Yesterday afternoon I watched the final death-throws of President Mubarak as he finally relinquished power to the military in Egypt. The end of a 30 year dictatorship where freedom of speech was rare and torture, imprisonment and execution were commonplace. An annual donation of armaments and $2 Billion from the American taxpayer supported this ancient civilisation. The sacrifice of those demonstrating and dying on the streets of Cairo, Alexandria and Suez will never be forgotten – true martyrs to the cause of Egyptian egalitarianism.
In 1956, 1968 and 1980 I listened to similar popular,but less successful, uprisings in Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland. I listened on the radio to “a harpoon being driven into the heart of soviet dictatorship.” In 1989 I saw on television the fall of the infamous Berlin Wall. World – wide, state television has since covered many mind boggling events, some in real time others heavily censored. It has become apparent that mass radical actions, whether for good or ill, need the oxygen of publicity. Not only were the controlled world’s news agencies present but so too were, perhaps for the first time, a new breed of reporter was,also present. Vox Pop. The social media seems to have spurred activism to the extent that social media is complementing traditional broadcasting and incumbent media companies need to learn how to use social media to their advantage. It is clear that the internet and the social media helped, initially, organize the protest but they continued to grow in size and intensity after the government shut down the internet and mobile networks. Any government that still believes it can hide events or misinform its citizens is simply delusional.
As I said yesterday because I had nothing better to do,I watched history beiong made for two hours but not only on BBC channels. I saw the same story unfolding on other news channels: France24, CNN, Al Jazerra and CCTV News. All showing the identical, real time, feeds from the centre of Cairo. Each interviewing people on the square, in university studio’s as far apart as London, New York and Beijing. The various newscasters handled the fluid situation with admirable professionalism and to my admitted surprise, with no national bias!
In the world of politics, America will continue to subsidise both Egypt and Israel as part of its ‘Middle East master plan’ pushing its own ‘unique’ definition of ‘democracy’. On the other hand China’s government is wary of any foreign upheavals that could reflect badly on its own authoritarian controls and will remain suspicious of what it sees as Western-led efforts to topple governments in other countries. “Stability comes before all else,” is a slogan that CPC officials use to sum up their domestic priorities.
The political ramifications will affect the entire world and will rumble on for months if not years. The media, both “traditional” and new, played a significant role as the events unfolded. And as Egypt enters a new era in its history, so does the roll of the media not only in the Middle East but much further afield.