American Journalism’s Blind Spot – Egypt As Case Study

American journalism’s coverage of Egyptian events is flawed in many ways. Two salient mistakes are: (a) the simplistic and incorrect assumption that Facebook and Twitter are proximate causes to the uprising; and more seriously, (b) ongoing and inappropriate focus on Mubarak individually. Everyday it’s the same — the dictator is the regime/government/ruling elite. For flavor, ‘sophisticated’ analysis separates out the Army as an independent actor — meanwhile assuming that some unified, monolithic, single minded entity called ‘the Army’ even exists. You’d think we’d collectively learned something since 1989. Apparently not.

American journalism is surprised by recent events despite its inevitability. Why? Besides Mubarak, over the decades tens of thousands enriched themselves at the Egyptian people’s expense. This entire strata is under threat by Mubarak’s removal. Obama’s push on Mubarak poses a potential fight or flight instinct for the entire apparat and threatens their ill-gotten wealth. It’s utterly wrong for cable talking heads to toss out seemingly broad words like ‘the government needs to be stopped from causing violence.’ The ‘government’ proper is only one constituency of entrenched interests under threat. And ‘the Army’ another among many if clearly primus inter pares.

It’s all fine for the new Prime Minister to declare the planned chaos, violence and crackdown ‘a catastrophe.’ Better still when the new government freezes the assets of the former Interior Minister and other minions and revokes their passports. Not all would agree. Some Israelis likely were quietly pleased with the riposte.

Haven’t you noticed how Americans still think about decapitation as an individual’s fate? Meanwhile the entrenched apparat is scrambling to transfer, hide or otherwise preserve its wealth. Mubarak agreed to a transfer of power in September reluctantly. That was ok. His health was failing. His ruling apparat-approved successor wouldn’t rock the boat. Plus, September granted a breathing period. Not only to for another throw of the dice. It’s enough time for wealth transfer. The Internet was not just restored for media manipulation.

Is more time for Mubarak ‘right’ or ‘moral’? If you’re reading this, then you, like the Stiftung, would answer no. But the harder question is whether some time is ‘necessary’. Mubarak gone now without more could trigger essentially a ‘stand or die’ threat to strata far beyond Mubarak’s immediate entourage. Mubarak’s replacement by his appointed VP might be enough to forestall that reaction. We support the Administration’s ‘now means yesterday’. A shame American journalism doesn’t understand this situation transcends the fate of one man.

Naturally, Mubarak’s pride, ego and vanity are involved. We don’t doubt he’s being encouraged by peers in the region. And factions within the ruling strata are doubtless splintered. Meanwhile, a corned opponent is the most dangerous — doubly so when that opponent is more than one man or institution, etc. By that light, with an entire ruling strata at risk, recent events follow an inexorable logic.


  1. Dr Leo Strauss says

    Cogently put. Agree that their path may have zigs, zags, and unexpected twists. The Latin American examples do prompt one to be sober beyond the tactical events of this moment.

    The U.S. did reach a low point 2001-2008 but spending some time recently among hard core Rightists and given the Obama Administration’s addiction to premature flinching, one wonders if a deeper low might be reached by a different path.

    The U.S military’s (and other entities) cyber and communications warfare capabilities have grown far beyond 2004 levels which seem almost quaint now. Imagine the chaos as millions of protesting Americans are suddenly deprived of Farmville – they fill trip over themselves to show obedience and thus get back into Facebook. The horror.

  2. Anon says

    Is more time for Mubarak ‘right’ or ‘moral’?

    Having seen a dictatorship crumbling in a place several friends and family had crossed paths with the military and ended up in jail. my answer might surprise you. Waiting a few months after decades of corrupt military ruling is not only right or moral, it is also prudent too.

    I see it as akin to the GW’s admin stupidity of De-Ba’athification of Iraq which created much chaos and left a void easily filled by other opportunists just as corrupt as the ones removed.

    A military backed kleptocracy corrodes the society at large. Some join it’s ranks to get power or money, many look the other way for fear, very few reach the end of it without having done things they aren’t proud of. In a sense, the entire country gets corrupted and dependent of the powerful elites because decades were spent to create this structure.

    I fear for Egypt the journey to cleaning it’s society will be long. In South America where such revolutions occurred 30 years ago we are still having many problems that stem from the military juntas era.

    I hope US manages to avoid ever falling that low. With Cheney it got pretty close me thinks. But what the hell do I know ?

    PS: Doc, I remember a pentagon project ready 10 years ahead of schedule, one about knocking out communications without damaging any tv station or cell tower. Was ready a month before the 2004 elections. My South American spidery senses for martial law tingled like crazy that month… What was that all about ? Is it still up ?

  3. Dr Leo Strauss says

    On Day 12, finally:

    The 470,000-strong Egyptian military is far more than just a defense-related institution; like the Chinese military, it controls a wide array of factories, hotels and businesses, and its generals constitute a stratum of Egypt’s elite.

    “Egyptian military officers are in the upper echelon of society,” said one former U.S. general with extensive experience in the Middle East and Egypt who spoke on the condition of anonymity to preserve his relationships in the region. “The biggest question for the Egyptian military is whether or not there will be a whole-scale change in the Egyptian elite, because the senior military officers are so much a part of that elite. . . . They may be indifferent on whether Mubarak stays or leaves.”

    And people think it’s only Fox Viewers who are information challenged.

  4. Comment says

    Shavit makes some points – but he is tailor his memes for anti Obama consumption. Obama was on far cooler terms w/ Mubarak when he went to Cairo, than W had been. This idea of W hurling democratic thunderbolts from Mt. Crawford is just a joke.

  5. Comment says

    Read Pat Lang’s blog we could not help but notice that one of Richard Sale’s posts quoted Larry Johnson on some aspect of Agency incompetence in Beirut – The idea of treating Johnson as some sort of Wise Man or Greybeard seems ridiculous – He comes across as extremely unimpressive – a symbol of what the Agency fell to when it fell out of favor with the academic elite – Unless we are wrong and he is some sort of spy genius with a rube ruse public image.

    We forget the details – but we recall reading Johnson when the Plame thing started – We often posted anonymous corrections to his error-strewn posts because we were both rooting against Scooter – Anyway, he was very resentful and defensive when his errors were noted.

  6. Comment says

    Just saw Marty Peretz on Piers Morgan – Funny that he complained about not getting TV bookings before -=because he is such a mess. He had bile coming out of his eyeballs as he gleed about journos getting what they deserved in Cairo. He’s still mad at the vague mild criticism Obama hinted toward Israel when he spoke to students in Cairo.

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