We Are Not All Egyptians Now

We Are Not All Egyptians Now

When I first heard the word "revolution" bandied about regarding Egypt, I kept thinking the media was jumping the gun a bit, but I couldn't exactly explain why that was so. Now I think I do. 

This isn't a revolution we're seeing, it's an uprising, and it's more than semantics. As far as anyone can tell, the ruling elite is still in power, namely the object of the uprising, President Hosni Mubarak. His newly appointed vice president, Omar Suleiman, seems to be taking a much more public role, and the cabinet may have been dismissed, but the power structure is still there. Mubarak seems to be seeing if the protesters can be waited out. 

And there's some indication that this strategy may work. The number of protesters has thinned a bit because people are getting tired of it all. The government says it will start talking to the opposition, and Mubarak says he won't run in September, but in a true revolution, he would be nowhere to be found. The revolution in 1956 that brought in Gamal Nasser did not ask King Farouk to hang around at all. Stability is a much desired thing, but most revolutions throw out the existing order. That's not what is happening here. 

That's not to downplay the drama and what it portends for the most populous Arab country. But just as some in the Western media have questioned the automatic and fawning attention on social media, you have to question the entire package that's been presented for American audiences. We're all told this is a "revolution," replete with an army of instant experts to inform President Obama about what he should do. You have the partisan lines quickly drawn in the sand about What All of This Means, with the right wing worried about the potential role of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the left wing denying that the Muslim Brotherhood is nothing more than a social service organization. 

All of these accounts are overinflated. The Left's sudden shock about learning that Mubarak's is an oppressive regime is as shallow and reactionary as the Right's wailing about an Islamist state suddenly rising as if out of nowhere. Everyone wants to package this story into an easily digestible dinner before people get bored of it and change the channel. Ours is a world where earth shattering events are measured in the number of stories that can be milked out of the situation before the ratings drop. We don't really care about what happens in Egypt precisely for the same reason we've forgotten about the daily dying in Iraq and Afghanistan: we don't want to bother our beautiful minds with such stories. We like hearing the phrases "democracy" and "free elections," because that makes us feel good. We can look upon the Egyptian people as if looking in a mirror, but the moment will pass and we want to be entertained by something else. 

If you think this is harsh, let me ask you something: what's the last story you read about Tunisia and its "Jasmine Revolution"? From a media perspective, the country has fallen into a black hole; you just don't hear anything about it anymore. If the play that Mubarak is making to make an "orderly transition" (to what?) goes through, people will just change the channel. Americans are just not that interested in the details or the long-term implications: we want a narrative, a hero, a villain and a few factoids to make us feel informed enough to have an opinion, as told to us by intrepid reporters who always manage to inject themselves into the drama.

Then we go to commercial.