Opponents of Egypt’s Islamist ousted president Mohamed Morsi wave national flags and a poster of Lt. Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi during a rally in Tahrir Square, in Cairo on Friday, July 5, 2013. “Instead of reporting what’s really happening, they’re trying to label it and put it in this box,” said Lydia Moneir, 21, a University of North Florida journalism student, of the mainstream media’s coverage of the recent unrest.
Earlier this month, Time magazine featured protesters and the continuing unrest in Egypt on its cover. The image of Egyptian locals crowded into the country’s iconic Tahrir Square had two taglines placed atop it: “World’s Best Protesters” and “World’s Worst Democrats.”
From the perspective of Lydia Moneir, a native Egyptian and rising junior at the University of North Florida, the Time cover symbolizes everything exasperating about the mainstream media’s coverage of her home country’s ongoing leadership transition — inaccurate, oversimplified and entirely Westernized.
“Instead of reporting what’s really happening, they’re trying to label it and put it in this box,” said Moneir, 21, a UNF journalism student. “Not every country takes the same route to democracy. Not everyone can start a democracy in the same way the U.S. did. … They’re not reporting it fairly. If you come and are in the streets of Cairo, you talk to people and really do get a sense of what’s truly going on.”
That’s exactly what Moneir recently set out to do.
Using her family home only minutes from Cairo’s presidential palace as a base, Moneir joined protesters in the streets. She subsequently provided a special report, photos and videos for The Spinnaker, UNF’s student newspaper, which she serves as daily news editor.
Her aim with the eyewitness account was to help correct, contextualize and humanize Egypt-related reporting, in part by explaining how in many ways Egyptians are not growing more divided but coming together through their unrest.
She recalls at one point climbing aboard a truck to take a photo capturing the enormity and passion of the crowd around her. She was about to fall off the truck when an unknown woman saved her by grabbing her arm.
“She looked up at me in a way that kind of said, ‘I’m here. I’m here to help you. I’m here to hold you up,’” said Moneir. “When I stepped down I looked at her, and we smiled at each other. And it was as if we were connected, even though she was a total stranger, because everyone was celebrating and everyone was looking forward to a more open and honest future for the country.”
In a recent interview building atop her Spinnaker report, Moneir shared her thoughts on recent outside news reporting about Egypt, how young people have fit into the frenzy and her problem with the word coup.
Q: Why should college students and others in the U.S. be interested in what is happening in Egypt at the moment?
A: For those interested in the Middle East having more countries become democratic and more stable, Egypt is a really good place to start. Egypt has a huge influence over the rest of the Middle East, not just in terms of policy, but in terms of culture. A lot of people don’t know that people in the Middle East love Egyptian films and music and things like that.
If Egypt takes steps in the right direction and actually puts a democratic government in place that isn’t corrupt, is representative of the people, starts to correct some of the problems such as the economy and tries to equalize the difference between the super rich and the super poor, I think it will encourage other countries to take a step in that direction as well.
Q: What are your thoughts on international press coverage of Egypt right now?
A: I really do feel the coverage has been sympathetic toward the Muslim Brotherhood (the Egyptian political party that — until the protests — had been “controlling the presidency, the legislature and the cabinet”) and too focused on the fact that (exiled president Mohamed) Morsi was a democratically elected leader. At the same time, it seems no one has reported all the fraud and corruption that went on with Morsi’s election (last year), including how the Muslim Brotherhood was giving oil, sugar, flour and stuff to poor people to basically buy their votes.
Morsi won only by about 800,000 votes and that was when he was pitted against someone from the old regime. A lot of people voted for the other guy because they really didn’t want the Muslim Brotherhood and were saying, “The devil we know is better than the devil we don’t.”
The most important thing is context, which is not being given. Once you know all these things, it makes it more obvious as to why if Egyptians democratically elected this leader they are complaining about it now. It is because he didn’t have a huge majority to begin with and a lot of people have since turned against him because the Muslim Brotherhood really was the devil that no one knew. They had been illegal for so long and always had been working underground. No one knew that much about what they would do once they had power. …
It has also really frustrated me to hear people use the phrase “Egypt divided” and then very rarely talk about the actual number of Muslim Brotherhood protesters versus the number of anti-Morsi protesters. Because when you hear the numbers it makes a huge difference. It tells you that the Islamists and Muslim Brotherhood and anyone who supported Morsi and want to bring him back, they’re a really small minority.
Q: The word “coup” has been used a lot in recent days to describe what’s taking place in Egypt. What is your problem with “coup” in the context of what you see happening?
A: I think that this word, just like saying Egypt is divided and on the brink of civil war, is very manipulative and it’s exaggerating. By classifying this as a coup, you’re stealing away the legitimacy of the people’s voices. It’s between 20 and 30 million who at one time have come into the streets. That’s huge. That’s a quarter of the population. That is almost more people than who voted in 2012. And for all those people, who knows how many more were sitting at home agreeing with them. If there had only been a million protesters and they’d all gone home, the military wouldn’t have acted. I think they acted because they saw that it was what the majority of people wanted.
Q: From your perspective, how have young people in Egypt been involved in the protests?
A: Unemployment among young people is really high in Egypt right now and has been for a while. That’s one of the reasons why so many young people took to the streets against (former president Hosni) Mubarak (during the 2011 protests that led to Mubarak’s overthrow and the election of Morsi). Egyptians are very moderate Muslims. The younger generation, my generation, is even more moderate because they are more influenced by the West and things like that.
Young people are more interested in just having a stable country and one that represents them. You could see the Muslim Brotherhood were trying to get a stranglehold on the government. A lot of Egyptians and a lot of young people were very scared Egypt would become an Islamic state, which is not what they want. … Across the country, people were angry for different reasons. They felt like their rights were being taken away by the Brotherhood. The economy kept getting worse and worse. And it didn’t seem like anyone in Morsi’s government was really doing much to stabilize the country or even restore tourism — which is about 10% of the entire GDP (gross domestic product). I went to the Pyramids at the height of the season and there was no one there. It was quite ridiculous.
It was young people who started the petition that got 22 million signatures to bring down Morsi. Their group is called Tamarrod, which means “rebel.” A problem they’re having now is they’re kind of being left out of the discussion. No one is really asking their opinion about drafting a new constitution and things like that. They were a huge part of what brought down Morsi and it seems like they are being left out of the conversation, even though they’re going to be the ones in all the high positions when they’re older. They’re the future of Egypt.
Q: How does reporting on an historic moment like this, and seeing related media coverage, affect your passion for journalism and your desire to soon enter the field?
A: I think it’s strengthened my need to be a journalist because I’ve seen so many mistaken facts and misconstrued coverage about what’s going on. It tells me there need to be more people working in the media who will try to be fair and ethical in their reporting, who will say what’s really going on, and who will give important things like context — which you would think people could do with 24-hour news cycles. … (I)f you are an ethical journalist you have the power to inform people about what’s really happening. And informed people are better people, in my opinion.
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