The world watched as younger generations in Egypt rose up against the old guard represented by 82-year-old Hosni Mubarak, who had been their President as long as most could remember.
On February 11, his Vice President, Omar Suleiman, announced that Mubarak had resigned, transferring authority to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces following 18 days of protests challenging his nearly 30 years of rule.
Most mainstream American media tried to get us to understand what was happening in corporate media’s terms. Run by major multinational conglomerates and funded by huge corporate advertisers, they did their best to keep our eyes glued to their screens and our minds interpreting the events in ways they could understand.
The White House reportedly watched events on the English version of independent Arabic-language news network Al Jazeera, which scares American politicians to death. American cable censored their reporting of Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Egypt from American eyes.
Corporate media filters ensured that Egypt would be seen in terms that are best for American business. Since we had propped up Mubarak by selling arms to his military, which made bokoo bucks for our arms industry, he was labeled s a “friend of the US,” which means “of US corporations.”
Like the ruthless old Shah, whom our CIA put back in office in 1953 by overthrowing Iran’s democratically elected president, Mohammad Mosaddegh, Mubarak could be counted on to spend money on us. It was about our oil companies then just as it’s about our arms-makers’ profits now.
In spite of criticism from the right to center-left, our President — thankfully — stood back with a message of support for the workings of democracy. While media pundits encouraged us to interfere, Obama allowed Egyptian people in their squares to determine their own agenda.
So-called media experts from the right and center threatened us again with the specter of “radical Islam” or stereotypes of “Islam” in general. To be feared was “the Muslim Brotherhood,” officially the Society of the Muslim Brothers, which was founded in Egypt.
The Brotherhood actually condemned the 9/11 attacks as well as all terrorism, and has so far had little influence on these young protesters, but is invoked to scare. In reality, even this group’s actions were dominated by a younger generation that wants Egypt to be a more open society and is not the same type of group as “Brotherhoods” in other Arab nations.
One hero for these protesters was secularist, Muhammad al-Barada’i, who had fled Mubarak’s wrath. Not a “friend” of past US administrations, we vilified him for reporting there were no WMD’s in Iraq as head of the UN’s Atomic Energy Commission while the world awarded him a Nobel Peace Prize.
Another hero was Egyptian Google marketing manager, 30-year-old Wael Ghonim, who wants to bring Egypt into the 21st century. Jailed for 12 days by Mubarak’s goons, he was a prominent leader of the protests. On January 25th he Tweeted: “Dear Western Governments, You’ve been silent for 30 years supporting the regime that was oppressing us. Please don’t get involved now.”
If threats of scary Muslims weren’t enough, American media used the headline “Concern for WMD Research in Egypt.” Did corporate media prefer another Iraq-style invasion?
In reality, Egyptian options are open enough that the Wall Street Journal could begrudgingly editorialize: “An Egyptian Iran may also be the least plausible scenario.”
What scared the media and our power brokers most was the fact that this was a real grassroots movement. Using the new media such as Facebook and Twitter, twenty- and thirty-something professionals planned and led the people into the squares.
The same new media that multi-nationals hope will distract youth from challenging the powers, was used to orchestrate the downfall of one of the ruthless. Instead of tweeting about inane, self-centered egoism, Egyptian young people used it to empower themselves for political and social change.
These were not people waiting for top-down action to lead them to their future. They were not taught to believe that the solution to our problems is electing the right leaders from a very limited number of bought-out choices who will heroically bring “change you can believe in.”
Their educations and history were steeped in the stories of the uprisings of ordinary people, casting out colonial powers, and knowing how even presidents they supposedly elected were invested in protecting politicians’ powerful benefactors.
They weren’t convinced that effective education was measured in the useless, inherently conservative answers considered correct on standardized tests created and produced by profit-oriented corporations that fear change. They believed in themselves.
They actually had read some of our great, people-oriented writers like Noam Chomsky and historian Howard Zinn. You know, the ones considered too “radical” for official, approved, American education.
They therefore knew they could choose hope. They didn’t settle in as jaded pessimists as many of those in power hope we all will, and many of our young people tragically have.
“Pessimism,” Zinn wrote in You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train (1994), “becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy; it reproduces itself by crippling our willingness to act.”
“That you can’t change City Hall is a rumor being spread by City Hall,” wrote African American lesbian writer-activist Audre Lorde. That there’s no hope for us to change things, she advised, is just what those with the power want us to believe.
Democracy can be messy and unpredictable. It’s scary for those who must wield control. In this case, though, it actually included cleaning up Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo after word of Mubarak’s fall.
Democracy has its victims. But when corporations kill, all’s very neat, tidy, and controlled.
We can see the difference when we walk into the neat, controlled, corporate-certified environment of Starbucks where even access to local media is limited, but then go next door where a local coffee shop provides its unique atmosphere and a disorganized variety of citizen-produced media that remind us of the messiness of true democracy.
“Hope,” workers’ writer Studs Terkel reminds us, “has never trickled down. It has always sprung up.”
Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas where he taught for 33 years and was department chair for six years, Robert N. Minor (he/him), M.A., Ph.D is the author of 8 books as well as numerous articles and contributions to edited volumes. He is an historian of religion with specialties in Biblical studies, Asian religions, religion and gender and religion and sexuality. His writing has been published in Whosoever since 2005 and he continues to speak and lead workshops around the country. In 1999 GLAAD awarded him its Leadership Award for Education, in 2012 the University of Kansas named him one of the University’s Men of Merit, in 2015 the American Men’s Studies Association gave him the Lifetime Membership Award, and in 2018 Missouri Jobs with Justice presented him with the Worker’s Rights Board Leadership Award. He resides in Kansas City, Missouri and is founder of The Fairness Project.