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BARBARA WALTERS TELLS PIERS: “I AM NOT A MIDDLE EAST EXPERT,” BUT IN FIVE MINUTES OR LESS, SHE OFFERS MORE HISTORY AND CONTEXT THAN ANYONE ELSE
I’m totally exhausted. After nearly two weeks of Egyptian protests which has included the promise of the President to step down in September and begin democratic reforms right away, followed by “thugs” entering Tahrir Square, the molotov cocktails and the roughing up and intimidation of foreign journalists, I’ve been busier than ever digging daily for research to supplement our great 24/7 American media.
Yes, we all love a demonstration by people yearning for democracy. But the coverage of Egypt as some kind of Woodstock has left me scrambling for something more. One of the low points for me was stumbling across Elliot Spitzer, excitedly telling viewers he can’t wait to see what happens next in Alexandria. Continuing on the primetime schedule for CNN was Piers Morgan, covering his first ever live news story. (Perhaps they might have tried breaking their new anchors in on a car chase or two.)
Over on Fox, Shep Smith was blaming Mubarak for sending thugs into the main square to attack peaceful demonstrators journalists. First I wondered how anyone knew who was behind the “thugs,” and then I wondered, as I did all week, why not one journalist worried in advance that it might turn as ugly as the 2009 protests in Iran.
Perhaps they subliminally knew not to paint Mubarak with the same brush stroke as Ahmadinejad who put an end to his country’s pro-democracy demonstrations in 2009 by cutting down people like Neda, the Iranian girl shot in the heart in front of her father.
What a joy it was to finally hear Barbara Walters join Piers Morgan mid-week and offer him, and us viewers, a history lesson. As he pressed with indignation to find out why Obama wasn’t insisting Mubarak step down immediately Barbara Walters gently, respectfully and very clearly, explained that the region is full of dictators and always has been. We support the ones who share our interests.
Yes, yes, yes! Finally someone spoke who was not giddy about the overthrow of Mubarak.
Like Barbara Walters, I will qualify my observations as those not of a mideast expert, but as a journalist with strong interest in the region who has covered stories there… certainly not as many as Barbara Walters who has sat down one on one with many or most of their 20th century titans.
Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations wrote this weekend in the Daily Beast, “all who ignore this history are naive... The Muslim Brotherhood jumps immediately to mind… (for the potential to hijack democracy) but don’t overlook the potentially equal or greater threat … from Egypt’s beloved armed forces. The history of venomous domestic and foreign-policy pronouncements by the MB should keep us all awake at night. And never forget that the murderers of the great President Anwar Sadat were Muslim Brothers embedded in the army.”
Now I didn’t watch all channels all the time, so I might have missed the coverage where you get context and keen insights. But I’ve felt pretty much on my own. So as someone who has more than an average interest in both the story and how it’s covered, here’s my own personal briefing book for anyone else who might need it. Read the rest of this entry »
IT’S NOT YOUR MOTHER’S MOTHER JONES: OLD “LEFTY” HAS GREAT 24/7 COVERAGE , ANALYSIS
It’s been five days of hard work for many of us searching for the inside, untold, and full story of the revolution in Egypt and its global implications. I certainly didn’t find what I needed on any of the broadcast networks or even cable news channels.
CNN did have great video on Thursday and even convinced Piers Morgan to dump his Colin Firth interview and roll live with it. CNN has great reporters there led by Ben Wedeman and Nic Robertson who live and breath the region and are the most nimble and knowledgeable.
But you can get their coverage and a whole lot more if you follow the Mother Jones updates 24/7 and link to YouTube.
You can also hear the silent screams of those frustrated by what they’re seeing day in and day out. Like those from the Abu Muqawama blog from the Center for a New American Security, an independent and non-partisan non-profit research group based in Washington, D.C.
Egypt: People Who Might Actually Know What The %$#@ They’re Talking About (Updated)
I was home in Tennessee for a brief 24 hours and woke up yesterday morning to MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” which Mama Muqawama likes to watch before work. Nothing against the people on that particular show, because it’s probably just representative of U.S. cable news in general*, but I was absolutely stunned by the willingness of the show’s guests to opine about Egypt without having any actual experience in or expertise on Egypt or the broader Middle East. Is it really that tough to say, “Hey, that’s a great question, Joe, but I am not really the best guy to give the viewers at home a good answer?”
Instead, guest after guest — most of whom are specialists in or pundits on U.S. domestic politics — made these broad, ridiculously sweeping statements about the meaning and direction of the protests.
I traveled to Egypt twice in 2005 and lived there between January and August of 2006 while studying Arabic after having completed my master’s degree in Middle Eastern Studies at the American University of Beirut. I am by no means an expert on Egypt. But I like to think I know the people who are, so as a service to the readers, I am providing you all a list of no-%$#@ experts on Egypt. This list is, happily, by no means exhaustive: unlike the lack of informed commentary on Afghanistan, the United States has thousands of people who have lived and studied in Egypt as civilian researchers and students and can thus provide some reasonably informed commentary on events there. The following list is filled with some people whose opinions matter and whose analysis might actually be informed by study and experience. This list is in no particular order except for the first two people on the list, who are both good friends as well as two of the world’s best experts on Egyptian politics.
Elijah Zarwan, Crisis Group
Michael Wahid Hanna, The Century Foundation, @mwhanna1
Samir Shehata, Georgetown University
Josh Stacher, Kent State University, @jstacher
Amil Khan, Abu Muqawama, @Londonstani
Max Rodenbeck, The Economist
If you can, follow the live feed on al-Jazeera Arabic, which has made for the most exciting television I have watched since the Red Sox came back from three games down in the 2004 ALCS. (These events are arguably more geostrategically significant.) If you can’t follow that feed, try al-Jazeera English or follow the updates on Robert Mackey’s most excellent New York Times blog The Lede.
*An exception to the rule: Ben Wedeman at CNN.
Update: Someone in the comments suggested Shadi Hamid (@shadihamid), and I second that. Again, my list was happily not exhaustive. There are a lot of very smart analysts out there who can thoughtfully opine on Egypt — in large part thanks to the legions of Arabic-language students who pass through Cairo at some point in their training.
Perhaps unsurprising for someone who grew up working in a newspaper, I spend a lot of time analyzing journalism and often criticize journalists. So I need to highlight when journalism is frankly awesome. Do yourself a favor and listen to this amazing audio recording of the Guardian‘s Jack Shenker reporting from inside an Egyptian paddywagonafter being beaten by plain-clothed state security thugs and imprisoned. Pretty freaking great.
On a related note, where the hell was al-Jazeera yesterday?
HERE’S MORE OF WHAT YOU MIGHT FIND ON MOTHER JONES
Here is a sample of 24/7 updates from Mother Jones:
UPDATE 26, Friday 12:20 p.m. EST: The White House has released a photo of President Obama receiving a briefing on the Egypt protests:
(What else have you missed?) Read the rest of this entry »