Editorial: The power of this page

The global media has turned all eyes upon the upheaval of Egypt’s government in recent weeks. The protesters that brought the country to its knees are pleading for the removal of Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s president for the past 30 years.

Playing an integral role in the devlopment of what can rightly be categorized as a revolution for democracy, the media has been captivating and garnering interest from a global audience with its informative, accurate coverage of the events as they unfold.

After the articles were filed and the facts were out, the editorial pages of news outlets around the world took up the protesters’ fight — arguing that such a widespread, intense fervor for democracy warrants much change.
But these epic protests did not always garner so much support in the political realm. In fact, President Barack Obama initially shared a similar reaction to the Egyptian revolts as some Arab leaders — silence.

The Obama administration’s silence can be easily construed as a move to back Israel’s interests and maintain an American ally in the Middle East. It was a choice that allowed political interest to trump democracy.

In fact, the administration released quiet support of the Mubarak regime when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went so far as to say: “Our assessment is that the Egyptian government is stable and is looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people.”

With the entire world watching, the United States chose to remain silent about a corrupt, oppressive regime over supporting a people’s cries for democracy.

However, the political rhetoric changed dramatically when the world’s media began to highlight our leaders’ hypocrisies for the entire world to see.

A Jan. 28 editorial by the New York Times clearly outlined the internal struggle the United States government was having with the Egypt situation.

“Egypt, with Mr. Mubarak in charge, is an American ally and a recipient of nearly $1.5 billion in aid annually. It is the biggest country in the Arab world and was the first to make peace with Israel. … All of which leaves Washington in a quandary, trying to balance national security concerns and its moral responsibility to stand with those who have the courage to oppose authoritarian rulers.”

The editorial ended with an exhortation for Obama to cut the federal aid money for Egypt if Mubarak continues to escalate the fight against the protesters.

Al Jazeera-English echoed the same sentiments even more vehemently in its opinion section. Its Feb. 1 editorial compared the U.S. support of the 2009 Iranian protests to the U.S. support for the Egypt uprisings, and found disturbing disparities in the stories.

The American government was much more willing to express support for Iranian protesters fighting for the same causes we have now seen Egyptians rally for — liberty and democracy.

During the Iranian uprisings protesters were fighting an oppressive regime with a corrupt voting system. Innocent people were arrested, beaten, intimidated and killed.

Journalists were arrested and beaten and communications were hampered when President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad tried to have major social networks shutdown.

Obama immediately came out and openly condemned Ahmadinejad of Iran and fought to keep Twitter and Facebook open for Iranians. He went so far as to apply pressure to Twitter and Facebook to avoid a scheduled maintenance shutdown to aid the protesters.

Fast-forward two years. Egyptian protesters fighting an oppressive regime with a corrupt voting system are arrested, beaten, killed.

Journalists are arrested and beaten and communications are hampered — as Mubarak not only shuts down Facebook and Twitter, but nearly the entire Internet structure of Egypt.

This time, Obama hesitated.

In these remarkably similar situations, the Obama administration’s reactions were remarkably dissimilar. What other correlation can be made than that the administration has some hesitation in angering current allies? If we are a country that has backed other revolutions fighting for democracy, then we must stay true to that resolve or else we mar our reputation and engage in severe hypocrisy.

In another editorial, The New York Times shed light on the Egyptian protesters, giving voice to the concerns that Obama was acting too slowly in cutting his ties with Mubarak. The Times argued that while a cautious attitude is commendable, this was the time for America to stand strong for democracy.

Across a broad spectrum of outlets, from Twitter to blogs, people assailed America as a hypocrite — talking the talk of democracy but not walking the walk.

After days of assault from the world media, professional news outlets and blogs alike, the Obama administration finally decided to take a stand.

On Feb. 1 Obama asked Mubarak not to run for reelection. Mubarak decided not to seek re-election, but protesters still weren’t happy. Editorials after Obama’s initial request to Mubarak demanded a stronger response from the country’s figurehead.

On Feb. 3, Obama answered with a more forceful request: Step back, Mubarak, and allow Vice President Omar Suleiman to lead the government reform in Egypt.

And most recently, when Suleiman expressed that Egypt wasn’t ready for a democracy, the White House announced that Suleiman’s views were “unacceptable.”

The administration has pushed for amendments to the Egyptian Constitution, legalization of political parties and more free government opponents and members of the media from prisons.

The determined Egyptian protesters should be admired for their courage in the face of arrests, physical abuse and even death. They should be admired for starting the protests and continuing to see them through.

But the world’s media, in publishing news articles and editorials about the event, should also be lauded. This will stand as a testament to the power of the editorial page, a time when the national consensus was forcefully presented to America’s president.

A time when newspaper editorial boards refused to allow what America stands for to be ignored.

The leaders of modern journalism — a craft famously quoted as mightier than the sword — helped the people of Egypt and they saved face for America.

Members of the media have been victims of intimidation and physical abuse, ranging from beatings to destruction and theft of equipment. Reporters from the United Kingdom’s Guardian to Qatar’s Al Jazeera have been arrested and physically attacked by Mubarak’s police. Yet they still keep writing and photographing.

By providing accurate coverage of the protests, arrests and violence, journalists have allowed the masses to understand what is going on in the largest Middle Eastern country.

The media chose to continue following the story in the face of grave danger, and in doing so ensured that Egypt would gain interest in their cause and possible support from the citizens of the world and, eventually, the United States.