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Mr. Kristof Invents Cairo

A critique of media coverage of the February 2 fighting in Tahrir Square, using the example of an article and video by a star columnist at the leading newspaper of the Western world, The New York Times.

by Jared Israel and Samantha Criscione

Appendix I: "Watching Thugs With Razors and Clubs at Tahrir Square," by Nicholas D. Kristof, The New York Times, February 2, 2011

Embedded video: "Meeting Mubarak's Supporters," by Nicholas D. Kristof and Jaron Gilinsky, The New York Times, February 2, 2011

[Posted March 21, 2011; last revised March 29]


"And the ones they are in darkness, and the others are in light, and one sees those who are in daylight, those in darkness drop from sight."
-- Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, Dreigroschenoper/Three Penny Opera


In order to understand what is happening in Libya and the rest of the Middle East, it is crucial to understand the nature of the recent (and ongoing) upheaval in Egypt.  But the problem with understanding Egypt -- what forces came to power in what the Egyptian military government now calls the "January 25 Revolution," what these forces want, the nature of their relations with the dominant Western powers, and who in Egypt is resisting them and why -- is that the media has given us a false picture of events, and it is impossible to think accurately based on false information. We can make a start in correcting this by using the media's own photos and videos of the Egyptian conflict to test the accuracy of the media's descriptions of that conflict.

In this article we analyze one such description, written by Nicholas D. Kristof of The New York Times, and the images that refute it, also available courtesy of Mr. Kristof.


You say those are horses? Amazing. They look like cows.


The event that had perhaps the biggest effect in forming Western public opinion about the Egyptian conflict was the fighting in Tahrir Square on February 2 and 3.  With few exceptions, the media, led by the major opinion-leaders (Associated Press, The New York Times, the BBC, the Guardian, and so on) told us that, in the words of Nicholas D. Kristof of The New York Times, the appearance of pro-Mubarak demonstrators in Tahrir Square resulted from "an organized government crackdown" on the "democracy movement," which "relied on armed hoodlums, not on police or army troops."  According to Kristof, the pro-Mubarak people were government stooges who:

"arrived in busloads that mysteriously were waved past checkpoints. These forces emerged at the same time in both Alexandria and Cairo, and they seemed to have been briefed to carry the same kinds of signs and scream the same slogans."
-- "Watching Thugs With Razors and Clubs at Tahrir Square," The New York Times, February 2, 2011, posted in full in Appendix I

This depiction of the Tahrir Square confrontations and fighting as pitting government-organized "pro-Mubarak mobs" against peaceful "pro-democracy crowds" (the words in quotation marks are all Kristof's) was crucial because, by reporting that the people demonstrating against regime change were government-organized (and, as the media also reported, government-paid) "hoodlums," the media greatly bolstered the view, already instilled in the public, that those opposing Mubarak represented the people as a whole, not a limited although very aggressive faction (namely, Islamists), while the government had no support among ordinary people.

On the one side, we were told, was autocracy and its paid thugs, plus the elite; on the other side was 'the people.'  Accepting this view, how could one criticize Western leaders for demanding that Mubarak resign except to say they didn't demand it hard enough, soon enough?

The coverage of the fighting in Tahrir Square on February 2 and 3 was remarkable for its uniformity -- we say 'remarkable' because if one carefully examines the pictures and videos accompanying media descriptions of supposed "hoodlums" supposedly sent by the government to attack supposedly peaceful protesters, (and we have examined all the images  publicly available from Associated Press, Getty, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Reuters, Agence France Press and more) the evidence of these photos and videos refutes what the media have reported, as clearly as if we were told, "Look at these horses in a meadow," and were shown a picture of cows.

In some case the media released videos and photos with so little identifying information that it is impossible to tell who is doing what and to whom; those images neither support nor contradict the official media line.  However, in other cases the videos and photos have enough identifying information for us to figure out what is happening; and all those videos and photos flatly contradict the media line about government-organized stooges attacking peaceful protesters in order to destroy a non-sectarian democracy movement.

Case in point: Nicholas D. Kristof's influential New York Times column of February 2, 2011, which has the headline, "Watching Thugs With Razors and Clubs at Tahrir Square."  (Apparently Kristof or his editors wanted to make sure that even those who read only the headline got the message.)  The column is illustrated with a photo, taken by Nicholas D. Kristof, and a video, produced by Kristof and his cameraman Jaron Gilinsky.  And therein hangs the tale.

