Before reading this piece you should watch The Square, the Oscar nominated documentary about the Egyptian Revolution from the view of the revolutionaries. Generally, I think all of these awards shows are BS and gratuitous in their frequency - but sometimes they get it right. By nominating The Square, the Oscars did the right thing by bringing attention to this important film.
The Square documents the how Egyptians toppled the Mubarak regime, and their battles with Egyptian politics since then, from the viewpoint of the revolutions. “Revolutionaries” are new to the Egyptian political scene because most of them are young, educated adults who are tech savvy and connected to the outside world via the Internet and social media. How The Square was produced makes these connections clear: the film was shot on digital cameras, funded in part by Kickstarter, then produced and made available to the world by Netflix. Indeed, The Square might be, to date, the most important thing produced by a youthful generation that the mainstream media loves to deride as selfie tweeting narcissists.
Perhaps this is why some people who write for the mainstream media just don’t get it. One such writer is the Washington Post’s Max Fisher, who describes (derides) The Square like this:
But the film ultimately also shares, and in some ways stands to compound, the protest movement’s failures. Rather than reaffirming the pluralistic ideals that made early 2011 so hopeful, it contributes to Egypt’s poisonous atmosphere of polarization and distrust, by its one-sided and often polemical portrayal of the Muslim Brotherhood.
There’s a lot wrong with this description - and it cuts to the heart of the problems in the mainstream media, who prefer to have a “View from Nowhere" instead of show bias towards one side.
To see how Fisher comes at this with a view from nowhere, let’s discuss the Muslim Brotherhood first. Egyptians Revolutionaries are the new guard in politics, but the Brotherhood (or Ikhwan, their abbreviated name in Arabic that’s often used in the media) are Egypt’s old guard. The Ikhwan have been around since the end of World War I and they play a vital role not just in Egyptian politics but global politics as well. Sayid Qutb, a man regarded as the philosophical forefather of al-Qa’ida, was in the Ikhwan. Ayman al-Zawahiri, known in the Western world as “Number Two” in al-Qa’ida; but, in fact, was the man who lured a Saudi millionaire named Osama bin-Laden over to his side while both fought with the Mujahideen in Afghanistan, was in the Ikhwan.
You should know about al-Zawahiri’s background as well: he was raised in a middle class Egyptian family, well educated, spoke English very well, and become a medical doctor. In many ways, the young al-Zawahiri was similar to Egypt’s current revolutionaries. More importantly, pertaining to a discussion about the Ikhwan, al-Zawahiri’s background is a reflection on the backgrounds of many members of the Ikhwan: they are doctors, engineers, businessman, educators, middle class, well off.
And Islamist. The Ikhwan are adherents to a vision of bringing an “Islamic” government to Egypt. This was displayed in their battles against Egypt’s first president, Gamal Nasr, who banned the Ikhwan as a political party back in the 1950’s. This vision was also displayed when the Ikhwan assassinated Nasr’s successor, President Sadat. When Mubarak came to power after Sadat’s assassination, he placed Egypt under martial/emergency law for three decades before the Revolutionaries ousted him.
Remember that the leadership of the Ikhwan come from Egypt’s middle class, because that opens up the another side of the organization: they were rich enough to become a charity organization for Egyptians stricken with poverty. Before Mubarak’s ouster, the Ikhwan were described with phrases like “They’re Hamas without guns.” Hamas generates support from the Palestinian populace in part by providing for the poor - and so do the Ikhwan with Egypt’s poor.
When a Revolutionary touches upon this point in The Square, Fisher dismisses it:
Ahmed Hassan, an otherwise idealistic young revolutionary, explains that the Brotherhood has so many supporters because it bribes them with cooking oil and bread and brainwashes them with religion.
Sorry Fisher, but this is exactly what’s been happening in Egypt for decades. The governments of Nasr, Sadat, and Mubarak didn’t create get educational systems. Many Egyptians, even in the country’s most cosmopolitan areas, are poor and illiterate. If an organization offers them charity while preaching the Islamist world viewpoint, what would you think is going to happen?
Fisher goes on to describe the actions of the Revolutionaries as actions which have exacerbated Egypt’s political problems - all without touching upon the Ikhwan’s violent history. Also, speaking of organizations with a violent history, the word “army” does not appear once in Fisher’s piece. If the Revolutionaries are to share equal blame with other sides for Egypt’s troubles, then I suppose it was Revolutionaries who murdered over 600 Ikhwan protesters on August 14, 2013? No, it was the Egyptian army that committed those atrocities.
Fisher’s mindset of enforcing impartiality is a manifestation of the mainstream media’s biggest problem, what Jay Rosen has called “The View from Nowhere.” You should read Rosen’s article about this phenomenon, but to give you a summary: The View from Nowhere is how the press, in their effort to not be accused of any sort of bias, applies equal weight (and blame) to all sides of an issue. This is how, for example, creationists and climate change deniers are able to gain such prominence in the mainstream media despite the broad lack of acceptance (or factual basis) for their viewpoints.
And this is how an American journalist can equate Egypt’s Revolutionaries as causing just as many problems in that country as the Ikhwan. Having knowledge of a country’s history and culture is no longer needed because that knowledge might induce someone to be “biased.”
The Square isn’t afraid of being biased; it is unabashedly such. The View from The Square is not just biased, it’s correct. The mainstream media insists on giving us a view from nowhere because they aren’t brave enough to take on corrupt governments and dictators. The Ikhwan is able to bring Egyptians to their side by giving them charity, the mainstream media is able to keep the populace under the viewpoint of the government by giving them a miseducation. Can you think of any other reason why there hasn’t been an outcry from the American people to have our government halt the billions of dollars we’ve sent in foreign aid to Egypt’s dictatorial government?
The Square isn’t a view from nowhere - it’s view looks out upon the truth. Great documentaries show its viewers the truth in very stark, black and white terms, and The Square is a great documentary.