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Mass Media on Egypt: Admitting in April What Was Obvious in February

I now understand that the purpose of the mass media is to report on things that don't fit the agenda only after they have happened and are so blindingly obvious that ignoring them is impossible. Oh yes, and by then it's also too late to avoid catastrophes.

What prompted that conclusion is seeing that the mass media reports in April what was completely clear -- and which I reported--in February. I mean, just look at this Los Angeles Times article:

"The secular reformers and twenty-something urbanites at the vanguard of Egypt's Jan. 25 revolution have found themselves eclipsed. They lack experience and grass-roots networks to compete with the Muslim Brotherhood and other religious groups that have quietly stoked their passions for this moment. In a sense, Mubarak's obsession with both co-opting and crushing Islamists instilled in them the discipline and organization that now propels their political agendas."

Or in other words:

-- Yes, it was obvious back in January that this was a small group that would inevitably be eclipsed, but the mass media and the Obama administration said they would run the country and transform it into a liberal, modern democracy.

-- Yes, it was obvious back in January that the Brotherhood was well-organized, strong, determined, and possessing a compelling ideology. Will someone please compile a list of U.S. government, media, and "expert" statements saying the exact opposite?

-- Ha! Notice how the last sentence tries to blame Mubarak for this outcome? What they should be saying is: We were wrong when we said that it was a lie perpetrated by dictatorships that the only choice was them or the radicals. You are welcome to dig up quotes on that point.

Paragraph 2:

"The military council ruling the country has astounded many by permitting Islam a wider role. The Muslim Brotherhood, the largest opposition party, expects a strong showing in September's parliamentary elections. In Egypt's first taste of true democracy, the Brotherhood and more fundamentalist Salafist organizations told followers that it was their religious duty to vote to approve a referendum on constitutional amendments that benefited Islamists by speeding up elections. One of Egypt's leading ultraconservative sheiks, Mohamed Hussein Yacoub, influenced by Saudi Arabia's Wahhabi strain of Islam, was quoted as saying after the referendum had passed: 'That's it. The country is ours.'"

-- I wasn't astounded. We have been watching growing pro-Islamist feeling in the Egyptian army for years.

-- Yes, I guess you never thought that an Islamist group in a highly religious country (even by Muslim and Arab standards) would tell people persuasively that it was their religious duty to vote for Islamists. Allah wants you to vote for me! Pretty good campaign slogan. Even better than: Yes we can (turn Egypt into an Islamist state, fight Israel, and tell America to go drink the Nile).

-- Yes, we were repeatedly told that the Islamists were scared because peaceful democracy is shown to work.

Memo to experts, journalists, and government officials:

A revolutionary movement seeks to seize state power as its goal. A strategy is their long-term plan for doing so. Tactics are specific actions designed to fulfill that strategy and to achieve that goal. Violence and terrorism are only a tactic. If needed, other tactics -- running for elections, building a base through social welfare services, etc. -- can be used within the strategy to fulfill the goal.

Consequently, the use of elections or setting up afterschool activities for kids do not prove that a group isn't a radical and dangerous organization. And, besides, afterschool activities are good for spotting potential suicide bomber candidates.

Is it too much to ask that highly trained, expensively educated, and well-paid people who make decisions and report or analyze events understand the previous two paragraphs?

Another factor ignored generally has been the upsurge by "Salafi" Islamists, that is, those even more radical than the Muslim Brotherhood. Many of these people, and certainly their leaders, have been radicalized by the Brotherhood but want a faster pace and higher level of violence for the revolution.

The Financial Times reports:

"Attacks against citizens by ultraconservative Muslims have deepened fears of a surge in religious violence in Egypt during the country’s political transition after the fall of Hosni Mubarak as president."

And then it says something completely false:

"The attacks are being ascribed to followers of Salafi Islam, a purist form of religion whose conservative message was allowed to spread through society in the Mubarak years because it focused on morality rather than politics."

No, these are the people who waged a virtual civil war in the 1990s and were repressed by the Mubarak regime. Indeed, many of them responded to repression and long imprisonment by declaring that they concluded violence had been a mistake. The Mubarak regime defeated an Islamist threat precisely by not appeasing it.

Now these ultra-radicals are being released from prison and returning to their old ways, or at least feeling emboldened by the new situation. The article blames the problem on the Mubarak regime which will make it impossible to understand what's happening.

It continues:

"Egyptians have been shocked by news that Islamists cut off the ear of a Christian man in the southern city of Qena over allegations that he had a relationship with a Muslim woman. In the same week, hundreds of religious conservatives in a northern Nile delta town were reported to have ejected a woman from her flat and burnt it down because of rumours about her conduct. Salafis have also been accused this week of attacking and destroying the tombs of local Muslim saints in several small Nile delta towns. Salafis view the veneration of saints as a form of idolatry."

This is only the start. Here's what journalists miss: the key question is whether the army, police, and later an elected government will undertake the difficult, somewhat unpopular task of shooting it out with these people, catching them, and throwing them into prison, even if they "only" kill Christians or rough up women who don't conform to Islamist norms. For ideological and electoral reasons, I don't think this is going to happen.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at http://www.gloria-center.org