Center for World Conflict and Peace

Center for World Conflict and Peace

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Egypt Part Deux

Here's a quick reaction in responses to interesting news updates on Egypt in the past few days.

The New York Times' Robert Mackey noted the importance of the social media in challenging the official narrative of the violent events, in essence providing the voice to the oppressed and their unofficial and underground narrative.

It is interesting to observe how the Egyptian officials initially reverted back to how the state operated during the days of Mubarak, squelching the voice of dissenters and using the official media to split the opposition by wrongly claiming that it was the Coptic Christians who provoked the violence.

The coverage of the state's news media is now under a harsh spotlight. The state-run Channel One TV host Rasha Magdy's hate-mongering and religion-baiting, which served to incite the population to attack the Copts, led to many condemnations from even within the Channel One itself.

On Tuesday, the Egyptian government did an about-face. The government declared that it would launch a probe on the unrest and would try to address many of the Copts' grievances. Whether this is just a ploy, simply some soothing rhetoric and then back to business-as-usual, remains to be seen.

Still, the fact that it took one riot that cost more than twenty lives and lots of negative international attention in order to spur the government to do something signals that something is wrong with Egypt. Indeed, the events beg the following questions: What if the Salafis launched massive demonstrations? Would the government protect them, preferring not to inflame Egypt's Muslim population? Or would it crack down on them, just like did to the Copts?

The riot in Egypt also shows the advantages and limitations of social media tools. Social media are useful in order to get information out as soon as possible, which can do a number of things, such as galvanizing support for causes, disseminating counter-narratives, and so on. At the same time, we also need to recognize the fact that, in the Egypt case, the counter-narrative had to be sent abroad, to non-Egyptian media, in order to make an impact (i.e. international pressure), because the military had stormed (and controlled) news outlets in Cairo during the protest and quashed any evidence of its brutality.

Here, social media could not be used to make a "Hollywood Ending," where a set of words and images are smuggled into a news station, the brave personnel broadcast them, thereby mobilizing the masses, to end the violence and state's brutality upon its population. Social media could not save the day on its own. Social media is becoming an increasingly important tool of communication and organization, but it's ultimate utility is often circumscribed by other, more important factors.

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