A flawed message on Egypt

Azza Radwan Sedky
Tuesday 9 Jun 2020

Egyptians see the relationship between the current protests in the United States and the 25 January Revolution in Egypt from a different perspective than the Western media, writes Azza Radwan Sedky

Many a time, journalists in the New York Times and I do not see eye-to-eye. A case in point is a recent article in the Times entitled “In Egypt, images from American protests evoke a lost revolution” by US journalist Declan Walsh. Had he not used the word “lost” in the headline, he would not have got much attention, but it was there to corroborate his calculated intent. The aim is clear: to provoke animosity towards Egypt.

So, let’s first focus on the word “lost.” A “lost revolution” entails that what was supposed to come out of it did not transpire and that the situation today is as bad if not worse than what it was before it took place. That is exactly what the Times is saying, and the word “lost” gets that message across.

The writer compares the wave of public anger occurring across the US today to Egypt’s 2011 Revolution. He equates injustices that occurred in Egypt to police brutality and oppression in the US, both leading to a buildup of fury like no other. Is this a valid comparison? In a certain way it is. That memories of 2011 have been revived in the minds of Egyptians is true, but that is as far as the comparison goes, since Egyptians see the resemblances from a different perspective altogether that is not close to the article’s viewpoint.

When protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square called for bread, freedom and justice in 2011, Egyptians were ecstatic, but when looters and rioters exploited the situation to burn and destroy, forcing vigilant people to stand on guard throughout many nights as the venom spewed, Egyptians were disheartened, and solidarity waned. As much as Egyptians abhor injustice, they also loathe chaos and turmoil. They want to forget that part of the revolution, not be reminded of it.

The same grief is reflected towards the current situation in the US. What is happening in the US today has resulted from years of police brutality and blatant racism stemming from discrimination against African-Americans and others. And when injustice prevails, the backlash is horrendous. As George Floyd lay choking to death, all the citizens of the world, including Egyptians, felt devastated, but when pandemonium broke loose they also empathised with those who had had their stores looted and properties burned. “Images of flames, tear gas and anguish” are not scenes that Egyptians want to remember.

When the US magazine The Atlantic asks, “how should the oppressed respond to their oppressors,” the implication is that there should be toleration of destruction. I disagree, as sowing chaos can only backfire. Non-violent, peaceful demonstrations, or a single person repeating Floyd’s words “I can’t breathe,” leave everyone visibly and empathically moved, but the current disarray has left many sitting on the fence, such as when Egyptians were confronted with police stations torched, security withheld and citizens mobbed during the 2011 Revolution. 

Egyptians are drawing comparisons between the two events, but they are also telling Americans to watch out and be forewarned: the ramifications of disorder are not pleasant. As police officers in the US attack rioters and as white racists roam around carrying arms, some tweets have spoken to this, with many saying “watch out, citizens of the US, avoid getting into further trouble.” 

Other tweets have included “don’t these photos of chaos remind you of something horrid?” “Destroying property, which can be replaced, is not violence – WHAAT?” “The army will be called in. Isn’t the army supposed to remain at the borders?” The latter is a tongue-in-cheek reference to how the Western media reacted when the Egyptian army was called in during the 2011 Revolution. A darker tweet has been “drink from the same bitter cup.” 

Amidst everything that is occurring in the US today, Walsh believes in American democracy. The US “has a free press and follows the rule of law,” he says. More importantly, it has “no dictator to topple,” he adds, insinuating that Egypt does not have a free press, does not follow the rule of law and does topple its leaders. US President Donald Trump is no dictator, he says, though I have seen many articles in the US calling on him to “go,” making one wonder whether in the US there is a “lost revolution.”  

Walsh makes an astonishing comparison between Egypt’s president Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and Trump in his article. As protesters burn American cities, Trump “seems set on emulating his [Al-Sisi’s] spirit, if not his methods,” he says. If this is not double standards, I do not know what is. The comparison is disdainful and false. Trump speaks ill of anyone who does not accept his rule, has fired every intelligent being on his staff, has attacked and broken ties with countries that have acted independently, has annulled and spoken ill of many worthy agreements and has aired his racist views. Any comparison with Al-Sisi is delusional. I wish Trump would emulate Al-Sisi, as this would in fact do wonders for the US and remind its citizens of the meaning of respect. 

The writer cites the views of those who oppose Al-Sisi. Amongst others, he quotes novelist Ahdaf Soueif, who writes for the UK newspaper the Guardian, Belal Fadl, who now lives in New York City and Nancy Okail of the US think-tank the Tahrir Institute in Washington, who was sentenced in absentia to five years in prison in the court case involving local and foreign NGOs in Egypt. Only once does he cite a single unidentified supporter of Al-Sisi. 

For some Egyptians, the turmoil in America is an unwelcome reminder of the chaotic period in Egypt that only ended when Al-Sisi took over. “They’ve looted shops and torched police vehicles,” noted one Al-Sisi supporter on Twitter. “All they need is a Battle of the Camel and to torch the Scientific Institute,” references to incidents of violence and destructiveness that took place in Egypt in 2011.

Even when he cites a supporter of Al-Sisi in his article, Walsh adds his own spin, writing “noted one Al-Sisi supporter.” Take it from me, New York Times’ readers, this is the sentiment of most Egyptians, not just one Al-Sisi supporter. This article follows the course the Times has set for itself on Egypt, but, like its other prejudiced articles, it should not be taken seriously. Impartial reporting, it is not. 

The writer is an academic and political analyst. She is the author of Cairo Rewind on the First Two Years of Egypt’s Revolution, 2011-2013. 



*A version of this article appears in print in the 11 June, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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