Western media coverage of the massive waves of protests in Egypt over the past two days is revealing of a number of problems that plague knowledge production about the Arab world.
As crowds across the country were just warming up for the historic protests, around midday on 30 June, reports from Cairo appearing on Western broadcast and online news outlets focused on projecting an image of “polarization.” Rallies opposing the Muslim Brotherhood were represented as being balanced out, and in some cases even outnumbered, by the demonstration in favor of President Mohamed Morsi. The likelihood of violent clashes were carefully embedded within the news as a main characteristic of the current political situation in Egypt.
As the day went by, the 30 June anti-Morsi demonstrations turned out to probably be the largest ever in Egyptian history, with Egyptians from all walks of life peacefully, yet audaciously, denouncing the Brotherhood’s rule. In time for the evening news cycle in Europe and morning newscasts in the United States, editors of printed and online news outlets in the West started playing down their initial “polarization” message and began to recognize the size of dissidents as being truly unprecedented and in the millions.