The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Street Level

One of the problems I often encounter when watching main stream media outlets or reading what used to be the definitive national newspapers or magazines is that I’m only getting half the story—the part that fits the Left-leaning narrative of the vast majority of MSM editors and reporters. I have had that feeling over the past week as the unrest in Egypt unfolded.

If you are to believe CNN or The New York Times, the Egyptian demonstrators are a collection of peaceful, college educated activists who are striving for utopian freedom. They are revolting against a tyrannical dictator with no redeeming values who has raped and pillaged his country for 30 years. Power to the people!

Islamist thugs who lurk in the background biding time before they make their move are mentioned only in passing. The dangers of “change” in a major Arab country are discussed only in the abstract and illusions to the Iranian Revolution are muted even when they do occur (which is rarely).

But then, along comes Sam Tadros, an Egyptian student who is on the ground in Cairo. Tadros provides an unvarnished look at the revolution from street level—a look that the MSM cannot or will not provide. Reinforcing a meme that has been beaten to death my the MSM, Tadros agrees that social media tools have had a major impact. But unlike the MSM, he provides us with useful insight:
For an apolitical generation that had never shown interest in such events the demonstration [in Cairo’s streets] was unprecedented. More remarkable they were tremendously exaggerated. At a moment when no more than 500 demonstrators had started gathering in that early morning, an Egyptian opposition leader could confidently tweet that he was leading 100,000 in Tahrir Square. And it stuck.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that after 58 years of organized state propaganda, people would not believe for a second the government's media machine and its coverage of the events. Why they chose to believe the alternative propaganda needs more explaining. People believed the twitter messages and the facebook postings because they wanted to believe them.

As the situation on the streets devolved, Tadros describes the chaos which was noted only peripherally in the MSM:
Saturday was indescribable. Nothing that I write can describe the utter state of lawlessness that prevailed. Every Egyptian prison was attacked by organized groups trying to free the prisoners inside. In the case of the prisons holding regular criminals this was done by their families and friends. In the case of the prisons with the political prisoners this was done by the Islamists. Bulldozers were used in those attacks and the weapons available from the looting of police stations were available. Nearly all the prisons fell. The prison forces simply could not deal with such an onslaught and no reinforcements were available. Nearly every terrorist held in the Egyptian prisons from those that bombed the Alexandria Church less than a month ago to the Murderer of Anwar El Sadat was freed, the later reportedly being arrested again tonight.

On the streets of Cairo it was the scene of a jungle. With no law enforcement in town and the army at a loss at how to deal with it, it was the golden opportunity for everyone. In a city that is surrounded with slums, thousands of thieves fell on their neighboring richer districts. People were robbed in broad daylight, houses were invaded, and stores looted and burned. Egypt had suddenly fallen back to the State of Nature. Panicking, people started grabbing whatever weapon they could find and forming groups to protect their houses. As the day progressed the street defense committees became more organized.

And the future? Again, more insight from a Egyptian college student than Anderson Cooper, Nikolas Kristof and Cristianne Amanpour combined:
Security wise the situation is a disaster. It might take months to arrest all those criminals again. Moreover no one has a clue how the weapons that were stolen will ever be collected again or how the security will ever regain its necessary respect to restore public order after it was defeated in 4 hours. More importantly, reports indicate that the borders in Gaza were open for the past few days. What exactly was transferred between Gaza and Egypt is anyone's guess.

You seem to wonder after all of this where El Baradei and the Egyptian opposition are. CNN's anointed leader of the Egyptian Revolution must be important to the future of Egypt. Hardly! Outside of Western media hype, El Baradei is nothing. A man that has spent less than 30 days in the past year in Egypt and hardly any time in the past 20 years is a nobody. It is entirely insulting to Egyptians to suggest otherwise. The opposition you wonder? Outside of the Muslim Brotherhood we are discussing groups that can each claim less than 5,000 actual members. With no organization, no ideas, and no leaders they are entirely irrelevant to the discussion. It is the apolitical young generation that has suddenly been transformed that is the real question here.

Where Egypt will go from here is an enigma.

Sadly, bad people who have organization and brutal methods (a.k.a. the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood) tend to fill a power vacuum much more rapidly that urbanites with liberal goals. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen in Egypt, that the Army takes over and a stable transition of power occurs. But I wouldn’t bet on it.