The big news on Egyptian autocrat Hosni Mubarak’s historic Feb. 1 televised speech, according to most U.S. news media, is that he decided he would not run for reelection in September. In Mubarak’s less-than-categorical words, “I say in all honesty and regardless of the current situation that I did not intend to nominate myself for a new presidential term.”
It was a 10-minute speech, but from the reports, one might think he said nothing else of consequence. See, for example, the Associated Press. AP Online’s Feb. 1 breaking story reported, in full:
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak says he will not run for a new term in office in September elections and will work during the rest of his term for a “peaceful transfer of power” in a new attempt to defuse massive protests demanding his immediate ouster.
He says he will work during “the final months of my current term” to carry out the “necessary steps for the peaceful transfer of power.”
Sounds like a nice, reasonable guy. No wonder he’s been “elected” by the people for the past 30 years.
Same goes for the first few paragraphs of USA Today‘s report on Mubarak’s speech (which their accompanying AP video called a “halfway concession.”)
CAIRO — The longtime leader of the Middle East’s largest country and a confidant to several U.S. administrations said Tuesday he will not seek re-election, reacting to both massive protests and pressure from the White House.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who for 30 years has been a major figure in Arab politics, said he will oversee a peaceful transfer of power to another president following elections to be held in the fall.
“This dear nation … is where I lived, I fought for it and defended its soil, sovereignty and interests,” Mubarak, 82, said in a speech on Egyptian television. “On its soil I will die.”
The Washington Post, which also called the speech a “halfway concession,” picked up the same theme in its lead paragraph:
CAIRO — President Hosni Mubarak defied a quarter-million protesters demanding he step down immediately, announcing Tuesday he would serve out the last months of his term and “die on Egyptian soil.” He promised not to seek re-election, but that did not calm public fury as clashes erupted between his opponents and supporters.
Thank goodness Anthony Shadid, whose coverage for the New York Times has been generally very good, got to the main point, but only in the 13th and 14th paragraphs of his story:
In his speech, Mr. Mubarak was pugnacious, accusing protesters of sowing chaos and political forces here of adding “fuel to the fire.” He fell back to the refrain that has underlined his three decades in power — security and stability — and vowed that he would spend his remaining months restoring calm.
“The events of the past few days impose on us, both citizens and leadership, the choice between chaos and stability,” he said. “I am now absolutely determined to finish my work for the nation in a way that ensures its safekeeping.”
That “pugnacious” tone was the substantial point of Mubarak’s speech, and about which he spend most of his 10-minute televised address. Full texts of the speech were hard to find, but Al Jazeera (which has gone from being characterized as a Mideast beacon of independent journalism at its founding in the 1990s, to part of the axis of evil in the G.W. Bush era, to now, again, as a beacon of independent journalism) carried it, as did the Guardian in the U.K. Look at the first five paragraphs of Mubarak’s address, and his point — that a group “practicing freedom of expression” (something that has not been embraced by Mubarak for 30 years; see, for example, the case of human rights activist Saad Eddin Ibrahim) has now “spread chaos and violence.”
“I talk to you during critical times that are testing Egypt and its people which could sweep them into the unknown.
“The country is passing through difficult times and tough experiences which began with noble youths and citizens who practice their rights to peaceful demonstrations and protests, expressing their concerns and aspirations but they were quickly exploited by those who sought to spread chaos and violence, confrontation and to violate the constitutional legitimacy and to attack it.
“Those protests were transformed from a noble and civilized phenomenon of practicing freedom of expression to unfortunate clashes, mobilized and controlled by political forces that wanted to escalate and worsen the situation.
“They targeted the nation’s security and stability through acts of provocation theft and looting and setting fires and blocking roads and attacking vital installations and public and private properties and storming some diplomatic missions.
“We are living together painful days and the most painful thing is the fear that affected the huge majority of Egyptians and caused concern and anxiety over what tomorrow could bring them and their families and the future of their country.
The point of Mubarak’s speech is a rhetorical rationale for a crackdown. Yes, he may not “run” for president again, but not before, as he says in his final line, that Egypt “will pass from one generation to the next… in pride and dignity.”
The pride and dignity are Mubarak’s, of course. And the events of Feb. 2, which seem to be a very orchestrated attack on peaceful protesters in Tahrir Square by plainclothes thugs, creates the very violence and chaos that he purports to crush. It doesn’t seem like the Egyptians need Hosni Mubarak, unless, of course, there is chaos to be stopped.
Unfortunately, the cable networks seem to be soaking up the Mubarak narrative. CNN’s question, “How will Egypt’s govt. restore order?” presumes that the democratic protests must be stopped, and the good, old authoritarian order should be reinstated.
Meanwhile, at Fox News, democratic dissent is also characterized as a bad thing. One of their photo captions reads that “anti-government protests have killed nearly 100 people over the past week.“ Please, someone remind Fox News that “protests” don’t kill people, but instead (this must have been said often on Fox after Tucson) that “people kill people.” More specifically, when it comes to democratic dissent in Egypt, it’s the government police that kill people, or–at the very least–brutally tortures them with impunity, according to a timely Jan. 31 Human Rights Watch report.
Should that make us concerned that Mubarak’s hand-picked vice president is the head of the state intelligence apparatus? No concern at the Associated Press, which introduced Omar Suleiman as “well respected by American officials.” (The article cited no American government officials to back up that assessment.)
My plea to journalists: do not let Egyptian officials and unnamed American officials determine the narrative angle of your stories. If millions of Egyptians are risking their lives to publicly protest against a very entrenched regime that has not hesitated to torture, kill, and jail people, there must be other compelling stories to report, right?