What’s in a rumor Egypt?
What’s in a rumor Egypt?
Wednesday, March 17,2010 15:26
By Joseph Mayton
Last weekend, Egyptians were wondering over the health of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and if he had in fact passed away. It left the blogosphere and Twitter users going back and forth questioning unsubstantiated reports over whether the elderly president had actually died in Germany. It lasted for about 24 hours and when the dust settled, Egyptians were either elated or disappointed to learn Mubarak was recovery just fine in his German hospital room after what doctors called routine surgery.

Still, it highlights the growing divide among Egyptian society who sees one side hopeful that rumors of their president’s death are true and the other who hope for the continued rule of their president. It was just a rumor, however, one that the government could have at least attempted to put to rest if they had issued a statement or shown a picture of the ailing president in his hospital bed. But they couldn’t. It would have seen the president not on top of his game and left more rumors in its wake.

So, what’s in a rumor? Here in Egypt, information has been steadily becoming easier to access with the advent of the blogging, tweeting and Facebook culture. If Mubarak had indeed died, the blogosphere would most certainly been the first to report it and this scares the government, who for decades has had a stranglehold on popular opinion and the dissemination of information. The rumor mill showed that the government is losing its grip, finally.

The other, more imporant facet of the fumor coverage was the fact that Egyptians are again looking for change to come sooner rather than later. They believe, whether we agree or not, that the end of Mubarak’s rule will open the doors for political change to come to Egypt. They view the aging dictator as a symbol of stagnation and repression. They are probably right. Citing rumors, discussing the president’s health would have, only years ago, resulted in the crackdown by state security forces against those who promulgate questions, or report what others are saying. It might still come, but for now, the bloggers and tweeters who asked the question “is Mubarak dead?” have been left alone.

This is a turning point in Egyptian political society. The coming of Mohamed ElBaradei last month showed that Egypt is ripe for change and “revolution” of some kind. Where it comes from and who will be that leader is unknown, but we do know that Egyptians are tired of the same old status quo. They want something to happen and even though the move toward action remains predominantly online, this country is moving forward on a project that only a decade ago seemed unlikely or far-fetched.

Speaking with activists and bloggers, on Twitter and on the street, one can easily begin to grasp the desperation that engulfs conversation. The activist community has been stagnant for far too long and there hasn’t emerged a leader capable of truly galvanizing the opposition community. Maybe, just maybe, the rumor mill will help one individual willing to risk his or her life in the cause for something greater. Maybe that person is ElBaradei. It might be too early to tell who the person will be who can bring together workers, conservatives and liberals under one umbrella on a grassroots protest movement for change, but it is coming.

Is Mubarak dead? No, but his power might soon find itself the victim of rumors that turn out to be true.

**Joseph Mayton is the Editor/Founder of Bikya Masr. He can be reached at [email protected]