Cairo instant analysis

My plan for today really wasn't to be full immersion in the Al Jazeera feed (hat tip, John Halle). But what a day! Here are some random observations:

1. Al Jazeera rulez. I haven't seen such great anchoring, and such great reporting, in a long, long time. Caveat that I know nothing about what has happening on the ground, but I know what a team of crack professionals firing on all cylinders looks and sounds like when they're all caught up in covering the story of a lifetime, and Al Jazeera was most definitely that today. It's so clear the tragedy of how a working press been taken from us in this country; we just don't have the capability here that AJ does, these days.

2. Maturity counts. I've often returned to Ian Welsh's remark that "The future isn't happening in the United States any more." In some ways I disagree -- there is definitely a future for agriculture and post-Peak Oil that's happening right here in Maine -- but for the dynamic, even the revolutionary... Thailand. Tunisia. Egypt. And here? I don't think it's only a question that Americans still have a lot to lose before they hit bottom, but that can't be the only factor; Thailand's farmers, after all, are the richest in Asia. It might well be a question of maturity. Surely, in all three countries, the people/activists/demonstrators/movement showed far greater maturity than "the left" here (including myself), if you look at axes like messaging, discipline, tactics, strategy (even if I regard the Red Shirts as a great tragedy, since a Buddhist nation didn't find a non-violent way forward).*

3. Leaderlessness. One point that was made over and over again today was that the the nameless Egyptian movement didn't have leaders. Now, that might not be true, since I don't know the ground. What is undeniably true is that no leader stepped forward, and that the Egyptian goverrnment, and the United States government, who have every incentive to point the finger, didn't, perhaps because there was no one to point the finger at. (Massive intelligence failure? New kind of movement? Impossible to know today.) Now, when you read about slickly produced brochures explaining how to participate -- non-violently! -- in demonstrations, you have to think somebody's organized the marketing collateral, but maybe, just maybe, when a situation has simplified enough (and tyranny does simplify) and there are distributed mass media like cell phones (and mosques) simple messages can propagate rapidly through large populations. With presumably a decade or so of under-the-radar work to get the talking points right (and here I project). Those of us on the left who have seen multiple betrayals by leaders, intensifying greatly since, oh, 2008 or so, may find this a comforting, even an inspiring development.

4. The word "chaos" is a tell. (Ditto "anarchy".) Even AJ was using the "chaos" talking point, but I just don't think it's right. AJ was clever to put up a split screen of their shot of the NDP headquarters on fire, and state television's shot of the Cairo opera house, but there was still a grain of truth in what state television showed. There wasn't chaos everyhere! In the same way that the statue of Saddam toppling was such a story because it happened right across from the hotel that a lot of journalists were staying in, the "iconic" shot of the NDP building in flames happened because the AJ cameras were close by, in their headquarters building (near the Ministry of Information, which makes sense). Chaos implies that violence was random, with people being dragged out of their cars, and widespread looting, and fires on every block. None of the happened. Police stations were targeted; the NDP was targeted. That's not "chaos." And demonstrators and the military cooperating to save the Cairo Museum from burning isn't chaotic at all; in fact, it's totally civilized (unlike what we let happen to the museum in Baghdad, I might add). So "chaos" is a tell. Be skeptical of anybody who uses it, even AJ. [The Times has an interactive map here; so when I was watching AJ, my focus, along with theirs, was downtown, and there was more going on. Still, not chaos. Just as in Bangkok, the life of the city went on, traffic and everything.]

5. Avoid "social media". I'll believe that twitter and Facebook had anything to do with the events from January 25 on when I hear evidence on AJ, and not before. Call me foily, but I think the US is insisting access to the Internet be restored because they've got Facebook and twitter wired up the wazoo, and when Mubarak shut down the Internet US intelligence suddenly felt itself blinded. (Since they're out of touch, they're already blind, regardless of what they feel, but that's another story.) I'm betting that cell phones and the mosques were way more powerful.

NOTE * I also think that Americans are not metaphorically but almost literally narcotized by television and made ill or poisoned by diet (see the Archdruid here for the effects). We cannot separate these terrible terrible public health problems in the United States from political paralysis.

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