Home > Analysis, News, Opinion, politics > The Narrative on the Egyptian “Uprising” / “Revolution”

The Narrative on the Egyptian “Uprising” / “Revolution”

For the last three weeks, we witnessed something extraorgdinary in the Egypt. A unpopular leader is finally brought down by revolts in the street. A gallant people finally brought a hated tyrrant down to his knees.

Yet, if one really think about it, even by the most optimistic of figures, at most (perhaps) one million people at one time or another added together protested against Mubarak over the last three weeks. Egypt is a land of 80 million. That means the vast majority of the people never took to the street over the last three weeks.

I had an interesting chat with a friend from Egypt a couple of nights ago. We were friends from graduate school. He told me that while most people he knew did not think highly of Mubarak – who is deemed by most to be unsympathetic to the people, tolerant of corruption, and incapable of bringing prosperity to Egypt – most also did indeed fear instability and violence.

L.A. Times article had this to say of the Chinese reaction about Egypt:

Wary of the parallels between Tahrir and Tiananmen, Beijing is hardly celebrating the popular uprising in Egypt that brought down an authoritarian regime.

The Chinese government offered a sobering assessment Saturday of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation. Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said in a statement that China hoped “the latest developments help restore national stability and social order at an early date.”

News coverage of the 18-day uprising has emphasized looting, rioting and violence, while downplaying the jubilation of the protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. A short editorial Saturday in the state-run English-language China Daily used the word “stability,” a favorite of the Chinese Communist Party, seven times. It warned that “any political changes will be meaningless if the country falls prey to chaos in the end.”

In a bold retort to the party’s rhetoric about stability, the influential new business magazine Caixin editorialized on its Web page Saturday: “It is autocracy that creates chaos, while democracy breeds peace. Supporting an autocracy is in reality trading short-term interests for long-term costs.”

From the beginning of the protests in Egypt last month, the Chinese propaganda machine sought to limit and direct coverage. Although the story was too big to expunge, news media were directed to run reports only from the state-run New China News Agency. On some social networking sites, searches for the word “Egypt” were blocked.

Why such shrill about the Chinese response?

The Chinese gov’t reaction has been anything but wary. For anyone with Internet access and who cares to roam the Chinese media social media outlets, one would have found tremendous interests and discussions on Egypt. While a few sites did restrict certain key words, as Charles demonstrated, the censors were anything but the systemic mass censor depicted in the Western press. In any case, even if there were some self “censors” by various private sites, the effects were nothing comparable to the widespread restrictions on Wikileaks by the likes of Amazon, Mastercard, EveryDNS.net, and Paypal a few months ago.

A focus on security and stability per se  is not  propagandistic. My Egyptian friend retorted: while he was not a Mubarak supporter, he did not see the point of forcing him to resign at the moment when he had promised to not run this coming Fall. “So we traded martial law for Mubarak, military rule for political normacy.” What did we gain beyond an election that was going to happen anyways?

L.A. Times continued:

As in Egypt, China’s leadership in 1989 was challenged by a nationwide, popular uprising.

Although those protests were famously quashed by the tanks that rolled into Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government has reason to watch events in Egypt with trepidation. China, like Egypt, is plagued by high inflation and unemployment rates among recent university graduates.

“Our economy is doing much better than Egypt’s, but the political systems have some striking similarities,” said Minxin Pei, a Chinese-born political scientist at Claremont McKenna College.

“Both regimes have narrow bases of support in their society, which means the system is fundamentally fragile.… And there’s been this obsession with stability, which prevents governments from taking the necessary reforms to open up the political system.”

Perhaps L.A. Times need to conduct better fact check.

The 1989 protests were limited and never caught on to become a broad-based (i.e. involving various groups with different political demands) movement with national reach as the Egyptian protests did. As for the Chinese gov’t today, the Chinese government enjoys broad base of support. Unlike Mubarak’s government – who focused on building good relations with the West but did little else for its people – the Chinese government is consistently ranked most popular among the world: it is more popular to its own people than most democratic governments are today to their own.

