CAIRO – The news and the images from Cairo and across Egypt that spread across
the world, beginning on January 25, moved and inspired millions.
RELATED:Reporter's Notebook: The day the music died in CairoDangerously underestimating the Muslim Brotherhood
the uncertainty about Egypt’s future and what it meant for Israel was very
worrying, watching a “velvet revolution” unfold in the Arab world’s largest
country was an amazing story of people power and unarmed determination trumping
tyranny and fear.
That was before I went to Cairo and spoke to people in
Tahrir square during and after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s historic
speech on Tuesday night.
Mubarak’s promise to step down in six months and
hold free election seemed to me, at least on the surface, to be a sort of
concession that could clear the protestors from Tahrir square and the streets of
Alexandria and elsewhere, and return some sense of normalcy to
It’s understandable why the protestors wouldn’t take a 30- year
despot 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
But we’re not supposed to believe that – not if you watch the cable
news channels, or follow the blogs and Twitter feeds covering the
Instead, this is a completely righteous protest movement supported
by most, if not all, of Egypt’s more than 80 million people.
according to the narrative, all of those who support Mubarak are paid thugs,
policemen in civilian clothing, or the poor unwashed masses that the state
threatened and extorted into coming into the streets. Either that or they’re the
upper-class collaborators who have benefited from Mubarak’s rule.
anyone tried to prove this? Have we seen any proof that all of the supporters
were government agents or cowed peasants? Has anyone really begun asking what
the other 79 million Egyptians who didn’t take part in the “million man march”
believe, or are they all being paid-off and hung-up by the fingernails as well?
The world media completely dropped the ball in covering this story. It’s
understandable and morally correct to side with democracy and human rights, but
not enough hard questions were asked.
The Egyptians protesting in Cairo
and elsewhere want Mubarak gone after 30 years of authoritarian rule? Fair
enough, but what is it they want in his place? Do they really want democracy, or
do they just want Mubarak gone and for a new man to come in his place and
promise them a better life? Is what they’re doing going to actually work, or is
the all-out, absolute devotion to staying in Tahrir – no matter the cost –
actually working against them? What role did the media play in fomenting this
strategy? The media was completely and utterly on the side of the protestors
from the get-go, and did not sufficiently challenge the messages coming from the
square – which seemed a vague mix of fury, resentment and demands for democracy,
“dignity” and “a better life.”
And how exactly did a man – who just two
weeks ago was portrayed as a rather benign dictator – become Hitler incarnate
overnight? Were we just never paying attention to the treachery of his regime,
or did this portrayal help the black and white narrative? Certainly, the Mubarak
regime’s paying or threatening Egyptians to fight and inflame tensions, and
Egyptian state media’s distortion of the facts on the ground, were treacherous
Also, the level of violence and intimidation practiced against
foreign journalists covering the protests was among the worst the world has ever
seen – and certainly didn’t help the world’s portrayal of Mubarak, or those
Egyptians who honestly did not want him to leave.
Nonetheless, while the
media should not err on the side of tyranny, or those who use torture and
intimidation to hold power, it should still always ask questions.
number of the Mubarak supporters in Cairo Wednesday were paid or threatened into
protesting and fighting the Tahrir Square crowds, but the media portrayed it as
though the entire Egyptian population wanted him to flee the country
immediately, and that he had no genuine supporters of his own.
concept that many of these protestors came on their own to Tahrir Wednesday is
not hard to believe, and idea that the natives must have been paid or threatened
smells of paternalism.
Many of the Mubarak supporters witnessed and
spoken to by this reporter were teenage boys or elderly men, religious women in
conservative Islamic garb and slightly overweight middle-aged men, who looked
exhausted and furious.
They numbered in the thousands in spots all over
Cairo beginning on Wednesday, and while some were very intimidating and pushy,
for the most part, the ones I spoke to were coherent, angry, and
Many, if not most of them, are people who haven’t worked or
had any income for over a week. It seemed their anger turned on the protest
movement – and became stronger the longer the instability, curfews and lack of
law and order in the country continued.
Egyptians who challenged the
opposition protestors were not all Mubarak supporters, rather normal Egyptians
from a variety of backgrounds expressing real frustration at the protestors
after Tuesday night. Many of them also want Mubarak out – they want change – but
they also want their lives back, they want the return of normalcy and then free
elections in six months.
Many said, “The people in Tahrir got what they
want, they won, why don’t they go home?” People expressed their belief that the
anti-Mubarak crowds accomplished a historic victory – a concession to the people
that is unprecedented in the Arab world – so what do they want now? Also, on the
surface level, many of the arguments made by the pro-Mubarak crowd actually made
a good deal of sense.
They said they feared the instability gripping
their country: The prospect that the fall of Mubarak would bring a war with
Israel and that the lives of millions of Egyptians would be lost.
these statements made more sense than what I heard in Tahrir Square, where the
courage and determination was moving, but the messages were mainly vague
statements about needing freedom, dignity, better jobs, more money, and the
immediate removal of Mubarak and his cronies, no matter the cost for the country
or the region.
The media needs to ask whether the protest movement has
shown great folly in staying in the square and vowing not to move until Mubarak
steps down, or whether they encouraged this obstinance.
It should also
ask if the anti- Mubarak protestors – who continued to fight to remove the
president when the wind already seemed to be blowing in their favor – are
foolish and obtuse in the extreme.
Make no mistake, the Mubarak
supporters, police and state security officers were the ones who started the
violence on Wednesday – and were the only people beating and harassing
foreigners and journalists.
The Tahrir Square protestors were mainly just
trying to protect themselves and hold the square at all costs – and were
becoming more desperate, angry, and terrified by the minute. Still, they were
more than capable of doling out their own violence – lynching people they
believed were undercover police officers or agent provocateurs.
victims received no fair trial and no quarter from the mobs.
a universal human right, and for the sake of Egypt, Mubarak must step down and
leave in six months, and the Egyptian people must get the freedom they
Those who opened their mouths against Mubarak after decades of
fear and statesponsored violence showed incredible courage and determination –
but their desire to keep pushing, to keep holding out and fighting should have
been questioned more by the media that descended in droves on Tahrir Square to
cover the upheaval.
Also, their demands, and the likelihood that the
country can promise them the future they want, should have been questioned and
not painted in clean black and white stripes.