Egyptian protests: For too long the familiar stories of repression and resistance went undercovered in the American press.

Opinions about events beyond our borders.
Jan. 31 2011 12:57 PM

At Last, Egypt's Story Has Changed

For too long Egyptian protests and repression were underplayed in the press because they were so familiar.

An Egyptian woman holds up a sign in Tahrir Square. Click image to expand.

During the two years that I was reporting from Cairo (2006-08), it would sometimes appear to me that the correspondents of some of the bigger U.S. newspapers were ignoring or underplaying the major Egyptian stories of the day.

A season of brutally suppressed street demonstrations in favor of judicial independence, the continued imprisonment of Hosni Mubarak's 2005 election challenger, and an unprecedented wave of labor unrest in the Nile Delta—all these seemed to get short shrift in the big American broadsheets.

Advertisement

When this occurred to me, I would remind myself, in my colleagues' defense, that there was a lot happening elsewhere in the region, not least in Iraq, Iran, and Lebanon. Egypt wasn't the whole Middle East, and their travel budgets more than dwarfed mine.

Eventually, however, I realized something else was at work. It wasn't that outlets like the Chicago Tribune and the Washington Post were ignoring these Egyptian stories. It was that they had already written them, time and again, in the years prior to my arrival.

Egypt was frozen in time. Surprises happened, like the Muslim Brotherhood's strong showing in the 2005 parliamentary elections. But these events were managed and mitigated by Hosni Mubarak's smothering security state. In every important way, Egypt seemed pathologically resistant to change. With little that was "new," the country produced very little "news."

In the years after I left Egypt, I saw my own stories repeated by a new crop of reporters: small street protests, brutally suppressed; labor unrest; the president's son being groomed for office.

"[T]hat's what stung about Egypt," I wrote near the end of my book The Black Nile, "the sense of a place trapped in amber—though amber at least acts as a preservative. Egypt felt like some slow-decaying element."

In the book's second-to-last paragraph, as a boatman takes me to the Nile's terminus at Rosetta, where the great river spills into the Mediterranean Sea, I tried to get to the crux of what it was about Egypt that so vexed and saddened me:

I had spent more than six months tracing the Nile from the shores of Lake Victoria and had expected to be happier at the end of the line. Down the length of the Nile people lived and even thrived under extraordinary constraints. But Uganda and Sudan were dynamic, changing. There, the future was unwritten and—however unevenly—the horizon was growing. It seemed the opposite held in Egypt: Here, your fate was obvious and you would never be free.

The past seven days have made a lie of that last sentence of mine.

The dam has burst. For the Egyptian people (and the Tunisian people, and just maybe the Sudanese people, too), there are thrilling and frightful new stories to write.

Like  Slate on Facebook. Follow Slate and the Slate Foreign Desk on Twitter.

Dan Morrison is the author of The Black Nile. He writes at danmorrison.net and tweets at @dmsouthasia and @theblacknile.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Irritating Confidante

John Dickerson on Ben Bradlee’s fascinating relationship with John F. Kennedy.

My Father Invented Social Networking at a Girls’ Reform School in the 1930s

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

The All The President’s Men Scene That Captured Ben Bradlee

Medical Examiner

Is It Better to Be a Hero Like Batman?

Or an altruist like Bruce Wayne?

Technology

Driving in Circles

The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.

The World’s Human Rights Violators Are Signatories on the World’s Human Rights Treaties

How Punctual Are Germans?

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 21 2014 11:40 AM The U.S. Has Spent $7 Billion Fighting the War on Drugs in Afghanistan. It Hasn’t Worked. 
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
  Life
The Vault
Oct. 21 2014 2:23 PM A Data-Packed Map of American Immigration in 1903
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 1:12 PM George Tiller’s Murderer Threatens Another Abortion Provider, Claims Right of Free Speech
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 21 2014 1:02 PM Where Are Slate Plus Members From? This Weird Cartogram Explains. A weird-looking cartogram of Slate Plus memberships by state.
  Arts
Behold
Oct. 21 2014 12:05 PM Same-Sex Couples at Home With Themselves in 1980s America
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 21 2014 4:14 PM Planet Money Uncovers One Surprising Reason the Internet Is Sexist
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.