The purpose of this post is not necessary to denegrate the West’s narrow narrative on Egypt, but to note that the stability narrative carried on Chinese media is a legitimate narrative that has tremendous pull – including with most Egyptians today.

Whether the protests of the last few weeks is a people’s moment remains to be seen. For the opposition to become a true people’s movement that empower the Egyptian people, many things have to happen besides ousting of Mubarak or the holding of “fair” elections this fall.

The government will have to be more responsive to the needs of the common people: less corruption, more economic development, more political independence on the international stage…

There are many obstacles to this moment ushering in an era of true self determination for the Egyptian people, but in the shadow of this “special moment in history,” we – together with the people of Egypt – should stand together and hold out hope.

  1. Charles Liu
    February 13th, 2011 at 17:44 | #1

    Just like the innacurate TAM reports at the time, I have serious reservation about the Egypt protest:

    – our media down played the violence early on to direct the media narrative. Around 10 police officers ere killed in first couple days when the peacefull protester first showed up.

    – in the weeks you hear the rather propagandic stuff like “sea of people”, “swell of protester”, even claim of a million people. But according to Christiann Armapur only tens of thousand people protested. There are 80 mil people in Egypt, 7 mill in Cairo, even if 1% of the population showed up Mubarak wouldn’t last a day let alone 15.

    – not all the protesters were anti-Mubarak. Some are pro-Mubarak while others were demanding jobs, better pay. Yet the media lump them all into anti-Mubarak protest. Last week I hear one report of tariri square crowd swelled, yet another source said pro-Mubarak demonstrators manning check points in the square.

    All this smells like the “tank crush student” media claim that’s since discredited, but still symbolizes the event in western concioueness very inaccurately.

  2. Charles Liu
    February 13th, 2011 at 18:18 | #2

    And remember the man on horse back charged the protester, supposedly plain clothed police? In case you missed it NPR interviewed the man, he is a tour guide who’s horses were starving from no business. The protesters beat himand killed his horse.

  3. TonyP4
    February 14th, 2011 at 08:07 | #3

    TSM led to US and its puppets’ arms embargo that set China back and the effect is still felt.

  4. colin
    February 14th, 2011 at 11:07 | #4

    Supreme irony in that the protests of freedom and democracy have resulted in de facto military rule in Egypt.

  5. Charles Liu
    February 14th, 2011 at 14:17 | #5

    I think rv said in 6 month to a year the verdict on the riots will be clear – and more to the point the verdict on TAM for those wish to link middle east revolts to China:

    – Google news on Tunisa, Tunis are bolting their democracy and flooding Europe

    – Egypt is now more chaotic since Mubarak resigned. As colin mentioned it’s under military dictatorship now. From bankers protesting bank heads to journalist attacking editors, how much more of this Cultural Revolution style bottom-up political infight will the army tolerate?

    – Some protesters are demanding the Mubarak clan to return billions, but will they pay back the 300 million per day economic loss this revolt has costed Egypt? The cost of democracy most likely have already exceeded any corruption by Mubarak.

  6. pug_ster
    February 15th, 2011 at 22:29 | #6


    I find it funny in this article where in the cases in the unrests in Bahrain and Iran, US government tells Bahrain to address the issues of unrest while telling the protesters in Iran to go after the government.

  7. SilentChinese
    February 16th, 2011 at 07:22 | #7

    pug_ster :http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/16/world/middleeast/16diplomacy.html?_r=1&hpw
    I find it funny in this article where in the cases in the unrests in Bahrain and Iran, US government tells Bahrain to address the issues of unrest while telling the protesters in Iran to go after the government.

    exactly! I notice the same.

    Hypocrisy to its utmost. .

  8. jiang
    February 25th, 2011 at 19:14 | #8

    No matter how L.A or N.Y times says, the western medias always and will proceeding to allegitedly speak of china of there problem. Pls focus on your own that the slump of employment, downturn of economy, instability of status in nation and so forth….

  9. Charles Liu
    January 26th, 2012 at 15:51 | #9

    Where was our media acumen when this was happening? Turns out just like the Margret Thatcher son story years ago, son of a US official is now known to be involved in overthrowing the Egyptian government:


    FTW? Does it even matter now?

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