Sat 5 Feb 2011
Al Jazeera offers live coverage of events in Egypt on the internet
Not even Rupert Murdoch, the media mogul who I suspect lies awake at night (just as many of his news outlets lie throughout the day) thinking of new ways to manufacture news, could have imagined the current crisis streaming live on the cable channels and over the Internet for well over a week. America has had its tea party and birthers with Fox gobbling up Sarah Palin to supplement the loonies already on the payroll. I suppose the Israel/Palestine issue was getting too stale, so why not a domino fury across North Africa and the Middle East? No, Murdoch did not cause the overthrow of Ben Ali, the massive anti-Mubarak protests in Egypt, the ripple effect of less virulent protests in Yemen, Jordan, Syria, and Sudan. There are very good local reasons why the streets are filled with angry people from all walks of life (well not the corrupt elites who benefit from dictatorial spoils).
It is not about hating the United States, not when the signs spell out freedom and democracy instead of “Death to America.” It is not even about Islam, certainly not the silly rantings of Glenn Beck that a new chalkboard caliphate is in the making. It is about frustration that reached the boiling point, the astronomical rises in food costs, the lack of jobs, the growing income gap between the average person and friends of the regime. When you have a president alleged to be worth 40 billion dollars, you get the picture of why there has not been an end to the takeover of Tahrir Square in Cairo.
The protests will eventually end, perhaps as Mubarak leaves for exile, perhaps not. More people will be killed; more journalists beaten and expelled; more suffering all around. But before then, despite the temptation to twitter away our time watching the latest fuzzy videos from media cameras perched in hotel windows, we should start thinking about the revolution in the way this revolution is unfolding. In the Iranian hostage crisis, the crowds played to the television cameras for the evening news and then went home. Now the camera is never turned off, the reporters never sleep, the explosion of commentary seems incapable of abating.
What happens when a revolution is not only screamed but streamed live? Can we reach a point where it gets as boring as a video game that we have played far too many times? Can our eyes become so glued to the riveting skirmish scenes in Cairo that we lose sight of all the other news that still gets generated. Sudan is having a referendum to separate south from north; Lebanon’s government has emulated Italy’s governing prowess once again (and Hizbollah has no Berlusconi figure in its ranks); world markets fear a closing of the Suez canal… and the list goes on but only with a few short notes at the bottom of the screen.
At what point is saying the same thing over and over and over again just a reflection of the futility we as observers need to admit. I can watch, but I can’t get involved there directly; nor should I, except in spirit. Is it just a matter of time before some even greater crisis (or one pumped up as such) takes over? For many Egyptians the world has indeed stopped turning on its axis and the future is only about the present. There is a thrill in that and we can see it spilling out of the thousands upon thousands of photographs filling digital space. But what about us as viewers? So we don’t watch the sports games out of boredom. Few of us are not going to work, not eating normal meals, not filling the malls (even with icy streets).
I sometimes wonder what would have happened if our own American revolution had been streamed live back to Britain. Would King George have been able to muster enough troops to sail over to the dangerous New World, especially after all those nasty battles with the French? Would the French revolution have begun as fast as these Egyptian riots followed Tunisia? Of course, it is Whiggish nonsense to read back technological change into history. But what will future historians makes of this moment, this live political battle where the dirty linen is not only aired in public but pushed into the viewers’ faces? Even attempts to cut the power of cell phones and internet connections have failed. Political hacks are no match for angry young hackers.
Lots of questions, lots of anticipation about what answers will sort themselves out.
Daniel Martin Varisco
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