The Battle of Perception

Blogger’s Note: This segment is taken from a longer piece written by Heather Keaney, a professor at the American University in Cairo and wife of an old friend of ours.  Heather graduated from Westmont College and completed her PhD in medieval Islamic history at the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2003. She taught in the Arabic Studies (now Arab and Islamic Civilizations ARIC) department at AUC as a guest lecturer and at the Middle East Studies Program (MESP) in Cairo from 2003-2006. Heather will definitely bring you a different perspective and challenge your view.

Despite being here and talking to lots of people and watching hours of news coverage each day, our predictions of what was going to happen next have been wrong every time.

With that health warning read on if you like!


To start with one thing that has emerged as important to me, that I am not sure if outside media outlets are addressing, is the importance not just of media – but of a divided media contributing to a divided people.

Facebookers and upper and middle class folk who know English and have satellite dishes watch CNN and BBC and Al Jazeera English & Arabic. For everyone else, after the government shut down Al Jazeera Arabic here, unless they watched BBC Arabic they are very likely watching state news. The result is two very different presentations of what is happening. This was very noticeable on Tuesday when international channels were showing the dramatic images of Tahrir Square filled with peaceful partying demonstrators. The government news channels had for days had a camera simply showing the bridges across the Nile with a trickle of traffic and on Tuesday the same camera showed the bridge packed for half a mile and brought to a standstill by demonstrators in Tahrir.

Crowds in Tahrir Square 2.1.11 copyright Christina Rizk

The only images of Tahrir were from ground level and close up never showing more than 10 people in the frame. It would also show Pro-Mubarak demonstrators in similar fashion. So many in Egypt could have had no idea what was really happening in Tahrir, the numbers of people or the atmosphere. Instead the message was that the city was being held hostage and ground to a halt by a few. Similarly yesterday State TV did not show the violence in Tahrir, but a large happy smiley family filled pro-government rally either from earlier in the day or elsewhere in the city.

State TV last night had a woman on claiming to be a member of the 6th April group that helped organize the first day of demonstrations, claiming she had received training in Israel and the US for this ‘operation’ as well as $50,000. Those who know how crazy this is are not watching state TV and those who do watch state TV could easily believe it.

I start with this because this is very much a battle of perception. It is still too early to tell who will win the battle of perception over yesterday’s violence.

As an Australian friend here observed: it is as if Egyptians have been muzzled and now the muzzle has been taken off, but the muscles in their mouth have atrophied and so they don’t know how to speak and it will take time for them to learn to speak coherently. There is the very big risk that the government will muzzle them again before this can happen or that the people will muzzle themselves horrified by the physical violence and verbal arguments that are breaking out all over.


The West is in a very tricky situation I think; it is reaping the harvest of decades of hypocrisy by calling for democracy on the one hand and supporting dictators with the other. Despite this and that teargas canisters have clearly written on them “made in the USA” the anti-government demonstrations and the mood in the country has emphatically not been anti-western or anti-US.

We have felt more looked after than ever and have heard the same from other foreigners. It is the pro-government “demonstrators” who have attacked journalists and shouted anti-US/Western slogans. This is the government trying to blame the demonstrations on outside provocateurs – and it is working.

Blogger’s note: Tomorrow I will feature more of this piece from Heather. I urge you to share this with those you feel would benefit from learning more of what is going on from the ground. Oh and have you seen the You tube video featuring a sing-a-long at Tahrir Square?  Well worth viewing!

7 thoughts on “The Battle of Perception

    1. thanks for linking, reading and commenting. Have visited your blog as well – interesting stuff. My daughter is finishing up her Masters Degree in Anthropology with a focus on Refugee and Migration studies in Cairo right now. I noticed you have a cultural Anthropology background – and a mutual friend in Johnny! Thanks again.


    1. Thanks to you for reading and commenting! It has been good therapy for an event that is consuming me because of the connections. It’s also been good because there are many around me that have no clue of our connections to this so it’s a bit like walking as a ghost – if that makes sense!


  1. Interesting on perceptions. From what I have heard, after the violence the demonstrators apprehended over three hundred and fifty hired thugs and turned them over to nearby army units.

    They confiscated their IDs which showed that most assailants were either NDP members or from the secret police. Others confessed that they were ex-cons who were paid $10 to beat up the demonstrators. The camel and horse riders confessed to have been paid $70 each.

    Read this account of how it was planned:


    1. That’s been confirmed for me as well. It’s true it was government paid and managed chaos. Thanks for the link – I look forward to taking a look. The camel and horse-riders were definitely from the pyramids. If it wasn’t so tragic it would be a bad joke.


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