Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Egypt and our default-line media

The current media presentation of Egypt is a textbook lesson on how to spin the message of a benevolent Western foreign policy while gradually dispensing with one of its foremost client dictators.  

From Obama, Hillary Cinton and PJ Crowley to David Cameron and William Hague, the press-room spin of 'democratic development' and 'free political expression' has been repeated and amplified without question by a default-line media.

The average viewer, with little or no background knowledge of Egyptian affairs, would likely be astonished to learn of America's and the West's true and active complicity in suppressing democratic rights and reform in Egypt.

Washington's proclaimed rationale for supporting Mubarak is, so we're informed, to prevent the 'Islamic contagion', a fiction duly internalised and filtered by the media. 

Thus, the US and its friends are issuing grave warnings about the vacuum now being created, leading to 'insecurity' and the 'dark prospect', so Joe Biden tells us, of 'Islamic extremists' taking control.  Think, as you're encouraged to do by the media, of Iran 1979, Tehran's 'mad moolahs', Lebanon's Hezbollah and the upstart Hamas rulers in Gaza.  

Not, of course, the royal-religio elite and torture-driven regime in Saudi Arabia, or any past US support for Islamic fighters like the Mujahadeen in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan.

All that awkward aid and backing has to be blind-eyed, respectfully ignored, given, at best, token, sanitised mentions by senior correspondents. 

The reporting of US/Western support for Mubarak's 30-year repression could be easily disseminated as essential context by the BBC and other mainstream media.  The political positioning of Washington in support of a regime that has served American policy so centrally might, reasonably, be considered worthy of detailed consideration.  Yet, power relationships that have shaped US hegemony in the region, Israel's nuclear dominance, its relentless occupation of Palestine and the spurious 'war on terror' all, seemingly, deserve no examination.   

Evaded and glossed-over, the policy is, and has been, remarkably visible, so visible it simply can't be stated by most of the media in its raw, uncomfortable form:
"Successive US administrations, Republican and Democrat, have decided over the past three decades that their long-term interests are best served by maintaining Mubarak in power, even if he shows scant respect for civil liberties.  Despite systematic violations of human rights, rigged elections and evidence of a persistent culture of torture, US aid has continued to flow.  Under the banner of the 'war on terror', American policy has become even more intimately connected with the most repressive parts of Mubarak's regime, notably through Egypt's integration into a global network of subcontracted torturers run under the CIA's Extraordinary Rendition programme.  This partnership builds on a long history of US-Egyptian intelligence cooperation, which has also provided valuable support for US military intervention elsewhere in the region, such as US operations in Afghanistan."  (Anne Alexander, 'The international arena', in Rahab El-Mahdi and Philip Marfleet, eds, Egypt: The Moment of Change, (2009), Zed Books, p 146.)
Between 1977 and 2007, the US gave Egypt $62 billion in aid and arms.  Egypt's take from Washington is second only to that of Israel.  In 2008, Cairo's $1.3 billion payment from America's Economic Support Fund was more than the whole of sub-Saharan Africa combined (ibid, p 138).

In what passes for critical 'analysis', the BBC's John Simpson offers 'sage' statements of the obvious on Mubarak's precarious tenure and the word from Washington.  From the more 'street-savvy' editors like Jeremy Bowen, we hear of the gathering social alignments and 'problematic' role the Muslim Brotherhood may play in the coming constitutional reforms.  There's multi-additional caveats from the back streets of Cairo on demands for reform and how life will now change for many Egyptians.  And, of course, there's reminders of Foreign Office advice to travellers, helping to soothe the unease of the lucrative tourist industry. 

It's a neat media package of political upheaval, democratic demands, Western concerns, down-with-the-tyrant images, social hopes of the people and business-as-usual on the Red Sea.  

What's completely absent is any serious discussion of America's and Britain's crucial, historic support for that dictator and the shameful role they've played in keeping Mubarak's torture-regime intact.

The implications for Palestine of a falling Egyptian client, particularly in how it affects the border with Gaza, as well as the Fatah-Hamas dynamic, is of critical significance here.   Where's the applied media discussion of these vital factors? 

There's also the question of how the media has helped mask Washington's past hostilities towards Egyptian reformist and former chief weapons inspector Mohamed ElBaradei.  The looming possibility of an ElBaradei presidency and a less-compliant Egyptian position over Iran, is an alarming prospect for the US and Israel.  Again, where's the coverage?  

It's rather fitting that, in the wake of Obama's post-investiture Cairo speech - 'encouraging' regional 'democracy' and exerting a 'cordial hand' to the Arab world - that America should be contemplating this most uncomfortable of developments, this actual demand for real democratic change, in Egypt itself.  

The paradox of that unravelling and Washington's failure to renounce Mubarak then, as now, will, as with all past US and Western protection of the regime, likely go ignored by a media in dutiful service to the White House line.

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