Propagandized US Reporting on Recent Developments in Egypt?

As an old wag put it, “Just because you are paranoid does not mean they are not out to get you.”

Tonight, the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times both ran stories charging that the revolution in Egypt had lost a great deal of public support. The reason they triggered by BS detector was that both appeared the same evening. If this had been a domestic story, it would be not unreasonable to assume that a seeming coincidence of that sort was the result of a PR push, particularly in the absence of a major news event as a trigger. And as we will see, when I checked the UK media and Aljazeera, the gap in reporting was noteworthy.

Since I lack contacts in Egypt, I’m in no position to verify any of these accounts. Given how often I read dubious accounts in the US media on the beats I know, my suspicion is the UK reports are closer to the truth. I welcome input from informed readers.

Now that isn’t to say there isn’t some underlying truth to the LA Times and Journal stories. The “revolution” (which is an overstatement since the key power broker, the army, is in charge, and some figures from the old regime are still in place, such as the Egyptian ambassador to the US) is less than a year old. Hopes for change have no doubt run well ahead of what could be accomplished, and that is probably made worse by the lack of a leader who could manage expectations. And sadly, disruption to existing social orders often leaves many worse off than they were before.

But the Journal story in particular smacks of biased reporting. It keys off an incident that was treated as minor in the UK press (I read the Guardian, the Independent, and the Telegraph). A rump group of protestors estimated at 200 to 300 continued to occupy Tahrir Square during Ramadan (today was the first day). Local businessmen were not happy with the way the dissidents were interfering with traffic. The army moved in with no warning to clear the square.

Click to view the segment here. The written report at Aljazeera says most protestors withdrew from the square to honor Ramadan, and it appears the square was cleared, and resulted in some injuries and a few arrests. If this incident had taken place anywhere in Egypt other than Tahrir Square, I doubt it would have gotten coverage from major foreign news outlets.

But you’d never know that reading the Journal. Its headline blares: “Egyptians Turn Against Liberal Protesters“. That is a three-fer: “Egyptians” (meaning the public at large) is against “liberal protestors” (meaning a minority of malcontents, oh, and they are “liberal” as opposed to “pro-democracy”. Never miss a chance to treat “liberal” as a pejorative). This is how the piece starts:

Mobs of ordinary Egyptians joined with soldiers to drive pro-democracy protesters from their encampment in Tahrir Square here Monday, showing how far the uprising’s early heroes have fallen in the eyes of the public.

“Mobs”? And of “ordinary Egyptians”? Look at the Aljazeera footage. You see the square-clearing force consists almost entirely of soldiers. And there weren’t enough people on either side for the label “mob” to be accurate. This is rank yellow journalism.

The story continues:

Six months after young, liberal activists helped lead the popular movement that ousted President Hosni Mubarak, the hard core of these protesters was forcibly dispersed by the troops. Some Egyptians lined the street to applaud the army. Others ganged up on the activists as they retreated from the square that has come to symbolize the Arab Spring.

It isn’t hard to see the effort to mislead. The remaining demonstrators can be called “hard core” but it is mentioned only in passing, further down in the piece, that they were at odds with the majority of the movement. And the UK accounts make clear that there were ordinary citizens unhappy with the continued occupation of the square and participated in the efforts to oust them, but “ganged up” and “retreated” makes both sides sound bigger and more organized than they were.

Yet pundits in the employ of US centrist (meaning center right by world standards) are trying to inject meaning more meaning into this scuffle than appears warranted. Again from the Journal:

“The liberal and leftist groups that were at the forefront of the revolution have lost touch with the Egyptian people,” says Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Institution’s Doha Center. “These protesters have alienated much of Egypt. For some time they’ve been deceiving themselves by saying that the silent majority is on their side—but all evidence points to the contrary, and Monday’s events confirm that.”

The article does mention an incident that sounds to be a much better barometer of public unhappiness, an attack on a protest in March in Cario that resulted in roughly one hundred people being injured.

