How Events In Egypt Are Playing Out Online

Host Melissa Block speaks with Adel Iskander of Georgetown University about how the day's news is playing out across Egyptian media and among activists online.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

We're going to check in now on the role of the media and the Internet in Egypt with Adel Iskandar. He's been following today's events and the many days of protests before. He's a lecturer in Arab media at Georgetown University.

Welcome back to the program.

Professor ADEL ISKANDAR (Media and Communications Lecturer, Georgetown University): Thank you.

BLOCK: I want to talk with you first about state television and its evolving role as these protests have gone on. Let's - initially, in these weeks of protests, what would you have seen if you turned on state television in Egypt? Anything?

Prof. ISKANDAR: Well, you would see a very stark contrast compared to some of the other satellite television programs that are being streamed into Egyptian homes. So, initially, state television was very much in line - direct, you know, communiques between the government and the broadcasters, so nothing that steered away from the government line. So it sounded very propagandistic, and that was, you know, one of the startling contrasts.

BLOCK: Would there have been an acknowledgement that there were protesters in the streets? Would you have seen images of Tahrir Square and what was going on?

Prof. ISKANDAR: Very rarely. Very rarely. In fact, most of the images and most of the video was actually either stills of Egypt - very, very tranquil, very quiet, very serene images and videos of the Nile and surrounding buildings, architecture, things of that sort, and patriot music. But nothing that really showed unrest in the streets of Cairo, specifically not Tahrir Square.

BLOCK: And how has that evolved over the last couple of weeks?

Prof. ISKANDAR: Well, I think with the growing disenchantment and the rise in the number of protesters in the streets of Egypt and, of course, the scandals as far as international media is concerned, the state television has had to come into the fold. And so, eventually, their programming has at least described the existence of protests but, to a great extent, underestimated and underreported the magnitude of these protests.

BLOCK: And what about tonight after President Mubarak's speech where he said he was not stepping down?

Prof. ISKANDAR: Well, just before the speech, it appeared as though the state television has come back into the fold of, you know, legitimate journalism and stopped the propaganda.

But after the speech, it seems like there's a relative perplexion on the part of the journalists. They don't know how to report the story, particularly. So they're saying that people are walking away from Tahrir Square, contemplating what's going on but not really rejecting the concession.

BLOCK: Contemplating would be one word for it. I'm not sure it's the word I would have chosen.

I want to talk to you, too, about the role of Al Jazeera, which has been a real target for the fury of the Egyptian government. Why don't you explain that role?

Prof. ISKANDAR: Well Al Jazeera has had a very, very, you know, difficult relationship with the Egyptian government for many years. But all of this has come to a head over the last two weeks or so. And the Egyptian government has tried everything possible to muzzle the station. Everything from raiding their offices, arresting their journalists, trying to shut them down; basically, pulling them off the Nilesat television to avoid having Egyptians watch them.

This is - they've come on air again in the last 24 hours. But I think the damage is done. And now, Mubarak is making public statements, accusing foreign powers of interfering. And that's very much a closeted accusation against Al Jazeera and its sponsoring nation of Qatar.

BLOCK: Do you figure most people in Egypt who are trying to get news about what's going on would be tuning to state television or to Al Jazeera? Would it depend entirely on how they feel about President Mubarak?

Prof. ISKANDAR: I think if you're following the developments in your own country, you would be incredibly wise to basically channel-switch between Al Jazeera and the Egyptian satellite channel, as well as other varieties.

So I think this story is far more interesting to the Egyptians than anyone else, and so they're serving the scene as much as they possibly can to keep up with the latest developments.

BLOCK: We've been hearing, of course, a lot about the role of the Internet in galvanizing and organizing these protests. Earlier on, the Egyptian government shut down the Web. And now, a Google executive has become a real hero among the protesters, Wael Ghonim, who was arrested and then released earlier this week.

Let's listen to something he said yesterday on CNN.

Mr. WAEL GHONIM (Marketing Executive, Google): If you want to free a society, just give them Internet access. Because people are going to, you know, the young crowds are going to all go out and see and hear the unbiased media, see the truth about, you know, other nations and their own nation. And they're going to be able to communicate and collaborate together.

Unidentified Man: Was this an Internet revolution?

Mr. GHONIM: Definitely, this is the Internet revolution. And I'll call it Revolution 2.0.

BLOCK: Revolution 2.0. Adel Iskandar, do you think in some level that's facile, that this goes well beyond tweeting and Facebook, what's going on in Egypt reflects deep-seated grievances that are longstanding?

Prof. ISKANDAR: I think the truth works both ways. I mean, to a great extent, it would have been very difficult for people to find an arena, a venue whereby they can express their thoughts freely to the extent that they can mobilize and turn this into an actual revolution.

So anybody who is watching the Internet and watching social networking, such as Facebook and what Wael Ghonim was doing anonymously on the Internet over the past six months or so, could have foreseen how things are developing. But if you missed it entirely, then all of this would have been entirely unexpected.

So I think it's important to recognize the role of the Internet. But once the Internet is cut off, then it's, you know, it's the will of the people to translate action to bodies on the street. And that's exactly what happened the moment Wael Ghonim was cut off the Internet, arrested, detained, and everything was gone.

BLOCK: Adel Iskandar, a lecturer in Arab media at Georgetown University, thanks for coming in.

Prof. ISKANDAR: Thank you for having me.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: