Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Tahrir: A Critical Explosion

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 26th January, 2012

What better way to celebrate in London the first anniversary of the 25 January Egyptian Revolutionary movement than to join a stimulating crowd of fellow hacks, human rights activists, Arabists and UK-based Atab intellectuals at the launch of a new book about the extraordinary events in Cairo last year by Abdel Latif El-Manawy, who had the job of overseeing news content at the state broadcaster, the Egyptian Radio and Television Union (ERTU), in the ancien régime’s final days? From his privileged insider position he was able –and willing — to tell Hosni Mubarak it was time to go, but that still makes him a controversial figure among many Egyptian revolutionaries who wonder quite how he was able to slide gracefully from the old situation into the new one in which the army has essentially been in charge. Mr El-Manawy last night described what happened at Tahrir Square as a ‘critical explosion’. I picked up my copy of ‘Tahrir: The Last 18 Days of Mubarak’ at the party thrown by Gilgamesh publishers at Daunt Books in Marylebone, so have not yet had the chance to read it. But I shall be fascinated to digest not only Abdel Latif’s El-Manawy’s take on the events between the first mass occupation of Tahrir Square and Mubarak’s stepping down, but also to see how he reconciles what he did at the head of an organisation essentially treading a tightrope between media objectivity and propaganda. In the meantime, I shall reserve judgement. Besides, everyone at the launch was too exhilirated by the events of the past year to carp, despite concerns about how successful Egypt’s revolution will prove to be in te end, and even deeper fears about the prognosis for Syria. But in the cold light of morning, we shall see. I shall review the book in due course.


One Response to “Tahrir: A Critical Explosion”

  1. Luis Vega said

    Fascinating subject: how the media can/has guide/d social change in totalitarian regimes. Abdel Latif El-Manawy is not alone in the task of calibrating, from the secured ‘studio master control’, how millions of his own compatriots witness history in the making mainly through their TV screens. National TV screens under his Rasputin-like (ригорий Ефимович Распутин) control.

    The role of traditional and social media in modern revolutions has not yet been completely assessed because the full ramifications of the Arab Spring are too recent to ascertain. wisely. This ‘media dilemma’ is not new, only rarely discussed in public because its actors – on both sides – often have reached a ‘gentlemen’s agreement (omerta) – to keep it out of the open and take turns ripping its benefits. Cynical? Perhaps. Truthful? Probably.

    Something similar happened with the controversial election of Republican George W. Bush over Democrat Al Gore in 2000, when one TV network announced Bush winning the presidency while another gave Gore the victory. This provoked Gore to turn around his limousine after having decided earlier to give a concession speech acknowledging Bush election. Mainstream national elections in the United States until then were rarely questioned because computer recount processes often give conflicting results (i.e. variables).

    Likewise, upcoming elections in Venezuela scheduled for October 7th are already questioned and disputed over whether private media, or the national armed forces, will respect (and accurately report) the results. Or in Russia where Vladimir Putin on March 4th faces a controversial election that would return him to the presidency for a 3rd time and openly fights private media in public. Or in the current American Republican presidential primary where Newt Gingrich won 43 out of 46 counties in South Carolina overnight after a masterful confrontation with CNN’s anchor John King that impressed voters.

    I cannot wait to read your review of Abdel Latif El-Manawy’s book on the media’s role in Egypt’s revolution “to see how he reconciles what he did at the head of an organisation essentially treading a tightrope between media objectivity and propaganda” as you write. Fascinating subject, indeed.

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