Wednesday, February 2, 2011
As CNN notes:
All at once, about 50 or 60 people carrying clubs and riding horses and camels charged into the square, beating some protesters. At least one man was pulled off his horse and beaten.
As a FoxNews blogger writes:
Just seen guys racing in on camels into Tahrir square to join the protests. Amazing sight.Given that a CNN news crew was attacked, and Anderson Cooper was punched in the head 10 times by pro-Mubarak forces (and see this), and that the pro-Mubarak forces are attacking Al Jazeera and Al-Arabiya reporters as well, it is safe to say that the anti-democracy thugs were not trying to be subtle.
But the situation is getting very tense. Aggressive pro-Mubarak supporters, some seemingly organized by the government, are driving into the square and coming face-to-face with angry anti-regime protesters.
The pro-government groups are much smaller than those calling for change, who gather in large clusters of 500 or more and then stream endlessly into the square.
Instead, it is obvious that they were trying to make a statement.
The statement is that there will be chaos unless the protesters go home and agree to let Mubarak stay in power, at least until September's elections.
As the New York Times' Nicholas Kristof writes today:
It is absurd to think of this as simply “clashes” between two rival groups. The pro-democracy protesters are unarmed and have been peaceful at every step. But the pro-Mubarak thugs are arriving in buses and are armed — and they’re using their weapons.Indeed, the guy riding on a camel has a very Arab-looking headscarf, and a wildly bright and eye-catching orange camel blanket.
In my area of Tahrir, the thugs were armed with machetes, straight razors, clubs and stones. And they all had the same chants, the same slogans and the same hostility to journalists. They clearly had been organized and briefed. So the idea that this is some spontaneous outpouring of pro-Mubarak supporters, both in Cairo and in Alexandria, who happen to end up clashing with other side — that is preposterous. It’s difficult to know what is happening, and I’m only one observer, but to me these seem to be organized thugs sent in to crack heads, chase out journalists, intimidate the pro-democracy forces and perhaps create a pretext for an even harsher crackdown.
I have no idea whether this tactic will work. But the idea that President Mubarak should make the case that he is necessary for Egypt’s stability by unleashing violence and chaos on his nation’s youth — it’s a sad and shameful end to his career.
That's a "look at me" get-up if there ever was one.
But why camels - a uniquely Arab symbol? And why such blatantly Arab looking head-covering?
Well, pictures of millions of peaceful protesters wearing largely Western clothing is a universal image of people power.
Mubarak and his backers couldn't have that, could they?
Instead, most Western media is now showing the camel shots and saying "Pro- and Anti-Mubarak forces clash", without providing any explanation that the pro-Mubark forces did all of the attacking.
Moreover, many consumers of Western news will see the camel pictures and think to themselves:
There go those camel jockeys again.("Camel jockey" is a racist slur for Arabs used by Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter and their ilk.)
In other words, people who get their news from Limbaugh, Coulter, Fox News and the like will see the pictures and decide that the entire Egyptian struggle for freedom can be written off as dusky Arabs fighting other dusky Arabs.
Maybe I'm taking it too far. Maybe there wasn't a decision to use propaganda in such a scripted manner.
But - at the very least - it is important to understand how these images will be interpreted by many busy people in the West who have no time to learn the facts.