Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Media & the Egyptian Revolution

I've been watching Al Jazeera, who, since they've (officially) been kicked out of the country are probably telling the truth. What's interesting is the priorities of the other news organisations in reporting the story.

The BBC interview Polly Toynbee, who asks "where are the women's voices?". Meanwhile sky is reporting from the airport where the main story is: not as you might imagine, the imminent freedom of 80m Egyptians from a dictatorial police state, but the ordeal of some white people with horrible accents, whose holidays have been ruined and are now (Oh. My. God. It's AWFUL) sleeping in the airport as they try to get home. Disgusted by the warped priorities on display, I turned back to Al Jazeera, where I saw hundreds of men & women, on the street chanting slogans. True, the women are not chucking rocks at the police in any great numbers, but they're there. That answers La Toynbee's stunningly ignorant and self-reverential question. The media organisations are projecting their warped idea of their viewers own obsessions onto the back-drop of an inspiring moment in history. Or maybe Sky is reporting from the Airport because it's CHEAP? Who knows.

The channel to which I've been glued is Al Jazeera English, whose live feed on Friday night was particularly telling - state TV showing a calm Cairo on the right hand side of a split screen. Fires from burning police wagons and protesters cheering the deployment of the Army on the left, as the police, responsible for most of the deaths, are chased from the streets. I might not agree with the editorial line taken by Al Jazeera all the time, and in fact I would worry if I did. But the network is a force for good in a region with few media organisations the people can trust.

At 11pm on Sunday, the BBC rang me: "What's going to happen to the oil price?". "It's going up", I answer, "how far depends on the other dominoes to fall". Egypt is responsible for 1% of world Oil production, 2% of refining capacity and the Suez canal & pipeline carries another 4% or so to the west. Operations of both are, so far at least, unaffected. One other country in the region is responsible for 14% of world production. And the question I'm asking myself is whether you or I would be willing to pay $200 per barrel or more (taking a tank of petrol well over £100) in return for the fall of the house of Saud? As predicted, let's hope the dominoes keep falling. And one-day if these revolutions usher in democracy, politics with the middle east might not be all about oil & terrorists. At moments like this, optimism is not necessarily naivety.



5 comments:

stanfordrivers said...

Why do the BBC need to have George Alagiah, John Simpson, Jeremy Bowen, Jim Muir, and John Sudworth all in Cairo (not to mention the camera and sound crews)? Is it because of the unique way in which the BBC is funded? (i.e. Give us your money or go to jail.)

Umbongo said...

I prefer living in a democracy and I suppose that the UK remains a democracy. However, even here the "people" don't get anything that the political class don't want them to have. For instance, rightly or wrongly, a substantial portion of the electorate wants a return of capital and corporal punishment. At least, given that referendums are not off the political agenda, they'd like a direct say on whether or not such punishments are reintroduced.

Not a chance! And this is a country that has taken almost 1,000 years to develop to a mature, functioning democracy. Your statement that "at moments like this, optimism is not necessarily naivety" is, IMHO, completely mistaken. In the history of the world, outside the societies of or descended from or remnants colonised by Europe there are no democracies although I might allow that Japan (which is a democracy of a rather special nature and only through the blessing of a benign US occupation) can be included. Even Russia, which enjoyed a semblance of democracy under Yeltsin, is effectively a criminal autocracy.

To consider that Egypt, or any place in the Moslem Middle East will become democracies (just because an elderly dictator is being removed relatively peacefully by "the street") is optimism so misguided as to comprise wrong-headedness to an extent usually only seen in the Guardian or on the BBC. I wish the Egyptians well but I'm old enough to remember the overthrow of Farouk and the installation of Neguib and then Nasser: not much "democracy" there.

Whoever benefits, I don't envy the Copts in this new "democracy". In fact, rather than dreaming about Westminster being duplicated in Cairo - or Riyadh - we should be preparing ourselves to welcome genuine (and mostly Christian) refugees from Egypt. I don't think the new Egyptian "democracy" will be pretty or, at least, no prettier than the dictatorship it replaces.

Jackart said...

Fair comment, Umbongo, to which I reply "we shall see".

I suspect most people round the world know the best places to live are democracies, and want some of the freedom it garuntees for themselves.

Are they going to create a liberal, secular democracy overnight? Of course not. But there has been little inter-religious violence. Indeed, christians stood guard over Muslims at prayer on friday.

The Muslim Brotherhood is not the only show in town - there are people like AlBaradei behind whom some of the protesters are swinging.

My optimism is not naive.

Anonymous said...

Best hope is that the military tell Mubarak to pack his bags and then put in a moderate interim government in place to manage the process for new elections. Oh, yeah, and crack down as hard as possible on the Muslim Brotherhood.

Anonymous said...

Spot on umbongo.

Democracy is not in their culture and is very, very difficult to accomplish.

The best way to destroy the world economy right now is $200 a barrel oil.

There was an error in this gadget