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Tuning in to a revolution

Opponents of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s embattled regime on Sunday dismissed as insufficient an offer to include them in political reform plans, and renewed their demands that he step down.

world Updated: Feb 07, 2011 02:21 IST
Amitava Sanyal

“This is a talk-show revolution,” declares Mohammad Shalaby, a 42-year-old engineer who did his Masters in the UK.

“Facebook was only the facilitator for the first few days of assembly at the Tahrir (Liberation) Square. But the usually-timid Egyptians have got the strength to talk up as they have watched so many so-called controversial subjects being openly discussed on TV in recent years.”

Is it really so? Hamdy Kenawy, my 33-year-old translator, says, “Absolutely — and the government has been worried too. A few months ago, when presenter Mona Al-Shazly criticised the rigging of last year’s (parliamentary) elections, her show was taken off air for two days. They said it was for re-decorating the stage, but the public knew why it was done.”

Talk-shows are the new crowd-pullers. Private TV is a decade-old phenomenon here but the 10-odd talk shows that are beamed daily into Egyptian homes are a 3-4-year-old phenomenon that’s hosted by the two central government-run channels too.
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Tarek Heggy, a writer and someone who is close to the current government negotiations, says, “Even in poor households in rural areas, you often see a dish antenna on a mud hut. They are hooked to television. So you can say the talk shows have had an effect on people.”

And along with entertainment, talk-shows have gripped the nation’s imagination. Among the more popular ones, apart from the 10 pm Show, are Moatz Addemerdash’s Teseem Diaiah (90 Minutes) and Mahnoud Saad’s Egypt Today. They have at times discussed long-held taboos such as homosexuality.

The other lubricants for the current uprising are mobile phones (allowing Twitter updates) and Facebook. As of March 2010, three-fourths of the population had mobile phones (according to Dataxis Intelligence), compared to less than half two years earlier. And more than 2 million people have regular access to the internet.

So was it about Facebook for Shalaby, who has been to Tahrir for three of the 13 days of protests at the square in downtown Cairo? “Tahrir today is a StreetBook” Hamdy quips.