A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Wrapup on ‘Orabi Protests

The ‘Orabi protests seem to have evolved about the way such demonstrations usually do: several hundred demonstrators assemble with signs and chants; thousands of police and State Security (and non-uniformed toughs from the ruling party) show up as well; there are some arrests, a few people roughed up or beaten with nightsticks; some women demonstrators are manhandled; and that's the end of it. Reuters' story is here. You can find a lot of streamed cellphone videos posted here; they mostly show helmets and demonstrators with signs.

One thing I find interesting is that the Reuters link above only mentions he ‘Orabi connection late in the article, and many of the accounts I've seen don't mention it at all. Perhaps this is because the reporter has no idea who ‘Orabi was, or assumes at least the readers won't, thus missing the historical symbolism the demonstrators were trying to evoke (see my earlier post). (The actual link, by the way, which I omitted earlier, is that September 21 was the date of ‘Orabi's death in 1911.)

We talked last year of the problems of "presentism" and lack of familiarity with regional history, culture and languages as impediments to understanding the region today, and I think that the reports that omit or downplay the ‘Orabi connection are an excellent example of this.

Sadly, so is the fact that historically, most Egyptian street demonstrations don't lead anywhere.

1 comment:

David Mack said...

Thanks for this, Mike. You are so right about the need for historical context. A reference to Orabi would have been lost on U.S. readers who did not sweat through intensive Middle East studies, but it was what gave this otherwise minor event some meaning to the Egyptian public. The pity is that the Western journalists reporting it for the Western public were probably themselves unaware of the connections. Our national indifference to history makes it unlikely that we as a nation will ever understand people like Arabs, Iranians, Turks and Israelis who so stubbornly hang on to their own versions of history.