Irresponsible reporting in Fresno media

Egyptian clerics demonstrate against the regime

Egyptian clerics demonstrate against the regime

Today’s Fresno Bee has an editorial — most likely provided by McClatchy Newspapers, which owns the Bee — that could serve as a template for the dangerously uninformed foolishness that is being fed to Americans about what’s happening in Egypt. I’m going to quote it at length:

Events in Egypt are seesawing so quickly it is difficult to assess if the current trajectory points toward gradually escalating violence or a more orderly transition that will end President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule.

Yet here is what is clearly not happening — an Iranian-style Islamic Revolution.

As anyone watching television can see, the demonstrators filling Tahrir Square are not Islamic radicals calling for the equivalent of Ayatollah Khomeini to replace Mubarak. They are people from all walks of life demanding a more democratic form of government.

Many are highly educated, wired to the Internet and obvious admirers of Western institutions. With few exceptions, the banners and slogans of this courageous throng have not focused on religious concerns.

The young English-speaking demonstrators that are interviewed on CNN do not represent a majority of Egyptians — indeed, they are a tiny minority in a country where more than 40% of the population is illiterate in any language (among women, it’s more than half) and where 90% of the women have suffered genital mutilation. These people are not ‘wired to the Internet’ nor are they interviewed on television, but they will play an important role in choosing Egypt’s next government.

Egypt is not Iran. It has a different culture, a different history and a different language. Yet you wouldn’t know that from the blather spewing forth from many commentators, politicians and propagandists in Iran itself.

Of course Egypt is not Iran. Egypt is Sunni, and is Iran’s great rival for influence in the Middle East. But what is common to today’s Egypt and the Iran of 1979 is a well-organized Islamist opposition working to establish a state governed according to Islamic law, which institutionalizes superiority of Muslims over non-Muslims and men over women. Although such a regime might come to power by democratic elections, it would be ruled in a profoundly undemocratic way, by Muslim clerics.

Even the educated people who “admire Western institutions” do not in general like the US or Israel, whom they are prepared to blame for many of their problems. The rhetoric of the Muslim Brotherhood, the most popular Islamic group, has been viciously anti-American and anti-Israel.

The editorial continues:

In a speech Friday, the Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei said the protests are “echoes of the voice of the Iranian nation.” Clearly Khamenei hopes the protests will elevate Iran’s stature and influence in the region.

Undoubtedly, Mubarak himself is cheering efforts by U.S. pundits and others to make it seem like Islamist revolutionaries are driving the demonstrations.

Khamenei is gleeful that the Mubarak government, which has been close to the US and has had peaceful, albeit not friendly, relations with Israel, may be replaced by an Islamist regime. He’s for anything that reduces US influence and hurts Israel, although either way Egypt remains Iran’s rival. And of course Mubarak wants support in the US, which he won’t get if the opposition is thought to be democratic.

Indeed, it seems that the demonstrations were not initiated by the Brotherhood or other Islamists. It is probably correct to say that they were primarily sparked by economic issues and frustration with Mubarak’s repressive tactics, and were initially led by representatives of the very small group of well-educated reformers. But this does not mean that the ultimate outcome is likely to be anything but a victory for the Islamists.

A recent survey by the Pew Research Center shows that 59% of Egyptian Muslims agreed that democracy was the preferred form of government, while 22% disagreed. Of 8 Muslim nations surveyed, only Pakistan had a lower percentage (42%). And of the 31% of Egyptians that see a struggle between ‘modernizers’ and ‘fundamentalists’, 59% agree with the ‘fundamentalists’.

Keep in mind also that ‘democracy’ in the Middle East is understood as ‘elections’. Real democracy requires an independent judiciary, a free press, a commitment to protecting the rights of minorities under majority rule, accountability for law enforcement, etc. None of these things exist in Egypt today and will not appear automatically if elections are held.

It’s difficult to say just how many Egyptians would vote for a Muslim Brotherhood slate (Barry Rubin estimates that a joint ticket with a figurehead ‘moderate’ would yield 60%) because there have never been ‘free and fair’ elections in Egypt. However, if the Brotherhood plays any role at all in a government, it is expected to pursue its objective to institute Islamic rule in Egypt.

There is another option. The Egyptian Army and other authoritarian elements may find a way to continue their dominance without Mubarak. Real democracy is probably the least likely outcome.

The editorial concludes:

While there is undoubtedly a risk Egypt could descend into a civil war with uncertain results, that is most likely to happen if Mubarak clings to power and continues to unleash his goon squads against demonstrators.

There’s lots to worry about as Egypt and the Arab world undergo this historic moment of tumult.

Yet fearmongers do U.S. interests no service by embracing ludicrous and malicious analogies.

Actually, civil war is highly unlikely. There is no force strong enough to challenge the army, even the Brotherhood. And the reformers are entirely without power. So either the Brotherhood will take power peacefully and gain army support, or the army will install another conservative regime like Mubarak’s.

This editorial is both insulting — ‘blather’, ‘fearmongers’, ‘ludicrous and malicious’, etc. — and relies on feel-good wish-fulfillment ‘analysis’ based on watching TV rather than looking at actual facts. It does a huge disservice to those who get their news from local sources like the Fresno Bee.

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One Response to “Irresponsible reporting in Fresno media”

  1. Shalom Freedman says:

    The cover- up of the Islamist possibility is certainly another failure of Western media.
    I too share the view that a democratically elected Egyptian government would probably have some large Islamist element which would eventually take over.
    And my concern throughout these events has been of course that Egypt with its American- equipped Army will eventually become another enemy on another border, one far larger and dangerous than the others.
    On the other hand the ‘cold peace’ with Egypt has truly been a cold peace. The Egyptian media is one of the most vicious sources in the world of anti- Semitic propanda. There is an account in today’s “Jerusalem Post’ a traveler who was recognized as Jewish by a Sinai Bedouin at an Egyptian airport. He was arrested immediately and everyone who dealt with him practiced some kind of torture and cruelty on him because of their basic hatred of Jews. There was I might add one decent person who got him out of this at the end, when he understood that the man was not a journalist.
    But during the years of Peace the other side has not learned to really respect us or want to live in Peace with us.