Dispatches From Egypt: Bin Laden News Lands With a Thud
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. Here she shares her doubts about the big news, and her surprise over her neighbors’ nonplussed reaction.
OK, shock-and-awe reporting from Cairo: Why am I reacting more than anyone around me?
The news of Osama bin Laden’s death was received relatively unspectacularly in Egypt and the Arab media. Yes, there were some halfhearted protests, but they were small, nonrepresentative and easily dispersed. As the Arabic newscasters repeated the changing scenario — rewritten daily by the U.S. media — the majority here in Cairo accepted the contradictory and unlikely recounts in their typically unconcerned fashion. Of course this is a people who are used to a media which manipulates them through “spin” propaganda and misinformation and, well, lies used to align the public’s reaction to the media’s own agenda. All this “fogginess” lessened the impact of the bin Laden development.
Certainly it is less significant and is commanding less coverage and interest than the revolutionary battles raging now in Libya and Syria, with hundreds of civilians being killed as they struggle to overthrow their own corrupt governments. This is what we are living, where our attention is. This is the new page for the Arabic peoples; this is what counts. They say, “God have mercy on Osama. We were not with him and we were against his methods, but he was a symbol to the Arab people that they are not impotent.”
Yes, many feel slighted as Muslims by the dumping of his body in the sea — “if it is true” — but they feel this is just typical of the United States’ disrespect of Muslims and no big deal about Osama. And they are a bit sad that this icon of Arabic resistance to the USA superpower dominance has been killed so ignominiously, if that is indeed what happened. But the truth is he is not really that important to the vast majority here, who are also somewhat relieved and dare to nurture a tiny hope that the loss of this iconic image of Arabs as dangerous terrorists and enemies may soften the animosity that the West has held toward them since 9/11.
Most Egyptians I talked to were surprised at my concern about the “truth” of the story and the shameless incoherence of the report, and my shock at the gullibility of those who believed the account, accepting that the U.S. government had dumped into the ocean all proof of its success in needlessly killing the unarmed most valuable intelligence asset on the planet. There were video cameras on the helmets of some of those who attacked the bin Laden compound — President Obama and his inner circle saw it all in the Situation Room, and we saw them see it! — but, oh!, oops no video, there was a 25-minute blank. A terrible firefight, bullets flew! Oops, the one photo of a mattress and blood. Where are the impact marks in the walls of all those bullets? Pops, no, he was unarmed. What about that weird fake photo “leaked”? Today [Saturday] there is a video of a quarter view of a bearded old man watching Osama on TV, that’s supposedly him, um, before. …
“Malesh, malesh,” they tell me. “It doesn’t matter. Accept that he is dead, they killed him. It’s not important — he is not important to us. It doesn’t change anything if the story is not true. Accept it and things will be better, God willing.”
They are more concerned about positive things, like the huge success here in Cairo last week of negotiations in the long struggle for unification of the Palestinian government, a diplomatic coup for Egypt and a true possibility for a stable and peaceful independent country of Palestine and the coming of peace — though Israel’s refusal to deal with this new government on the grounds that it has absorbed the Hamas has put a slight damper on the accomplishment.
Egyptians are talking about their nation’s diplomatic success with Ethiopia — about the threat of the proposed Ethiopian dam to divert a massive quantity of the Nile’s water away from Egypt. Panic and menace were hovering. But finally, the people cried, Egypt is the mother of Africa, the Nile, history of civilization, the greatest population — and Ethiopians agreed they are with Egypt, will count on Egypt and will work with Egypt to find a mutually suitable solution.
These are the topics of the day, overshadowed by Libya’s agony and the reported 800 dead in Syria as of last night, and we are watching this on TV. And tonight in an extremely poor area of Cairo where there are undereducated, very hotheaded fundamentalist Salafi and also Coptic Christians, there was a fight between two families over a girl who wanted to convert from Islam and marry a Christian, and a number of people apparently were killed. This is local drama, like anywhere. … Of course the predominant visuals are of our ongoing revolution, now in the formative stage of its new government. The images from February still dominate the Egyptian media, the discussions, music, art. National pride first, as we all observe.
There are also developments in the fragile tendencies of political-social-religious affiliation. The Islamic faction is split between the Muslim Brotherhood, itself split among camps, and the fundamentalist Salafi, from whom the Brotherhood adamantly disassociates itself. The Liberalist faction is dispersed among many potential candidates. The religious tension you hear about is rather media-exaggerated, and the consensus here is that most of those incidents are caused by the “thug” technique of trying to use false Salafeen to destabilize and discredit the Islamic parties. I will explain all of these subtleties in another article.
There is certainly the possibility that as the “fog” wears off, and principals here organize their thoughts, some others may find use for “spin” off the Osama killing to shift some public sentiment. People move on quickly these days. … I will keep you informed.
Frankly, I was surprised by the blasé reaction to Osama’s demise and the blatantly unconvincing spin. There was not much discussion even on Egyptian Facebook — the news just doesn’t touch Egyptians that much. And, of course, truth in media is never assumed here, and more and more the people just accept its absence and say “OK, whatever.”
Maybe I am imagining that it’s important or that something has changed. Was the USA always so noncredible in media and government reporting — like a Third World patriarchal dictatorship doping the masses with nationalistic rallying and threats from “others” and sloppy propaganda? People here say, yes, the USA is always like that; we know, and it doesn’t matter. Awww. Malesh. Sorry to be a party pooper. OK. Yay!
And I suppose that since al-Qaida’s people, wherever they are, accept his death, it is irrelevant whether or not there was a body or if it was his or if he died the other day or long ago or what anyone might doubt. America is still strong, and thank God for a piece of glory and closure and a victory boost for President Obama’s popularity. And then …?
There is an African saying:
“The stories of the lion hunt will always glorify the hunter, until lions learn to speak.”WAIT, BEFORE YOU GO…
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