But if you connect the dots in the story, the government, which is in the hands of the army, has been making nice to the Islamists. The secular and pro-democracy groups have called for elections, once scheduled for June, to be postponed so they could do a better job of organizing against the better established religious groups. But the delay in elections is (or is perceived to) extend the disruption to the economy.

The Los Angeles Times also takes up the theme that the democracy movement is hurting the economy:

The solidarity around the revolution that toppled President Hosni Mubarak in February is splintering amid deep differences between protesters and millions of struggling Egyptians exasperated by the unrest and its economic consequences. The split reveals how young activists plotting rebellion in cyberspace are disconnected from the anxieties of millworkers and laborers. The nation that inspired the Arab world’s pro-democracy fervor has become a land of bitterness and divided hopes.

So you can read the information in the Journal article and come to a different conclusion than the one that they are pushing: it isn’t necessarily that the public is anti-democracy per se, but that some (all?) of the key pro-democracy groups are engaging in election jockeying to maximize their odds of success in ways that are giving the movement a bad name. The public appeared ready to have elections in June. The demand for delay has allowed the army and Islamists to portray the activists as aligned with international interests that want to undermine Egypt. And they have gone from looking like idealists to looking like power-seeking hacks.

And the Journal also fails to mention that the public displaying some ire only at the pro-democracy types; they are also unhappy with the army. From the Independent in mid-July:

The purge is one of several concessions offered by the caretaker government and the ruling military council in recent weeks. The army is the target of increasing anger, and a general who addressed crowds of demonstrators at Tahrir on Saturday, was heckled and booed. It’s a long way from the scenes of earlier demonstrations, where the chant “The army and the people are one hand”, was regularly heard.

So the public may well be in a “pox on all their houses” mood.

But the Independent’s Robert Fisk argues that the problem wasn’t, contra the Journal, that there was a revolution, but that nothing important changed:

Revolution betrayed. The Egyptian army now colludes with the hated Muslim Brotherhood to bring you – well, a new Egypt that looks much like the old one, cleansed of Mubarak and most (not all) of his henchmen, but with the Army’s corrupt privileges (housing, complexes, banks, etc) safely maintained in return for allowing the bearded ones a share in power. Cut out of the picture: the young and secular revolutionaries who actually fought Mubarak’s security thugs off the streets in order to rid themselves of the 83-year old dictator.

The picture is a grim one – Arab Spring turned into eternal Arab autumn. And the only bread and circuses to give the young Egyptians who demanded dignity in return for their courage will be the sight of the weary, disbelieving old lion in his iron cage at the Cairo convention centre tomorrow….

An ex-dictator gone to seed or a revolution gone to seed? The prospects aren’t good. The youth and secular parties suspect tomorrow will be a one-day “opening” trial and then a postponement of a month or two to give time for the former company chairman to die in his bed back in Sharm el Sheikh. “But we are trying him, just like you asked us to,” the army will say. And they will hold further meetings with the Muslim Brotherhood.

It’s not just that Field Marshal Tantawi, head of the Supreme Military Council and friend of Mubarak, is running the show. Here, for example, is Major-General Mohamed al-Assar, member of the Supreme Council, telling the US Institute of Peace in Washington how jolly mature and co-operative the Brotherhood have become: “Day by day, the Brotherhood are changing and getting on a more moderate track,” he told them. You bet they are. They took over Tahrir Square last week, demanding the new Egyptian constitution be based on sharia. But Tantawi, al-Assar and the rest of the gold-braid brigade will do anything to avoid the real change the original revolutionaries insist upon.

Instead of the destruction of the whole corrupt system, the revolutionaries are going to get “reform from within”, along with the plump, middle-aged beardies whose existence was the very reason why the Americans backed Mubarak in the first place. Later, no doubt, they can be turned into a threat again – once the spirit of Mubarakitism is back in place.

