Dictators vs the media

The mounting revolt against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and the violent reaction by pro-government rioters in Tahrir Square have underscored another significant fact: The armed gangs of Mubarak backers are not just setting upon anti-government protesters but also on reporters, photojournalists and television crews.

Petros Papaconstantinou, Kathimerini’s correspondent to Cairo, was unfortunate to have firsthand experience of this behavior as he was beaten and stabbed by pro-Mubarak supporters.

More similar attacks against both local and foreign journalists have taken place around Tahrir Square, according to reports.

According to reports in the press and the social media, many of Cairo’s big hotels warned journalists against covering developments from their balconies. Security forces seized one network’s equipment inside a Cairo Hilton hotel in an attempt to stop it broadcasting.

The persecution of the media prompted strong-worded reactions from the United States and the European Union, but there is little doubt that pro-government gangs are preparing the ground so that there are no witnesses left when the carnage begins. It is also clear that big international corporations such as Vodafone and Hilton cooperated with the crumbling establishment’s security forces.

Egypt has many lessons to teach. One of them is that information and solidarity can become weapons in the struggle for freedom. This lesson was taught by thousands of Egyptian protesters along with thousands of supporters engaging in the digital world of the social media like Twitter and Facebook around the globe. They were joined by professional journalists with knowledge, a sense of duty and, in many cases, self-denial.

The images, the videos, the reports, the analyses, the testimonies — they all travel at lightning speed, encouraging locals and informing those who live far away.

This constant interaction, this osmosis of voices and bodies, contributes to the rise of new forms of collective knowledge, especially among the generations that grew up along with the expansion of the Internet. Journalism is once again becoming a threat to dictators. And interesting stuff for ordinary people.

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