Egyptian blogger from Cairo.
Revolutionary Socialist.
Partner & Creative Director at ThePlanet.

When the web empowers the people, and ignorance hinders the government

Under: Egypt Tags: . .

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:

Obama leads the way

Obama leads the way?

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:

Who's your daddy

Who's your daddy?

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:

  1. The peace talks are in any way significant
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. People are no longer interested in seeing floors in photos, and are satisfied with just carpets
  6. 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
  7. 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.

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5 comments

msakr

September 17, 2010

lmfao, this is seriously hilarious!!11

And yeah, what’s with Mubarak’s shadow. I hope this doesn’t mean he’s a ghost? :\

Gixibyte

September 18, 2010

While I agree the web is extremely empowering, I’m a bit wary about it as “the” solution to dictatorships and repression and propaganda.

Both in the U.S. and Middle East, the state has used its immense power to shut down or restrict the internet, police are able to invade our cyber-privacy, and the state also uses its own power to spread disinformation on social networks etc – Israel hired 20-30,000 people to spread hasbara during the Freedom Flotilla killings.

So certainly, the web is great and is a powerful tool we can use against those in power, but it has its limitations, and we still need the traditional forms of organising just as much as ever, I think.

Tarek Shalaby

September 18, 2010

@Gixibyte you raise a very interesting point.

Let me start by saying that the web is not the solution, but it is the tool that will be used to solve the problem. Like I said, it is the best way to connect, exchange information, and mobilize groups across space and time.

While the US is trying to destroy what has been referred to ‘net neutrality’, you have to bare in mind that they have been facing very stiff opposition.

More importantly, Israel might have succeeded convincing SOME neutrals that Flotilla was nothing but brutal attacks by martial artists dressed as activists against cute and innocent IDF soldiers, it was not easy. Back in the day, it took a handful of people to manipulate a news item as it was making its way through any of the mainstream media. Now, Israel had to hire thousands and thousands of people, and were not fully successful. It’s too big for them, and they will never be able to handle. The web is bigger than they will ever be.

Finally, I think we can apply the ‘traditional’ forms of organization to the web. And this is only the beginning.

Green

September 21, 2010

The funny think is that a new Internet Meme – something like Sad Keanu – is taking place everywhere with Mubarak’s photo in different places and situations.

Tarek Shalaby

September 21, 2010

That’s another cool thing about the web – it brings out the ‘best’ of us! hehe. You have to appreciate the creativity by the web community, but also the satire involved is within itself a message to everyone. Now the authorities know not to mess with us!

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