As I indicated at the top of the post, I have no idea where the truth in this matter lies. But the tidiness and similarity of the WSJ and LA Times accounts makes me wonder whether they have been airbrushed to suit other agendas.

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  1. attempter

    The strike movement in Egypt goes back many years, and in 2011 it was the strikers tying their strike actions to the political uprising which put the first stage of the revolution over the top. Otherwise it might have failed even in its preliminary goals (Mubarak and his regime out, new elections).

    The army, whatever its attitude toward political reforms, always wanted the labor activism to end, and they were joined in this by some of the erstwhile democratic Leaders.

    So while there may be a disconnect between the political activists and the workers, it’s not because the workers want the revolution to end. On the contrary, it’s because they want it to continue on the basis of systemic economic change, rather than continuing on a purely political basis, which leads only to the representative pseudo-democracy scam (at best).

  2. ambrit

    Could this be another, “You supply the illustrations, I’ll supply the war,” kind of moment? You hint at, but don’t explicate the hidden motives behind this journalistic pandering. (Duh, maybe that’s why its hidden. I know.) But, the interesting speculation is about, what non-Egyptian cliques interests are served by this? Just who would be really afraid of a unified and Democratic Egypt? (I know. I’m being vague and mystifying. Apologies to all.)

  3. anon

    Here’s a place to get better info from Egypt – a blog held by an Egyptian revolutionary who writes and speaks very well in English as well as his native Arabic:

    To save you the research effort, here’s some information about the author of the blog, independent journalist Hossam el-Hamalawy. He’s appeared many times on Al Jazeera English. His Twitter stream, under the name 3arabawy, was featured in The Guardian’s Twitter sidebar area that accompanied their live blogs in January; he’s also published opinion pieces there.

    AJ English videos:


    The Guardian:

    He’s a great source for what’s happening on the ground. It’s not a (fake) neutral voice, but rather an active and engaged one. A long-time activist and labor organizer, he was detained and tortured by Egypt’s State Security Investigations Service in 2000.

    His Wikipedia page:

    Highly recommended!

  4. Jessica

    This sounds depressingly similar to what happened in Iran. Although I think in Iran, the religious forces had more genuine support on their own and were less tools of the previous regime.

  5. Ralph Musgrave

    An article in the Financial Times a couple of days ago claimed it was Islamists who had pushed the liberal democracy lot out of Tahrir square. Article title: “Islamist show of force deepens rift in Egyptian revolution.”

    Now there’s a surprise. It’s more or less what Muslims have been doing for centuries when they can.

  6. russell1200

    Center-right and center-left are confusing in the U.S. because the U.S. center-left (the Democrats) seem far more status quo than the center right. If you listen to NPR a lot it becomes obvious. It is also why, the apparently newly discovered phenomina, that many self-sedcribed conservatives, listen to NPR.

    1. Richard H.

      It’s true (though trivially so) that food prices are one of the central causes of the uprising in Egypt. Given recent events this article, which is only a few months old, looks laughably dated with its ‘revolutionary committees gone wild’ scenario.

  7. Norman

    Yves, Your last paragraph is well to the point. More spot on then some might give credit too. A little homework would produce the answer[s] desired.

  8. sidelarge

    I also find it funny that it’s so hard to get any information about the ongoing mass movement in Israel, an unmistakably anti-neo-liberalism one, from American mainstream media, even though its magnitude is clearly a once-in-several-decades kind.

    I guess that news clashes too wildly with their “Israeli free-market economy boom under Netanyahu” meme.

  9. Parvaneh Ferhadi

    Robert Fisk has it exactly right. There was no revolution in Egypt. You had a lot of dedicated people rallying for change and democracy, but so far nothing has changed.
    The same old people and oligarchy – minus Mubarak – are still in power and have no intention of having this changed.

    There have been several stories out lately about an alleged al-Qaida presence in Sinai.

