As a group western commentators and reporters on the ground in Egypt repeatedly erred on the side of pessimism and excessive belief in the power of arms over spirit. If we were to look back at the coverage of the mass movement that overthrew Mubarak, there was a point just before the final push in which the herd wisdom nearly declared that the revolutionary surge was over, deflated by the overwhelming coercive power of the state. (The Columbia Journalism Review should commission a study.) Instead, and quite suddenly, the televised interview with the famous Egyptian Google employee galvanized the largest march to date into Tahrir Square, and a few days later the pharoah was dust.
Although the violence and carnage is far worse in Libya, I wonder if the reporters now declaring Qaddafy’s comeback almost complete are not making the same mistake. As Juan Cole pointed out this morning, retaking Zawiya on the outskirts of Tripoli should have been a snap for the Libyan loyalist army. Instead, it’s already taken three days and bogged down considerably.
While the U.S. and European states contemplate whether they should rush to the rescue—and this may indeed be required to prevent further genocide—it is not yet clear that Qaddafy’s terrified troops [such as those pictured above], shot at from the front and threatened with death from behind, can overcome the local resistance (the one that our papers insist on calling ‘ragtag’). Even eventual ‘success’ there may be more of a Pyrhhic than a real victory.
Reporters from fancy papers and important television networks aren’t accustomed to feeling the pulse of a nation or taking into account the power of an awakened populace ready to die for its freedom. They’re far more attuned to the thinking and plotting of people like themselves, heads of state and mighty bureaucrats and those who make a half-million dollars a year in elite jobs and think the world revolves around them, as it usually does. They may have excellent ‘sources’, but what is happening today in North Africa and the Arab world inevitably must escape their analytic and perceptive capacities because they are blinded by their long sojourn at the top. For this reason I reserve judgment on what events will occur next and do not believe every interpretation I read in the papers.