Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sympathy for a Dictator

With millions of Egyptians taking to the streets against their government, and with France, Germany and the UK pressing it to hold democratic elections (a chorus the U.S. has not yet joined), you might think that the dictator Hosni Mubarak has no friends at all. But you would be mistaken.

This morning I decided to take a quick look at Fox News, to see how they were reporting on the Egyptian democracy movement and I found that they were distorting the news (yes, as usual) in a way favorable to Mubarak.

Fox interviewed a woman named Lisa Daftari whom it identified as a journalist and Iran expert, and Ms. Daftari helpfully pointed out that when President Jimmy Carter didn’t support the Shah’s brutal suppression of the Iranian uprising of 1978-79, the Muslim fundamentalists took over. The Fox reporter interviewing Daftari had to sometimes guide her back to the point he seemed determined to have her make, namely that the Egyptian democracy movement is likely to produce an Islamic fundamentalist dictatorship that will become a dangerous enemy of the U.S. After some leading questions, the interviewer finally got Daftari to spin the story in a way that would be frightening to Fox viewers and would help turn them against the democracy movement.

The show I was watching was called “Fox and Friends,” and I guess Fox considers the dictator Mubarak to be one of its friends. Mubarak is a conservative dictator and one who has been cooperative with American interests in the Middle East, and given this, it is natural that an outfit like Fox would want to throw him a lifeline. Since millions of Americans slavishly follow Fox’s propaganda lines, I predict that there will soon be an outburst of conservative talking heads telling us that Egypt is headed for an Islamist dictatorship just like the one that rules in Iran.

CNN offered another version of the Egyptian story. They interviewed an expert named Brian Fishman of the New American Foundation who also said that an Islamic dictatorship is a possible outcome of the current uprising – if Mubarak crushes the protesters. If that were to happen, the Egyptian people might decide that only a violent revolution can topple him, and some violence-prone fundamentalist Muslims could gain control of an uprising that had transformed itself into a non-democratic one.

A viewer would conclude from Mr. Fishman’s analysis that the one thing the U.S. should not do is signal to Mubarak that he can violently suppress the demonstrators – the virtual opposite of what Fox was implying.

Naturally there are numerous sources of news about the uprising that provide a wide array of viewpoints including, for example, the English language website of Al Jazeera. But to me, the most interesting development so far is the one I mentioned above: the public calls by our European friends for democratic elections in Egypt. So now, President Obama, will you join our European allies and call for democratic elections? Or have you been over-exposed to anti-democratic fear-mongering like that of Fox? The whole world is watching.