Getting it wrong
As the international news agencies parachute even more, and more eminent correspondents into Cairo, the real story disappears under a deluge of platitudes, misinformed commentary and a perverse persistence in reporting the ‘mood’ more than the events and reporting the events more than explaining the history and context.
The ignorance of journalists (this one included) should never be underestimated. The media watchdog Media Lens reports, for example, that the BBC’s North America editor, Mark Mardell, was asked why he kept talking of the $1.5 billion that the US pays out to Egypt every year as ‘aid’ when the best part of it ($1.3 billion) is military aid. His answer was to say ‘I confess I don’t know if it includes military aid. ... We are checking this out and I am trying to break down the figure.’
Duh. So let’s put him straight. The fighter jets that Mubarak sent to buzz the anti-government protests are from the US, as are the tanks that have surrounded the demonstrations. The shotgun pellets retrieved after Egyptian security forces fired on unarmed protestors had ‘Made in USA’ stamped on them, as did the tear gas canisters. The Egyptian military and police have kept the population of Egypt quiet (because they were terrified into silence) and the US has given them the means to do it. In the mendacious language of international politics, this is called ‘preserving stability’.
And they have been doing it since Jimmy Carter quite literally bought some peace with the Camp David Accords in 1978 by promising the Egyptian military $1.3 billion a year, for as long as they didn’t attack Israel. (The already better-off Israelis got $3 billion.) The payments to Egypt and Israel have represented the bulk of US foreign assistance over the years, or at least until they started wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (yes, the cost of fighting a war is counted as ‘assistance’) and far exceeded what was given to cesspits of poverty like Ethiopia or Haiti.
Wouldn’t a North American editor be expected to know this?
Perhaps not. The reporters on the ground seem to be no better informed and thus incapable of explaining why the pronouncements from Washington and other capitals are based on totally wrong-headed assumptions.
Let me say it clearly. Mubarak is a kleptocratic murdering despot whose disdain for democracy is matched only by his contempt for human rights. When he does his Louis XV impression and warns of the revolutionary chaos that only his ‘stability’ will prevent, he, the US State Department, Tony Blair and the herd of parroting pundits are using ‘stability’ in a strange way.
This is the stability of a pressure cooker at bursting point, stoked by corruption and brutality, with Mubarak saying if he just keeps the screws on, all will be well.
Ah but there is the prospect of an ‘orderly transition’ in the hands of the newly appointed Vice-President, Omar Suleiman. Now the closest the mass media get to the truth about this creature is to describe him as Egypt’s security chief.
This again is a bizarre use of language. ‘Security’ in Suleiman’s world means a whimpering, gibbering, bowel-loosening insecurity on the part of any poor soul who falls into the hands of his minions.
People in the wealthier apartments in Cairo tend not to report petty pilfering to the police, for fear that their doorman or night-watchman will end up in the backroom of the local police station with a broom handle being rammed up his anus in a ‘secure’ way of making him confess.
And while Mubarak merely presides over a system where torture is systematic, Suleiman actually joins in the fun and games, if the testimony of torturees can be believed. The State Department cables describe Suleiman as ‘not squeamish’. That’s code for ‘a dab hand with the electrodes on the testicles’. So reliable was he, that he was one of the CIA’s go-to torturers for extraordinary renditions.
Why would anyone expect a serial human rights abuser like this to be just the man for an ‘orderly transition’? Transition to what? Another Third Reich?
Now I am not saying that instead of trying to think of some new way of telling us yet again that ‘Tahrir’ means ‘Liberation’, the sober TV faces should be screaming abuse at the pillars of the Egyptian government, even if this would be a perfectly normal human reaction. But their multitudinous and well-documented sins should not be air-brushed out of the news.
And the governments of the ‘free’ world should not touch these vile excuses for human beings with a barge-pole. If only for fear of where they would shove it.