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Beijing celebrates Egypt revolution two years later: The SinoFile

Some keywords remain blocked, but Chinese authorities seem to see the Egyptian Revolution as a cautionary tale against itself.

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Some are sharing Beijing's official take on what went down in Tahrir, then and now.

"At least seven injured in clashes as Egyptians rally to mark second anniversary of unrest," reads one English language news item from Chinese state-owned news agency Xinhua today.

An Iranian-American friend and author of New York Times bestseller Reading Lolita in Tehran, Azar Nafisi -- who was a professor in both pre and post-Islamic Revolution Iran, once told me that the difference between propaganda and real media or art is propaganda's lack of subtlety.

To a degree, "second anniversary of unrest" is true. Cairo has erupted into countless violent protests --and sporting events -- since January 25th and the eventual ouster of then three-decade-old President Hosni Mubarak. Many in Egypt are saying that over the past two years, Egyptians have fought a losing battle for democracy with the SCAF military authorities who governed the country in the aftermath of Mubarak's downfall and now the ruling Muslim Brotherhood, which has penned itself a new Egyptian constitution that many are calling unlawful.

In the original revolution alone, unrest has caused nearly 900 deaths and 6,000 injuries in the Arab Republic, according to government figures.

"Am I worried for Egypt? Most definitely. In fact, I feel the danger has been and is still being underestimated by many analysts and Egyptian activists," Cairo-based Egyptian affairs commentator Sara Labib told The Vancouver Observer regarding the new constitution and the unrest and wariness of government it has generated among the engineers of the 2011 revolution.

But Labib, as she noted in an interview for a previous Vancouver Observer article, does not think uncertainty indicates the revolution was all for nothing.

"No doubt January 25th was a success in the sense that it allowed people to feel empowered, it unleashed a lot of potential that no one can deny in terms of political motivation and will for change," she said. 

To say that the last two years have resulted in nothing but "unrest" is a matter of pragmatism for a media outlet like Xinhua. To publish that headline in English -- for a news agency that often acts as an official communique of Beijing's foreign policy -- is a sign to the international community that it should fear any revolution against authorities in the People's Republic as much as Beijing does.

At a time when the Chinese and US economies are inextricably linked, the West and the world cannot afford the kind of sharp economic downturn that punctuated the Mubarak regime. Beijing is essentially telling the world: Don't let this happen to me -- or you.

There is a kind of vulgar opportunism in this particular instance of Chinese propaganda that captures the last two years of Chinese media coverage of Arab Revolutions as a whole: Since Tahrir, I've read countless articles on Arab affairs in the English-language Chinese state-owned press with transparent, oft-troublesome headlines -- like Veto boosts Syria peace initiatives, experts say -- headlines and articles that call into question China's 'non-interference' diplomacy and business tact with the Arab World.

In short, Chinese state-owned media, at least on Arab affairs, would be well advised to -- as the Chinese saying goes -- 微妙之处 (wei miao zhichu, play it subtle).

Chinese perceptions

Chinese media is also -- as it did while I was living in China during the Egyptian uprising -- highlighting the capacity of a violent uprising to cause death and suffering for its own population. A Chinese version of the above Xinhua article cites the number of deaths and injured in the January 25th revolution, almost as a cautionary tale to Chinese readers.

Of course tens of thousands died in the revolution that empowered the current Chinese government. Revolutions cost lives -- death does not indicate a wholesale failure of popular movements. As terrible as death and suffering are, history shows us that any major political change demands a human toll. By comparison with China, Egypt's administration change was relatively bloodless.

In 2011, Chinese media and Chinese people asking me -- an Arab American -- about what was happening in the Middle East North Africa region, referred to the uprising not as a 革命(geming -- revolution) but a 暴乱 (baoluan -- riot, but more literally 'violent chaos').

Today, the search term "Egyptian revolution" in Chinese has nearly 200,000 comments on Weibo. It seems censors now feel the Egyptian revolution today acts as a cautionary tale against itself.



SinoFile is The Vancouver Observer's daily series on Chinese affairs, including analysis of the nation's business, politics and society, with a focus on international media coverage, Chinese and foreign social media and original interviews with China's movers and shakers.


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