    Which, of course, is denied by locals and Egypt:

    Probably someone wants to prepare someone else for another military intervention or war?

  10. Foppe

    I put the links in a comment in the links post, but it would seem something similar is the case when it comes to Israeli social unrest.

  11. Middle Seaman

    The British press is not the gold standard for reporting on anything in the Arab world. Britain is an interested party with strong bias towards the Arab world. Al Jazeera although typically very good does have its blind spots.

    We have limited visibility into any overseas events, but it is clear the the army is in control of the country and the Muslim Brotherhood is now the main political power in Egypt. In simple terms: Egypt is in deep again.

    Summing it all up, i.e. Syria/Egypt/Yemen/Bahrain, turns the Arab spring into a Russian winter.

    1. Richard H.

      The Egyptian press has been doing a creditable job, in my opinion. Al Masry Al Youm (, especially, but also Al Ahram ( Their English editions are much thinner than their reporting in Arabic, but they still work pretty well as news tickers. You’re dead right that the British press, often even the Guardian, is not really to be trusted when reporting on the Arab world, or indeed any piece of land that used to have a Union Jack planted on it. Imperial attitudes die hard.

  12. Richard H.


    Anyone with a reasonable amount of contacts inside Egypt or who keeps an eye on the Arabic language media (often very different from the English language reporting even from the same organization) can tell you how sickly transparent these Wall Street Journal smears are. I’ve been covering the counter-revolution and the Keystone Cops media attempts to quash it in the Western and Saudi-owned presses at my blog,

    One of the best resources for keeping up with events in Egypt from a revolutionary prospective is Hossam el-Hamalawy’s blog, 3arabawy: There’s a lot of Arabic language stuff, but for the monoglots there’s some English language things too, and a ton of engrossing pictures and video.

  13. Wendell

    For ‘fair and balanced’ (and one-stop) coverage from an Arabic-speaker who spent time with all the factions during the Mubarak regime, I strongly recommend Marc Lynch, Director of Middle East Studies at the Elliott School of Int’l. Affairs at GWU. Tweets @abuaardvark blogs at and this is his most recent piece:

    The secular revolutionaries who lead the Jan25 movement have turned out to have one tactic and one tactic only, taking over Tahrir. They should have pivoted, after success, to building up electoral support with their cyber tools. But no, and they really seem to have worn out their welcome.

    1. Richard H.


      Exactly what ‘cyber tools’ would you say are most effective for building political support in a country with a 70% literacy rate? The protesters’ energies would be better focused by marching in solidarity with the wildcat strikes breaking out all over the country.

  14. Bam_Man

    The media is doing us the favor of “preparing us” psychologically for when this phenomena (mass protests & food riots) occurs here.

    Clearly, this kind of behavior is “bad for the economy” and the tolerant and well-intentioned authorities simply have to draw the line.

    Expect to hear this narrative repeated frequently from now on. And remember, it’s for your own good.

  15. Paul Tioxon


    How Americas Most Powerful News Media Worked Hand in Glove with the Central Intelligence Agency and Why the Church Committee Covered It Up


    It may have been more of a problem, 25 years ago, before the internet, the integration of the Soviet system into the global economy and the rise of alternative analysis and news organizations funded as well as the Big 3 Network News operations. Today, only people of a certain age bother to read much print media. And only those people of a certain age even have the institutional memory of The Church committee’s finding of over 400 CIA paid agents at work domestically within the news operations, print and broadcast in the USA. But what is even more encouraging and flying under the radar of older elites, is the institutional transmission of the knowledge that America has long been dominated by powerful corporate interests whose power is often portrayed as vast and capable of rivaling the Federal Government in its ability to manipulate the news events. A simple reminder of the movie “CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND” shows the ease, right out of a text book drill, in which the government covers up a large scale event. This is repeated over and over in video games, B movies, comics, rap and rock and roll songs, all telling the truth about political oppression. The vast majority of the working class and working poor and so called nerdy middle class is well indoctrinated by the standard view that the government is incredibly corrupt, the rich are their equals in the corruption and there is no one responsible in a suit and tie telling the truth, other than Dirty Harry.

