May 20, 2013
Dispatches From Cairo: Manipulating the Mob
Posted on Sep 12, 2011
Editor’s note: We asked Lauren Unger-Geoffroy, an Arabic-speaking American who lives in Cairo, to share her perspective of life in Egypt after the revolution. In this entry, she writes about the raid on the Israeli Embassy and the forces vying to steer Egypt’s huge youth movement.
Wisdom stands at the turn in the road and calls upon us publicly, but we consider it false and despise its adherents.
Sunday was 9/11, the world played harmony to America’s strange, huge memorial to the end of the era of security, and still no clarity.
Anyone who didn’t already see that Egypt’s massive youth movement was being played, as young and clueless as it is courageous and strong and nationalistic—and as easily provoked as a crowd of edgy football fans—has seen it now. On Friday its unfortunately predictable pent-up mob energy followed the obvious path to the most visible enemy, and acted out without purpose in storming the Israeli Embassy, damaging the image of the movement’s success in the eyes of the world.
The Friday sermon at the mosque on my corner, broadcast through loudspeakers, was fiery and impassioned, calling for the courage to continue the revolution, to not be weak and to not let the corrupt and the evildoers regain power. To not let the military keep the power. To never submit again to tyranny! That Israel must repent for its brutality. That we must stay pure and devoted to our country and follow the Quran, and that faith in Allah and the example of the Prophet will guide and protect us.
Who were these protesters following? Did this coalesce without instigation? The majority of people feel uneasy, suspecting that they were manipulated.
Saturday continued in the logical progression of such things as, dazed and bruised as the adrenalin rush subsided, but still sullenly self-righteous, the crowds turned their focus upon blaming someone for their misguided action and sudden apparent loss of advantage. Unsure and hesitant spying accusations were muttered all over the street and the social and local media.
Today [Sunday] as heads begin to clear of the residual primal hormones and mouths sensed the acrid aftertaste of tear gas residue, many realized the big fail that they had mindlessly accomplished. Some became lucid enough to try to piece together this failure.
On the tail of Israel’s crossing the border and killing innocent Egyptian officers, while bombing civilians in Gaza, and then refusing to apologize to Turkey for killing nine of its civilian activists, Israel’s image as aggressor, menace and enemy has become a beacon of cohesion for a simmering Egyptian agitation.
While the USA is absorbed in the 10 anniversary of 9/11, still overwhelmed by emotion and unconcerned with examination of that historical event’s murky details, Syria is blocking humanitarian aid and communication, Turkey is coming here to Egypt to make a bid for alliance, and Saudi Arabia is offering billions in financial support with unclear conditions. At the same time, Egypt’s revolution is facing its demons, having engaged in several skirmishes with the police and supporters of the old party outside deposed President Hosni Mubarak’s trial for killing protesters. Later there was violence at a football stadium, followed by the attack on the Israeli Embassy. But who was leading this crowd?
Who benefits from this degradation of the revolution?
Now Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) can claim justification in making a tougher stance on protests. Israel and critics of Egypt see justification in their negative viewpoint, and Egypt loses dignity and face.
The football mentality is the people at their least common denominator, as is tribal-type loyalty and the rallying point of Palestine and “martyrs” and a few other instant-reaction buttons, to which the youthful and inexperienced “revolutionaries” have no resistance. Without strong leadership it is easy for anyone with a strong agenda to take over the minds of the uncalculating and excitable masses, and thus the streets of Egypt.
Though there was a new trend of freedom in media expression, the official pressure to not criticize the military has come to a head in the raid on the Egyptian Al-Jazeera television network, concurrent with the Egyptian and Israeli governments’ attempts to re-establish their awkward peace after Friday night’s attack on the Israeli Embassy.
Egypt’s minister of media, Osama Heikal, had warned that the government would take action against stations that “endanger the stability and security” of the nation, and some fear this could be the beginning of the end of the freedoms of expression gained since the overthrow of Mubarak in February.
Ahmed Zein, Al-Jazeera manager, said officers in plain clothes entered without showing a warrant or identifying themselves, confiscated equipment and arrested an engineer operating it. “If broadcasting the truth is considered endangering stability,” he said, “then it is an honor for any media outlet to be endangering stability.”
Journalists and news organizations are required to have their information vetted by the military before publication; some journalists and bloggers have been summoned for questioning about their writing or broadcasts.
Fortunately things appear calmer now. The Mubarak trial has been postponed until the emergency has passed. But maybe the government will undo that decision, as it did the visa limitation, which was decided and then undecided in two days. Is trial postponement a component in still another agenda? Oh, there are so many agendas on all sides.
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