On 25th January, one year ago, Egyptians first took to the streets in protest against the repressive autocratic government led by Hosni Mubarak. The people were victorious, Mubarak was removed, but transition has not been smooth as the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) temporarily filled the vacuum of power.
Egypt is now merely days into the preliminary formation of a democratically elected government, an acrimonious task if headlines are to be taken at face value. One pressure that the embryonic Egyptian parliament will have to face is the global media glare and inevitable spin toward promoting ructions and disagreements.
It isn’t that journalists and commentators want the Egyptian parliament, or the will of the Egyptian people, to struggle or fail, but that the marketing environment which dictates the newspaper agenda has little in common with promoting progression and positivity.
Tahrir Square in Cairo was bustling on the anniversary, a diverse gathering of dominant and fringe political groups. This meeting of antithetical attitudes suggests that many pens are poised to write headlines of clashes and violence. Before the revolution, this focus worked beneficially by internationalising the societal beliefs of the dissenting masses. The SCAF have pre-empted the desires of the Egyptian people by repealing the decades old ‘State of Emergency’ law, which disables the right to protest and permits detention without charge.
Within this act of concession is a desire to set a positive media agenda (although not without its critics) and a trust in Egyptian citizens that there is a shared desire for a day free of violence. The new Egyptian constitution is far from agreed, the people are not yet placated, and the nation remains a state of fragile transition, but consensus cannot fail to see that the country is moving in the right direction, although some feel that change is not coming quickly, or cutting deeply, enough.
The media lexicon is a confused jumble; the BBC have described the gathering as a rally while may other sources focus on the protest or demonstration angle. Is one description right, and the other wrong? For those marching on Tahrir it is a subjective issue, from the outside looking in it is what an individual’s chosen media source tells them.
Clearly Egypt still has a long road to travel in order to satisfy the needs of liberal minorities and the dominant Muslim Brotherhood will have to make concessions when drafting the new constitution. But the citizens in Tahrir Square are not defined by protest; many will attend for remembrance, or to show that the people are not to be forgotten as Egypt’s constitution is rewritten.
Media will always focus on events rather than processes, and the proximity of the inception of Egypt’s new democratic government to the celebration of a liberation movement threatens to cast a shadow over political process: Those in Tahrir Square on the 25th are not necessarily dissidents, but the reportage of their actions could paint them as such.
Politics and media have a cyclical, reactionary relationship with a somewhat distorted outcome on both sides: Media propensity for reporting violence and political inclination toward exclusivity of information can create an increasingly distorted discourse of events.
While the masses gather, the selected elite are beyond their reach, assigning roles and making policy. Is it unrealistic to think that if one moment of dissent is blown out of proportion in the global news, a hard-line candidate may be considered more suitable than a reformist? These are simplistic terms, but they do illustrate that the consequences of selective, event-based global media coverage are potentially enduring.
Internally Egypt’s media model has begun to evolve with its governance; a new state-operated TV network broadcasts parliamentary developments as they happen. Logic suggests that as the political system progresses and becomes more sophisticated media will follow. Mediation of events in Cairo must take precedence over provocation, if the true story of the anniversary is indeed one of peace.
With no government in place, and the SCAF poised to concede power to the new parliament in June, the media have a crucial part to play in the second year of Egypt’s revolution: If year one was defined by protest, perhaps year two can be defined by progress.
Al Jazeera’s retrospective of the Egyptian people’s movement.
Al Jazeera’s breakdown of the Egyptian election results so far.