  16. Ben H

    Yves, I think you’re on the money here re WSJ and LA Times. Also worth mentioning, though the Jan. 25 protesters may be having problems translating protest into electoral politics, is the fact that the Mubarak trial – which most Egyptians support – may not have happened if they hadn’t been willing to keep going back to Tahrir & applying pressure. The military council probably would’ve preferred to let him retire peacefully in Sharm el Sheikh.
    It’s not the end, not even the beginning of the end, maybe the end of the beginning.

    A couple more good independent sites for news from Egypt & elsewhere in the Mideast that I don’t see mentioned above:

  17. Albatross


    Similar story is taking place with Turkey, where Islamist AKP government under disguise (and should I say full support of the US and the EU) has been destroying secular foundations of the modern Turkish republic founded by Ataturk in 1923.

    There has been a witch hunt for secular opposition from military officers to journalists (over 60 journalists are in jail), to college students who dared to protest Erdogan and his ilk. And, according to sanguine ‘liberal’ journalist led by none other than New York Times, Turkey has been on its way to ‘democracy’, where military’s power is being curtailed.

    Au contraire, as evidenced by Harvard Economics Prof. Dani Rodrik on his blog (his father in law, who was a former4-start Army General has thrown in jail under alleged the Sledgehammer sham trial)
    (, Erdogan in power with Fethullah Gulen (a major CIA operative under the US wings) have been turning secular Turkey into ‘mildly Islamic’ country so that this new transformed Turkey ould play a role model to the rest of the Islamic world under a plot (Named Greater Middle Eastern’ drawn by none other than Neocons of Richard Perle, Mark Grossman, et el.

  18. Linus Huber

    Democracy is not an easy objective to achieve. It is much easier when a benevolent powerful and integer leader introduces democracy step by step.
    Unfortunately, in today’s world, leaders of that caliber are very hard to find.
    In addition, the arab mentality generally is looking for strong leadership.
    Many countries that introduced democracy went from bad to worse (e.g. Philippines, Iran). Other young democracies worked well because they had a strong (kind of elected leader), e.g. Singapore, Malaysia.

  19. timothy straus

    Let’s see, the Army in Egypt is supplied and funded by what country, the army in Bahrain is supplied by what country, the army in the Emirates is supplied by what country, Saudi Arabia and on and on….but wait, Libya is independent of this particular military Superpower and there are no bases of this particular Empire there, but would it not be a good idea if they did? The Egyptian army reports to one country and have for many years, I wonder who that could be. The Arab spring is a manipulated mechanism to let off steam in a boiling demographic hot house–it is an intentional mirage, but one that will kill and torture those who try to make it turn real. But the propaganda machine will certainly not let us see the other side of this wonderful democratic eruption, the destruction of the false hopes of the misled people of the Arab world.

    Welcome to the Ministry of Truth

  20. A.

    A young American journalist I know is on the ground floor in Cairo and noted yesterday via social media:
    “I strolled through Tahrir earlier today, when it was still quiet. There were a few protesters napping inside their tents, nothing of the wild scene on Friday. But off a side street by the museum, buses of security shabab in jeans, t-shirts, and camouflage vests sat roasting in the hot sun. I kept thinking they must be ready to burst, kept squished together like that. Apparently, that’s exactly why they were there.”

  21. Teejay

    Yves, Not to pick nits: Why do so many politicians
    and writers of politics use double negative
    construction? e.g.: “I don’t disagree” instead of
    “I agree”, “it would be not unreasonable” instead of ”
    “it would be reasonable”? It comes across self
    indulgent. Is there a more benign explanation?

  22. Kyle

    I’m happy I found your blog cause the tv news channel aren’t always objective about the egyptian’s recents events

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