There is a big difference between freedom of expression and defying authority. The latter is what’s happening in Egypt and we’re paying for it in blood.
I recently spoke at the World Summit on Information Systems + 10 (WSIS+10) in Paris. My kind invitation from UNESCO was to speak on a panel on 'Promoting Freedom of Expression and Media Development in the Arab States', and naturally most of my remarks were focused on Egypt. Among (...)
When the floor was open for discussion, an enthusiastic young man in the front row, whose body language was clearly protesting my remarks all along, raised his hand emphatically asking to speak. He identified himself as a member of the Egypt delegation to UNESCO, and informed the moderator that in order for the session to be interactive, he would not stick to the request to keep comments from the floor “brief.”
He started his “talk” by expressing his gratitude for the opportunity to criticise his own government in such an “informal” setting, and proceeded to give a full account of how we in Egypt now live in times of “unprecedented freedom” under President Mohamed Morsi.
His explanation for this was that there is an unprecedented amount of criticism of the Egyptian president, the government, and the whole regime on television, in newspapers, and in the social media. He went on to blame the Egyptian media for the distorted picture in people’s minds about what is going on in the country, and wished that one day our Egyptian media would be as professional as Fox News. (I think this was when he completely lost the audience).
I could not let the gentleman’s remarks go by unanswered. What is happening in Egypt is not unprecedented freedom of expression. As a matter of fact, I believe we are at a time of unprecedented lack of freedom of expression. What is happening in Egypt is that people everywhere and at every level are defying authority. People refuse to be silenced anymore. They have spoken, and they will not shut up no matter what the price is.