Unlike the Egyptian revolution of 2011, the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi is a story without a clear protagonist or an easy, happy summary. Brooke talks with NPR's Deb Amos about the way the media both here and in the region has been handling that complexity. Amos covers the Middle East for NPR News.
DEB AMOS: Is Egypt’s military a hero stepping in to restore order, or has it threatened to put the country under indefinite military rule?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: That's the question isn't it? Or, to put it another way, how should we feel about this? The American media don't know. And, let's face it, usually they do, and it comes out in the coverage, subtly or blatantly. For instance, how should we feel about the Egyptian military forcing Al Jazeera's TV affiliate off the air and silencing the Muslim Brotherhood's TV channel? We can't decide.
Meanwhile, the New York Times reported Wednesday that, quote, “Life has somehow gotten better for many people across Egypt. Gas lines have disappeared, power cuts have stopped and the police have returned to the streets. Such a rapid improvement could give rise to conspiracy theories.” Deb Amos, who reports on the Middle East for NPR, says that this conspiracy theory might have something to it.
DEB AMOS: Brooke, I’m in the part of the world where conspiracy theories are served for breakfast.
But sometimes, they are correct. Now, part of the gas lines have been explained in that people were so nervous before the June 30th protest that they were all stocking up on gas. What’s interesting is the police. The police had disappeared in Cairo, and that had caused great unease in the major cities. This is a force that has been trained to distrust and arrest the Muslim Brotherhood. So the fact that they appear after President Morsi’s ousting is just plain curious, isn’t it?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Yeah. Can we expand the conspiracy to include the Gulf States? Al Jazeera, which, of course, is funded by Qatar. 22 members of Al Jazeera's flagship station resigned on Monday over what they said was biased coverage of Morsi’s ouster. Which side was Al Jazeera biased toward? And is this part of a broader issue with the Gulf States in Egypt, in general?
DEB AMOS: Let’s start with this: Al Jazeera Arabic was a bandleader for the revolts against Mubarak. It is widely said that Al Jazeera Arabic is quite pro-Muslim Brotherhood, and so when this protest broke out, there were complaints that Al Jazeera Arabic wasn't covering it enough. Its rival, Al Arabiya, is linked to the Saudi Arabian government, which is anti-Muslim Brotherhood. So, for the first time, people who are watching these two stations in the region are aware of how biased they are.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And this makes me wonder both about the coverage there and about the coverage here. I mean, it struck us that even though our best media outlets strive for impartiality, there’s usually an American subtext, you know, a, a sense of shared values of who’s in the right and who's in the wrong. And, obviously, we knew who to root for during the fall of Mubarak. I just think the fall of Morsi is a little more problematic. As Tim Sebastian wrote in the Times on the 7th, Morsi didn’t steal his election, nor did the Muslim Brotherhood. They won each and every vote.
DEB AMOS: Indeed, and one of the things that I noted as I was watching those crowds, the green lasers and the fireworks displays, they were complicated, expensive. And I thought there was a lot of money that went into that. And indeed, we had heard from people who have just come back to Beirut from Cairo that they’d never seen so many rich Egyptians on the street.
We are looking at something much more complex than those first couple of days. I think the future of Egypt is very much in doubt. And it is the most populous Arab country. So goes Egypt, so goes the rest of the region. It is a very worrying story, just beginning to get that kind of coverage.
You know, Egypt was eclipsed by the Syria story, and so we didn't really have that much coverage of what was happening with Morsi as he fiddled with the Constitution, the economic distress. All of those things really have not been in our newspapers over the past year, so the crowd on June 30th came as a big surprise.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The coverage we saw on cable, the pundits all bloviating, seemed to show just terrific confusion.
DEB AMOS: Yes.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Because you’re – if you’re for democracy, you have to kind of be for at least Morsi continuing out his term.
DEB AMOS: And if you are for good governance, there was some argument for what the military did. This is a country that had only three months left of foreign reserves, moving towards the abyss, and there was certainly no doubt about that.
What we don't know, and there has been a lot of bloviating, as you say, is what does this mean for political Islam in the region. Does this say if you are an Islamist, you can forget about democracy, you're never really allowed to take power and the only way to go is violence? I’ve seen a lot of writing about that.
That's why it's been so hard for people to come to their own conclusions about how they feel. Do you like the Muslim Brotherhood? Maybe not. Did they win the election? Yes, they did. They bungled the chance that they had. Can you argue that the deck was stacked against them? Perhaps it was. I think it is very troubling that the leadership of a democratically elected government is now in jail. It kind of reminds one of Latin America.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And it doesn't seem like all those democratically-minded protesters are protesting the closing down of media outlets.
DEB AMOS: You know, when we first met them, they were on Tahrir Square for 18 days, and we loved them. Many were English-speaking, they were well educated, they were using social media. They wanted to topple a dictator. Their demands have gotten a little bit more complicated.
It is also true that what we consider the liberal opposition is undemocratic, and the conservative Muslim Brotherhood are the most democratic [LAUGHS] group in the country. And I think that's what’s made all of this so confusing to figure out what side you're on.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Deb, thanks again.
DEB AMOS: Thank you, Brooke.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Deb Amos covers the Middle East for NPR. We spoke to her from Beirut.