Shouldn't the fake trial of Mubarak revive January 25?

The sham trial of former Egyptian dictator Mubarak has ended with his acquittal, despite the fact that he is obviously guilty of mass murder. Has fate condemned Egypt to permanent dictatorship or can democracy prevail?

Mubarak like Egyptian democracy: flat on its back
Ahmed Abdel-Raheem
On 29 November 2014 16:20

On Saturday, when a court in Egypt acquits Hosni Mubarak and his top aides of all criminal charges, in connection with the killing of thousands of peaceful protesters in the January 25 revolution, I can say that we, the Egyptians, have reached a point where our democracy is in mortal danger.

All that we dreamt of during the revolution seems to have been lost: Safe food, air, and water, gone. Free speech, gone. Public health, gone. Public roads and bridges, gone. Public schools, gone. Shared responsibility and trust, gone. Transparency, gone. Human rights, gone. Fairness, gone. Equality, gone. Happiness, gone. Caring for one another, gone. Justice, gone. The Egyptian Spring, gone. So what was the revolution about?

A nightmare it is, but there is no denying credit to the military and their messaging machine, the media, for their skills at framing a message. They have portrayed policemen and military people as heroes, and judges as men of justice. Crucially, it has long been their strategy to repeat over and over phrases that activate such frames and define issues their way.

Such repetition makes their language sound "normal". In short, the revolution has been reframed: villains became heroes, and heroes became villains. Put another way, the January revolution has been depicted as a conspiracy.

We all know the facts about January 25: young people, including those of the April 6 democracy movement, are the heroes; Mubarak and his regime are the villains; the police used force against peaceful protesters; the military are loyal to Mubarak; Egyptians are unhappy with their judge-only system.

We need to say this over and over again. Actually, this is not about facts, but rather about ideas and the framing of messages. Does this matter?

As a researcher in cognitive science, I know that it is a myth to believe that the truth can set us free and that if we just tell people the facts, they'll all reach the right conclusions. I know from cognitive science that citizens do not think like that. Citizens think in frames. To be accepted, the truth must fit citizens' frames. If the facts do not fit a frame, the frame stays and the facts bounce off.

According to Dr. George Lakoff, distinguished professor of cognitive science, a huge number of individuals in the United States still believe that Saddam Hussein was behind September 11. There are individuals who will believe this, says Dr. Lakoff,  because it fits their understanding of the world. Given that, it seems appropriate for them to believe, whatever the facts may say.

They still believe that Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda refer to the same thing, and that by fighting the war in Iraq Americans are protecting the country from terrorism. They believe this -- in spite of the report by the 9/11 Commission, and, from a different persepctive, in spite of the fact that it is hardline Islamists who have in fact benefited. It is not that people are stupid. They have a frame and they only accept facts that are in line with that frame.

Another myth is that people naturally always think in terms of their best self-interest. Modem economic theory and foreign policy are set up on the foundation of that assumption. This assumption, however, has been challenged by cognitive scientists such as Daniel Kahneman (who won the Nobel Prize in economics for his theory) and Amos Tversky, who have demonstrated that individuals do not really think that way.

In light of the above, we must revive the moral principles of the January 25 revolution if we are to successfully restore the Egyptian Dream. Crucially, our strategy must be to repeat over and over phrases that activate the moral frames of the revolution and define issues our way.  Here are a handful examples:

1.      ''Bread, freedom, social justice.''

2.      ''We want a civilian president.''

3.      ''Egyptians care about their fellow citizens and about others''

4.      ''January 25 revolution was against Mubarak.''

5.      ''April 6 is a patriotic movement.''

Peaceful protesters in Egypt should put them on their signs. Repeat them to the media. Tweet them. And tell everyone they know to do the same. They have to use their own language with their own framing and they have to repeat it over and over for the ideas to sink in.

The writer is an Egyptian poet, actor, and political intellectual. He is also pursuing doctoral research in cognitive science

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