Regular readers will have noticed by now my informal chronicling of curious propaganda coming out of post-coup Egypt. Today I flag this passage in a New York Times op-ed, “Egypt’s Despair, and Its Hope,” by Alaa Al Aswany:
a systematic media campaign carried out by state television and the private channels owned by businessmen who used to back the Mubarak regime. This public relations effort aims to convey the notion that the January 2011 revolution was a plot by American intelligence agencies to remove Mr. Mubarak. It accuses the young revolutionaries of being traitors and paid agents of the West.
You might wonder how this kind of Bizarro-World bald-faced lying could actually work. How could any Egyptian be persuaded that the January/February 2011 uprising, which was resisted for many weeks by American officials — who had long backed Hosni Mubarak and were hoping he would hold on to power — could also be orchestrated by American intelligence agents and their Egyptian youth recruits?
This gets to the same problem I raised in my first post on post-coup propaganda:
Obviously, given their easy access to outside media, most internet-using Egyptians are probably well aware of the distinction […] It’s worth remembering, however, that a lot of Egyptians still get their news from television media and, unlike their Twitter-savvy brethren, aren’t necessarily exposed to alternate sources of information.
Indeed, many young, urban Egyptians are well aware of the alternate reality being constructed around — and, in fact, against them. As Aswany notes, recently a Facebook post on the despair of the rolled-back revolution went viral. Two sentences stick out in the this context:
Yet we keep on stating that it was a real dream, no matter how much they try to falsify history. None of us who have lived that dream will ever forget, or regret it, for a moment.
The question now is whether they will hold on to those memories long enough to outlast the efforts of the alternate-reality propagandists who are trying to convince them they have misremembered what happened and were wrapped into a Western web of lies and insurrection. It’s hard to keep hold of what you know is true the longer you spend in an environment that tells you an alternative narrative, day in and day out, and gaslights your lived experience constantly.
The prevailing global view now is that Egypt’s present struggle is one of secularists versus religious insurgents returning from foreign battlefields. But as Aswany observes, as a note of hope, 60% of Egypt’s 85 million citizens are under age 29. Let that sink in for a moment.
The real 21st century struggle in Egypt will be between a shrinking, but still economically powerful elite of men in their sixties, seventies, and eighties and the seething, unemployed masses of young people. Seen in that light, the propaganda takes on a whole new dimension: It’s an instrument of control to divide and suppress the group most threatening to the power structure. That group is not, in fact, the Muslim insurgents and the Muslim Brotherhood, but just anyone of any creed under the age of 30.
Like any society with a very narrow elite and a marginalized super-majority — whether ancient Sparta with its helots or the 19th century United States and its African slaves — long before the dis-empowered majority begins to see and act upon the scale of its own potential power, the minority rulers on top of the society start to militarize themselves and spin elaborate propaganda about the inferiority, treachery, perfidy, corruption of the masses they stand upon. The elite weaves a paranoid narrative justifying heavy and liberal use of force to restrain its dis-empowered population, even before they think seriously of rising up.
Egypt’s ruling elites — many of whom were in their late seventies — were caught off guard by the ferocity and suddenness of the peaceful uprising in January and February 2011 by their country’s young people. They won’t make the same mistake again.
By attacking and discrediting the base of the revolution, by generating suspicion of young people, the elites hope to preserve their control through the fear of middle aged heads of household, who are already terrified that they will not be able to raise their families in safety and provide food for them. The current propaganda is not an effort to rewrite history — it’s an effort to rewrite the future.