Ignorant wishful thinking has harmed our approach to Brexit – much as it did during the Arab Spring

The media scrum around College Green allows a sanitised version of events to rotate though the Westminster bubble

Patrick Cockburn
The Independent Voices

In the Arab Spring of 2011 much of the foreign media covering the protests in Egypt gathered in or around Tahrir Square in Cairo to report the daily confrontations between demonstrators demanding the overthrow of the regime and security forces seeking to preserve it.

The scene in Tahrir was the backdrop to countless television interviews with opposition activists and what happened there was portrayed as a barometer which would tell the world if the Egyptian revolution would succeed or fail. When President Hosni Mubarak resigned on 11 February many television viewers and newspaper readers got the impression that the revolutionaries had won and Egypt was entering an era of freedom and democracy.

Except this was not true: the state and army never lost control of the essential levers of power and two years later Egypt was back under the rule of an even more brutal and authoritarian government.

The journalists who had focused their reporting on Tahrir had got their facts right, but they necessarily got a very selective and, as it turned out, misleading view of what was happening in Egypt, a country of 90 million people.

During the uprising in Libya a few months later, the television cameras were similarly trained on a square in Benghazi that protesters had permanently occupied. Intelligent, articulate English-speaking opposition leaders were available for interview in a nearby building. None of this was necessarily phoney, but it was a highly sanitised version of developments in Libya. Talking to people away from that much-televised square, it became swiftly apparent that the leaders so frequently interviewed had little authority and that Libya was likely to fall apart after the defeat of Gaddafi.
I was reminded of Tahrir and the crowded square in Benghazi when watching journalists and politicians interviewing and being interviewed on College Green opposite the Houses of Parliament over the last week. It has long been a favoured venue for broadcasters because it is a convenient location for MPs, with the dramatic parliament buildings as a backdrop.



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