Ferguson Across Cultures

I wanted to write this a long time ago, but had too much work. Anyway:

In order to understand this post, take exactly 10 seconds to gloss over each of the articles here, here, here, and here. Assuming you’ve done that…

To anyone who’s unfortunate enough to be subjected to Egyptian TV for a substantial amount of time, it’s not hard (even a little fun, if you don’t have problems with blood pressure) to see the undisguisedly smug Egyptian anchors’ perspective on global events that they don’t really quite understand. And for them, the star of the season has without a doubt been the Ferguson unrest.

After the US Dept of State called out the Egyptian administration for mowing down protesters in more than one occasion, particularly the infamous Raba’a massacre, loyalists of the current Egyptian regime seem more than happy to be giving Obama a cynical smile and amusedly watch as the US fails to practice what it preaches.

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Pictured: The collective consciousness of Egyptian loyalists.

Except (surprise!) it’s not really like that.

Egyptian media tends to look at the Ferguson unrest from a perspective that is so thoroughly Egyptian that the reporting ends up being skewed and highly unrepresentative of the actual situation.

The main thing that they tend to get wrong is the system of command and leadership in the US government. It’s automatically assumed that, like in Egypt and other third world countries, there is one guy who calls all the shots – a tradition that goes largely unquestioned in the mainstream of most Arab cultures, particularly in Egypt, and one that is (at least subconsciously) upheld even in the presence of laws and institutions put in place to deter it. Consequently, the lines between a nation and a state are often blurred, and everything remotely within the apparatus of government is condensed into the power of its leader.

However, in a state that is deeply rooted in the practice of democracy concepts such as decentralization, rule of law, and separation of powers are observed in all of the state’s actions – except in cases of corruption. Egyptian media doesn’t seem to think much about that, somehow lumping up the U.S. president, the police force in Ferguson, the U.S. Department of State, and to an extent American civil society in the same pack, holding them all responsible for the snafu that is the Ferguson unrest – which not only speaks of the level of professionalism of Egyptian media, but also implies tons about the crude nature of the Egyptian political environment.

I never thought too highly of Egyptian media, and I didn’t really think I could possibly hold them in lower regard than I already do. I was proven wrong. Their lack of concern about human life was something I’m accustomed to, and so was the nationalist posturing that accompanies every piece of news about pretty much any other part of the world. I guess just being reminded of how little hope Egypt has for a serious political reform (even though I’m kinda used to it by now) is as frustrating as it was the first time it hit me.

TV, the radio, newspapers, etc. is where most Egyptians look to confirm their biases, and that’s where they learn about new ideas and develop opinions about concepts they’re not yet familiar with. Media, basically, forms culture. And in Egypt it’s mostly controlled by, or aligned to, the new state. And it’s not like we have any serious alternative media either – most of the opposition to the state are Islamist conservatives, which leaves the Egyptian anti-authoritarian rally to a few satirists, bloggers (ohai) and columnists.

And, while it’s depressing to have to listen to the anchors’ opinions on the infallibility of the Father Knows Best state, it’s worse to know that this is what the collective mind of Egypt will look and think like, for the most part.