Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Net-centric Nonsense II

A few days back, I wrote a post arguing that it didn't much matter that the Egyptian government cut off Internet and most mobile phone service in Egypt, because passionate protestors intent on bringing down the government will find a way to organize anyway. The government apparently agrees with that, as it has restored service when, as predicted, the many thousands of demonstrators didn't go away. Although several U.S. new-media companies hailed with some fanfare the workarounds they came up with to allow Egyptians to resume Tweeting, blogging, etc., the protestors did quite fine on their own while offline, thank you.

The more serious government media policy - I guess I should say alleged government policy - is allowing armed thugs to attack international reporters at the scene, even as these same thugs wade into crowds of protestors while on horseback or astride camels. The potential for ever-more serious violence is ever-present, with the Army apparently holding the balance of power. As the first groups of international travelers - many flown out of Cairo on charter flights arranged by their own national governments - are making clear, there has been plenty of violence in Egypt already. Many erstwhile tourists describe scary scenes of having to clear numerous checkpoints - some manned by government sympathizers, some by anti-government protesters, some by neighborhood vigilantes - on their way to the airport in Heliopolis.

Some of these trips took hours - only to be followed by many more hours spent trying to catch a commercial or chartered flight out of the country. News reports say as many as 18,000 people have been massed in Cairo International Airport. I have been in that airport. It's a nice airport -big, with the 2009 addition of a gorgeous new international terminal - but not big enough to comfortably hold that many would-be passengers. With the situation on the ground changing by the hour, travelers who haven't left are at times keeping to their hotels. Fairmont Hotels and Ressorts, with two properties in Cairo, is a leading hotelier there. Having stayed in the downtown Cairo property and the Heliopolis property, I hope to never see scenes of chaos there.

No one - traveler or local - knows how any of this will play out. One big unknown is when tourism will return to a semblance of normality in this antiquities-rich country. One thing's for sure, though: If hardline Islamicists win the day, the young anti-Mubarak demonstrators - many of them women, most of them passionately pro-democracy - will find precious little democracy in Egypt's future. They will be among the first people to be supressed.

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