were quietly selling camel rides to tourists on Hammamet beach. A week or so ago, Tahrir Square was a place on a map, not a place of pilgrimage. Watching Egyptians dancing like children in the square last night – I found myself wondering how many are really there because of deeply held political convictions – perhaps fewer than the media in its quite unnecessary feeding frenzy would have us believe. The square has become a refugee camp, with mosques acting as makeshift hospitals and doctors treating patients on the street. Mubarak’s promise to step down in six months and hold free elections seemed to me, at least on the surface, to be a reasonable concession that could clear the protestors from Tahrir square and the streets of Alexandria and elsewhere, get people back to work and return some sense of normalcy to the country. Washington, initially coy, now seems to agree.
It’s understandable why the protestors wouldn’t take a tyrant with thirty years experience at his word, but the country needs normalcy and stability desperately, and with each passing day the population became more and more hungry, exhausted and angry – with their patience for the protestors quickly running out. Did they really believe that by sheer volume of noise or weight of numbers the monoliths of power could so easily be persuaded to melt into the shadows on the whim of a minority? Cynical, wily old moi has the impression that there’s a devilishly subtle manipulative spin to all of this. The Egyptians have long memories and a history of post-colonial unrest. The overthrow of King Farouk, the British puppet king by military coup, Anwar Sadat’s accord with Menachem Begin at Leeds Castle in England for which he paid with his life and the thirty year rule of the present incumbent all have the thread running through them of the ending of despotic regimes as their apparent objective. Yet, power vacuums have a habit of allowing less stable, even worse ideologies to surface. The Israelis are, quite rightly, very nervous since Mubarak at least allowed neutrality on the Sinai Peninsula and the Muslim Brotherhood, or worse, will almost certainly not be so tolerant. It would be instructive to be a fly on the wall at Cairo mosques over the coming weeks. In any event, a pincer movement of Islamic states on three sides is going to make Jerusalem a little twitchy, and possibly even trigger-happy.
Listening to ‘Something Understood’ on the World Service this morning, the presenter used circular ripples on a pond as an analogy of life, intersecting and flowing mostly peacefully through each other. The same might be said of nations, until a seismic shift, a tsunami of bad-tempered change turns normally smooth ripples into a maelstrom of chaos, their waves breaking on the bulwarks of rigid, inflexible political rocks.
But, hey. Who am I to comment? I have never waved a protest flag in my life and watched student protests with detached amusement. We are informed with tedious and monochromatic regularity that the entire country, all eighty million, is behind Mubarak’s overthrow; this is a completely righteous protest movement supported by most, if not all, of Egypt’s more than 80 million people. H’m. What of the seventy-nine million bystanders like me, the non flag-wavers?
The narrative gains frills and flounces as it unfolds. All Mubarak’s hirelings are, we’re told, paid thugs, secret policemen in civilian clothing, or the poor unwashed masses that the state has threatened and extorted into hitting the streets. Either that or they’re the upper-class, traitorous collaborators who have benefited from Mubarak’s rule.
Has anyone sought proof? Of course not. Proof requires time, persistence and determination which the media is reluctant to acquire. In the propaganda chaos, it reports those who shout loudest, regardless of either the truth or accuracy of the noise they make. Have we seen any proof that all of the supporters were government agents or cowed peasants? Has anyone really begun asking what the other seventy-nine million Egyptians who didn’t take part in the “million man march” believe, or are they all either being paid off or hung up by the fingernails? In its excitement, the world media has dropped the ball. It’s understandable and morally correct to side with democracy and human rights, but not enough hard questions were asked at the right time. If the media cannot control its emotions it should keep its mouth shut.