The Egyptian Revolution: Media, Myth and Reality
Tunis, January 14th 2011. Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali flees the country aboard his presidential plane, leaving a legacy of autocratic rule riddled by the Mafia and this ironically Gaullian phrase: "ana fahemtkum" (I have understood you), whose meaning was ambiguous only when delivered in 1958 in neighbouring Algeria.
Ben Ali's downfall and flight stupefied the region, particularly Egypt, as the subsequent procrastination of President Hosni Moubarak's ruling elite, the National Democratic Party, showed. Anxious to prevent the “Tunisian virus” taking root on the banks of the Nile, Egypt's political elite tried to emphasise the differences between their regime and the Tunisian autocracy. Another example, though more tragic: the ten attempted self-immolations in Egypt during the eleven days between Ben Ali's flight and the first stirrings of the Egyptian revolutionary moment on January 25th. Clearly convinced that the same causes would have the same effects, a few Egyptian citizens tried to spark off revolution by copying the Tunisian “martyr” Mohamed Bouazizi.
It was however another “martyr”, an Egyptian, whose name was used to urge people to rise up and “resist”, to “write history”. Those were the words used to call fellow-Egyptians on to the street, as used by the Facebook group “We are all Khaled Saeed”, a young victim of police brutality. The protest they called “historic” was arranged for January 25th, a bank holiday to honour a largely corrupt and unpopular police-force.
On that day, tens of thousands of Egyptians took to the streets in Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and many other provincial towns. The protest's success surprised an Egypt still mourning the bombing of Alexandria's church of Al-Qiddissin (21 dead, 79 injured) during New Year's Eve Mass 2010.
Apart from that, the protests were all the more surprising in that since the beginning of the century Egyptian political life had become known for its do-nothing approach. The decay at the heart of the Mubarak system found its best incarnation in Gamal Mubarak, youngest son of the presidential couple, who was being groomed to succeed a father increasingly marked by age. Since 2005 there had been a few liberal-seeming reforms. For example, until then the Rais had been appointed by referendum, but a constitutional amendment relegated that method as a relic of Nasser's era, replacing it with multi-candidate elections (although with very restricted eligibility). But aspects of the 2005 electoral law tentatively opened the way for an opposition, leading directly to the Muslim Brotherhood winning 88 seats in parliament (out of 444). Despite these small advances, none of the reforms healed Egypt's new wound: the implacable political stagnation which had smothered the country for nearly a decade. It became clear the reforms had been made for only one reason: to guarantee the hereditary transition of presidential power and place the ambitious young Gamal in the saddle.
During these protests, which abruptly terminated the ruling elite's autocratic projects, the role of the different media and their contribution to the “January 25th Revolution”, has been extensively aired. The terrible lack of objectivity – of journalists working for the 24-hour television news channels and of people using social networks such as Facebook and Twitter – has meant that different “myths” and collective beliefs have become accepted, although they are often a far cry from what really happened. This essay will take a fresh look at how the mantra of a “Facebook Revolution” became widely accepted, at some root causes of the protests in January-February 2011, and finally at the key moments of the eighteen days of mass revolt which put an end to thirty years of autocratic rule.
 Khaled Saeed's death on June 6th 2010 was well before Bouazizi's, and came 7 months before the beginning of Egypt's revolutionary moment. Although he was one of many victims of police violence, the photos of his body with his face badly beaten, almost unrecognisable, as well as the controversy surrounding the circumstances of his death (the forensic scientists at the ministry of the interior claim he choked to death trying to swallow a very large quantity of cannabis), will mark people for a long time, as the success of the Facebook page shows before January 2011. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_Khaled_Mohamed_Saeed
I. A “Facebook revolution”?
II. The deep roots of wrath
III. Eighteen days of working-c...
Tunis, January 14th 2011. Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali flees the country aboard his presidential plane, leaving a legacy of autocratic rule riddled by the Mafia and this ironically Gaullian phrase: "ana fahemtkum" (I have understood you) , whose meaning was ambiguous only when delivered in 1958 in neighbouring Algeria. Ben Ali's downfall and flight stupefied the region, particularly Egypt, as the subsequent procrastination of President Hosni Moubarak's ruling elite , the National Democratic Party , showed. [...]
Researcher in sociology of the Arabic world, centre Jacque Berque of Rabat