Crackdowns and Detainments: A review of "Media, Revolution and Politics in Egypt: The Story of an Uprising"
From graffiti slogans to national anthems, Media, Revolution and Politics in Egypt places her reader in the center of Tahrir Square before and after it became the epicenter of Egypt’s burgeoning democracy. Author Abdalla F. Hassan provides a detailed account of the interwoven role that media and politics played in Egypt’s 2011 revolution. Giving his readers a front row seat to the action, Hassan skillfully captures Egyptians’ use of media prior, during and after the revolution. This is because, “more than becoming just the struggle of Egyptians for basic freedoms against a dictatorship, the media made this a revolution that the world watched.”1
Ultimately, Hassan traces the perplexing story of how Egypt’s army came to be both the enemy and eventual hero of the Egyptian people. By the time of current president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s intervention through a coup d’etat in 2013, “talk show hosts on private Egyptian satellite channels rejoiced in news of Morsi’s removal, scrawled on Egyptian flags, crying tears of joy, singing along as the national anthem was played, and uttering words of praise to the valiant public guardians—the army and police.”2 This, only to face “a government [that] went further in restricting the press, pressuring the cancellation of a television drama and a popular satire programme, and jailing journalists under the guise of waging war against terrorism.”3 The book concisely tells the story of Egypt’s attempt at a free media, her revolutionaries, and the rotating political circumstances that fought their way to create and improve Egypt’s nascent democracy.
Hassan begins by extensively covering eight years of independent media and social media activity despite a heavy state hand that was embedded in Egyptian society long before the revolution. He reveals to the reader that activism has long simmered in Egyptian society, but it was social media that prompted political activity.
By chapter two, Hassan, in journal entry form, details the first 18 days of what is now known as Egypt’s Arab Spring. In doing so, he deconstructs the state’s narrative, debunks skeptics who believed it was led by foreign interests, and reinforces the “purity” of the revolution which centered on “political freedoms, unemployment and poverty since they were issues of concern to all Egyptians.”4 Hassan makes a strong case that the original revolution was an organic Egyptian-led movement, citing civil society accounts, reports from journalists who were imprisoned by the state because of their activism, and the sheer number of crowds that came out in Tahrir, Alexandria, and Upper Egypt. Interweaving and recounting events from the citizens’ perspective at that time with the corresponding state response and vice versa, Hassan elegantly paints both the state’s and the citizens’ narratives.
Although the bulk of the book quotes Egyptian state and independent media shows’ conversations, Eighteen Days reads like an inside scoop story. More subtly, and perhaps unknowingly, Hassan traces not only the political revolution, but also the evolving psychology of Egyptians that came as a result of the political atmosphere. He writes, “unlike the uprising that ousted Mubarak two and a half years earlier, the element of fear was absent,” begging the question: with such unprecedented civic zeal, will Egypt ever be the same?5 This insight into the modern Egyptian revolutionary presents itself as an unintentional insight to the reader.
Hassan’s key strength lies in his ability to contrast the pre- and post-revolution media, citizens, and politicians. Additionally, an unexpected, but important, inclusion in the text is Hassan’s continuous discussion of violence against women and minorities. He highlights that even during the revolution, Egypt’s historical struggle with social issues regarding the state’s ambivalence towards gender- and religion-based violence, namely against women and Coptic Christians, went uncontested. He succeeds at highlighting the more frightening parts of the revolution, and conveys a heroic, yet gruesome picture of Tahrir’s realities.
A point of weakness in the book is Hassan’s abrupt transition into Morsi’s victory as president. In comparison to his thorough analysis in earlier chapters, this section seems rushed and unexplained. Had he extrapolated this significant event, it might have served to edify his argument on the role media played in Morsi’s election, of which the reader is left unconvinced. In addition, he only briefly touches on the role of Arab states’ foreign political interests in propping up both Mubarak and Morsi. Nonetheless he returns to his usual precision when chronicling Morsi’s demise, continuing to use private and state media as his point of reference.6
Overall, Media, Revolution and Politics in Egypt tells a story of Egypt’s path to a modern and active civil society through the use of media. Hassan is undaunted by his complicated task of summarizing the role of media in Egypt’s revolution. Instead he approaches the task by captivating the audience with the story of a nation finding its democratic footing, for once, through the media, with or without the state’s permission. Hassan reminds us that in Egypt, just because press freedom remains in constant demand, it doesn’t mean politicians or the world should underestimate the power of the press.
1 Abdalla F. Hassan, Media, Revolution and Politics in Egypt (London: I.B. Tauris, 2015), 182.
2 Ibid., 48.
3 Ibid., 217.
4 Ibid., 41; Ibid., 38.
5 Ibid., 178.
6 Ibid., 182.