Watching Al Jazeera in Africa

Libyan woman being drug awayNairobi Al Jazeera was not the channel of choice for international news in Nairobi this trip over CNN or BBC, but it had become the only choice.  Frankly, it was a valuable, fascinating, and worthwhile experience.  It was actually more likable to hear American and Australian accents along with the British on Al Jazeera-English, and the news was important and objective with a very pronounced populist, ie. anti-government slant.

The announcer pressed hard in the Syrian spots about why there was not NATO intervention to protect civilians under attack in that country.  Were the civilians less important than in Libya?  Why was the international community not acting?

The stories on Libya were rooted in the rebel lines.  One of the most terrible television sequences I have ever watched was a rebroadcast Al Jazeera did of a cellphone clip of a government pickup filled with young rebel prisoners bound and tied together, all of their faces swollen and beaten, and the fear of almost certain death staring from them straight through the camera and searing your eyes.  I watched the Gaddafi soldiers allow a civilian to come into the unknown camera sight line and pummel a prisoner for a while, and as detestable as the sight, the worse horror was the sinking feeling of uncertainty as the pickup drove out of view that these were men on the way to their death, and they full well knew it.

An almost equally moving broadcast was from Tripoli where a young woman had been raped in her home by Gaddafi soldiers and desperate for justice had found her way to the hotel where international media was housed and told her story.  She was then arrested and in a translated version of a broadcast interview with her mother holding her picture from Al Jazeera Arabic, the mother called on any men who were still men in Libya to come forward to save her daughter and to punish those with the government who had done this shameful crime.  In a cultural rarity the family had come together to support the daughter in rage rather than shame.  Powerful stuff.

There was a report from North Dakota on the oil boom and fracking that interviewed Native American families and heard their concerns.  There was a report from Japan that focused on the cleanup, the nuclear fears, and the government problems.  There was a report from Buenos Aires of a former “disappeared” prisoner from the dictatorship period confronting his jailer in prison about the 6-months of torture he had endured including sodomy.

There was a report from the UN trials of a Pol Pot jailer trying to get a reduced sentence because he had done 11 years and didn’t want to do 30 because he was too low on the authority chain.

Somehow on that last story they found an observer who went on the record and said he didn’t care if the jailer did 11 years, 19 years, or 30 years, because “in a 1000 years all that will matter is that he was guilty.”

International years that cares about the long run test of time rather than everything in the weeds of the 24/7 news cycle is something I want see in America!


Revolution for the Masses, Leaders for the Media

_51109727_011189195-1New Orleans If the commentary on TV and in print about Egypt were not so ridiculous, pathetic, tragic, and misinformed about such deadly serious business as freedom, revolution, and regime change, it would actually be funny.

I listened to a blip on CNN on the way to the Hornets game last night with my son in which a commentator on the ground in Cairo named Nic, I believe, Robinson, pontificated on how unusual, and essentially frustrating, all of this was because there were no easily identified leaders, and then he proceeded to tell the views in an intimate tone that essential “as we all know” revolutions are ignited by charismatic and easily identified leaders and this is not the case in Egypt.   Earlier in anger I had read the same thing in an AP story trying to argue that Egypt was different and unsettling because a dozen days in they had still not been able to identify a transcendent leader to rally around in the streets.  The Times almost as pathetically wondered today whether the released Google exec might be willing to stand up and be the much needed face and voice of the revolution.

At one level this is ridiculous because it contradicts reports on the ground in Egypt.  The largely young organizers of the demonstrations are known and recognized and were even given seats at table in the early meetings with Mubarak’s vice-president and now chief negotiator of the transition.  Furthermore according to Al Masry Al Youm in the English edition yesterday:

“Five major groups [participating in the demonstrations] have formed a revolutionary committee and chosen ten individuals to represent them,” said activist Ziad al-Alimy on Monday.

Al-Alimy explained that the coalition included the 6 April protest movement, the Muslim Brotherhood’s youth wing, the Mohamed ElBaradei Support Group, the Young Freedom and Justice Movement and the Democratic Front Party’s youth wing.

The development represents the first appearance of a unified leadership among protesters, who insist on maintaining their popular uprising that began on 25 January.

“The coalition will coordinate with other opposition parties and groups to continue demanding the departure of President Hosni Mubarak,” al-Alimy said.

He added that the coalition had not participated in the talks held recently between some opposition parties and newly-appointed Vice-President Omar Suleiman.

So, the bottom line is that the problem is not that there are not leaders.  There are obviously.  The media and the government are troubled by the fact that these leaders understand with all apologies to Nic and others that revolutions are fueled to success from the bottom, not from the top, and they are trying to maintain their aligned to the base to survive long enough to topple the government despite the concerns of the State Department and other countries and the interests of the media in tying this into a neater little package of sound bites with head shots of the coming boss.  In Egypt the real organizers and leaders want the new boss to be different than the old boss, not just the same as the old boss, as The Who sang.

Perhaps it might remind some of a country they are not very familiar with:  The United States of America!

Don’t believe me, read American Insurgents, American Patriots by distinguished Northwestern University Professor T.H. Breen, published last year, which through brilliant research resuscitates the role of common people and their role in making the American revolution work.  Breen once again proved how the mass base in hundreds of communities across largely rural America moved years ahead of the Declaration of Independence and forced the “leaders” to emerge who were willing to follow them.  Just as we are seeing in the Cairo streets, they were insurgents then in English terms and only became patriots later in American terms after we won our independence and freedoms.

Put your pencil and computers down for a second, and read a book, if you are unable to simply listen to what people on the street in Egypt are saying.  This is how revolutions are made from the bottom, and it’s why they are unstoppable, despite the huge forces daily trying to co-opt their energy and power.