The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

The art of counter-revolution

We are please to introduce a new contributor, a journalist who has spent much time covering Egypt, Iraq and elsewhere in the region for nearly two decades. He goes, for now, by the pseudonym of Silawa. [Arabist]

A few days ago I was listening to state radio playing one of those stirring patriotic songs written shortly after the Nasser revolution, on the heroic Egyptian people. Ironic that state radio is playing the song, ironic that it was probably originally written to praise passive acceptance of the 1952 coup. But right now, the lyrics are spot on.

I have not been to Tahrir since the mob attacks on the protesters began. But what I'm seeing and hearing is amazing. People have braved gunfire and molotov cocktails. They have set up makeshift barricades and organized hospitals. Lifelong activists who once dismissed Egyptian youth as flighty and apathetic are coming away from Tahrir with their jaws agape at the persistance and ingenuity of this new generation.

But, when you wander the square or watch the protests on Jazeera, it's easy to forget that there are still millions of Egyptians who haven't been among the protesters, who distrust Arab satellite stations, and who derive their political narrative from state TV. Maybe they live in the countryside, and know their local NDP deputy (or NDP "independent") well, and have a well-connected family patriarch to vouch for them before the police. Maybe they don't have a little brother who dabbled in activism at the university, and had his head kicked in.

I spent yesterday speaking to people along some of the rural stretches the Cairo-Alex agricultural road. Almost everyone I spoke to was pro-Mubarak. They seemed to have been genuinely moved by Mubarak's resignation speech. They felt sorry for an old man humiliated.  They were against corruption, sure, but wasn't that just bad ministers? Clearly the ministers were misleading the president. Couldn't everything be solved by a cabinet shuffle? Why should a man who served his country for 30 years, keeping the country out of wars, be sent away?

These talking points are right out of the state press. You start to see some of the genius of the last two decades of information management. Allowing private Arab satellite news stations but not Egyptian ones: well, clearly those broadcasting all this footage are foreigners, out to destabilize Egypt. All those supposed "conflicts" reported in state press between the "president" and the "government": well, clearly that shows that Mubarak is the right one to supervise reform.

You don't need everyone to buy this narrative, but it's useful when your police and baltagiya hear it. That way, when they go out to break the heads of the Jazeera/Hizbullah-funded conspiracy against Egypt, they have a sense of patriotic purpose. It's useful when your soldiers hear it, because that way when they clear Tahrir, the're rescuing the country from chaos. Very likely the camel riders who charged the crowd two days ago were told that this was a good way to bring the tourists back.