The press has come a long way in recent years in Egypt. In the early 90s, very few independent newspapers circulated, and many relied on the public three (Ahram, Akhbar, Goumhoreya) for news. It used to be a single, mainstream channel of communication that was easily monitored and controlled by the Egyptian authorities.
But times are a-changin.
A few months ago I wrote a post about a disgraceful cartoon published in Al Ahram right after the sectarian clashes in the south of the country. Traditional propaganda, it seems, is slowly but surely going extinct. However, just when you thought new strategies were being innovated and implemented, Al Ahram strikes back with catastrophic failure.
Following the first day of the peace negotiations in Sharm el Sheikh, the following image from the earlier meeting in Washington was made available to the public:
Whether via computers, laptops, netbooks, cell phones or iPads, millions of people were immediately exposed to this photograph.
Back in the Ramses area of Cairo, a group of old men with mustaches huddled around a broken-down desk in a dusty room packed with record books dating back decades, decided that this is not the image the Egyptian authority would want to paint for the public – it would not be beneficial for the people to view the dictator of 30 years trail a group of the world’s leaders. This might ‘tarnish’ his reputation.
They gathered their wits, exploited the best Photoshop ‘engineer’ they could get their hands on, and made him work his magic:
Subliminal! An absolute masterpiece. Suddenly, Hosny Mubarak becomes the leader of all good will and is single-handedly responsible for the end of the brutal occupation and human rights violations by the Israeli government. He deserves six more years of rule come the ‘democratic elections’ of next year.
Unlike the cartoon characters a few months back, these photos were in every major newspaper’s website, and every activist’s blog before Mubarak had the chance to get his nightly medical diagnosis.
They say that when you ‘assume’, you make an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and the president. Here are the asses made by Al Ahram:
- The peace talks are in any way significant
- The Egyptian people love Hosny Mubarak and respect him, and will be shocked and devastated if they were told he is no longer the most important person in the region
- After 30 years of corruption, poverty and human rights violations, the people will forgive the president because he is capable of taking a quick first step when walking down a hall with fellow leaders
- No one has internet access, and no foreign news source (whether professional, or citizen/independent) is capable of follwing what is happening in peace talks
- People are no longer interested in seeing floors in photos, and are satisfied with just carpets
- It is normal for leaders to show up in photographs with Photoshop shadows around parts of their bodies, it’s how we all look nowadays
- Traditional propaganda is static; if you have succeeded in manipulating the public with certain techniques, they will work forever and there’s no need to change them
The web connects people across space and time, it is the most successful tool in the history of humankind that has allowed the people to share knowledge and information. And we can do so directly, without relying on mainstream channels of communication, nor governments and authorities. While some of us are on social networks, smart phones, open-source projects, blogs and aggregators, others are convinced that the people are oblivious to the state of the real world, and will never find out. Ironically, it is the knowledgeable people that are teaching the ignorant government.
We are the web, and no one can take that away from us.