In a trial -- and surely the media has put the Mubarak government on trial, with us serving on the jury -- if a leading prosecution witness is shown to be lying, this weakens or destroys the prosecution case, or in any event it should.  Let us take some of the accusations Nicholas D. Kristof makes in his February 2 Times column and test them against the evidence in his accompanying photo and video.  If only we can overcome the hold that authority and status have over all humanity and follow the evidence of our eyes, we will see that what Mr. Kristof, two times winner of the Pulitzer Prize and leading columnist for the Times, has written in this article about the fighting in Tahrir Square is a lie.


Mr. Kristof makes it perfectly clear


In his text, Kristof repeatedly states that "pro-Mubarak" people (meaning, those who didn't want the Egyptian government and constitution scrapped) are "thugs" armed with weapons of mayhem: swords, machetes, straight razors, and so on.

By way of evidence, Kristof uses the word "thug" (or "thugs" or "thuggery"), as in "pro-Mubarak thugs," eight times, including in the headline; "razor" three times, including in the headline; "machete" and "sword" once each; "club" twice, including in the headline; "armed," as in "armed young men pour in to scream in support of President Hosni Mubarak," three times; "mob" six times, as in "the pro-Mubarak mobs were picking fights."

Following the headline, which, as you will recall, reads "Watching Thugs With Razors and Clubs at Tahrir Square," Kristof's first sentence begins:

"Pro-government thugs at Tahrir Square used clubs, machetes, swords and straight razors on Wednesday to try to crush Egypt's democracy movement [...]."
-- See Appendix I

Get the message?  "Clubs, machetes, swords and straight razors" employed by government "thugs" in order "to crush Egypt's democracy movement," all of it witnessed by Kristof and his cameraman, Jaron Gilinsky.  That is the entire message of Kristof's column.  In addition to repeating said message various ways, Kristof endows it with emotional power by employing the fictional device of a hero.  Indeed, not being a piker, he employs two heroes.


Mr. Kristof meets Mr. Israel's third grade teacher


According to Kristof, his heroes (or rather heroines) are two:

"middle-age [sic! Should be 'middle-aged' -- EC] sisters, Amal and Minna, walking toward the square to join the pro-democracy movement. They had their heads covered in the conservative Muslim style, and they looked timid and frail as thugs surrounded them, jostled them, shouted at them."
[Our emphasis -- EC]
-- See Appendix I

So, women who are "timid and frail" and "middle-age[d]" are "surrounded," "jostled" and "shouted at" by "thugs."  Please hold those thoughts.

Kristof claims he was awed to see the women calmly debate the supposed mob of "thugs," who were, you will recall, supposedly armed with weapons of mayhem.  He writes that when he began to videotape an interview with the women, a "mob" of the "thugs" became enraged:

"But when I tried to interview them [i.e., the two sisters -- EC] on video, thugs swarmed us again. I appeased the members of the mob by interviewing them (as one polished his razor), and the two sisters managed again to slip away and continue toward the center of Tahrir Square [...]."
[Our emphasis -- EC]
-- See Appendix I

Since he tells us he started by interviewing (i.e. videotaping) the sisters and then continued by interviewing (i.e. videotaping) the "thugs," Kristof should have an historic video record of the opposing forces in Tahrir Square revealing their true nature in action. Please hold that thought as well.

As we mentioned, Kristof's article is illustrated with a photo and a video.  First, here is the photo:
The caption reads: "Minna, left, and Amal, with pro-Mubarak forces."

This image is (C) Nicholas D., Kristof/The New York Times 2011.  It is reproduced here for educational purposes, for Fair Use Only.

So these are Minna and Amal, Kristof's two "middle-age[d]" sisters who "looked timid and frail as thugs surrounded them, jostled them, shouted at them," but who bravely held their ground.

Since their pictures appear right under the headline in which Kristof tells us he watched "thugs with razors and clubs at Tahrir Square," the message is clear: the "thugs" these women are standing up to in the photo are very dangerous indeed.

The problem is, the photo completely contradicts what Kristof has told us.

The women in the photo are not "surrounded."

They are not "jostled."

They are not "shouted at" by a crowd.  There is no crowd, let alone a mob.

One man is talking to them while three others stand around casually, listening with varying degrees of interest.

Nobody looks threatening or hostile, and nobody is holding "razors and clubs" or indeed weapons of any kind.

The men appear perfectly respectable. Kristof's photo gives us no reason to think they are "thugs."

Or perhaps we should write, 'no good reason.'

Notice that the photo has been set up so that the sun is shining on the two supposed sisters, with the one Kristof calls "Amal" glowing pale in a virtual halo of light, like a Renaissance Madonna, whereas the man she is speaking to is cloaked in shadow, making his naturally dark skin look even darker. Is that just an accident, or did Kristof strive for precisely that effect? It isn't subtle: the shadow on the man's face is so dark it is hard to make out his features.  Did Kristof hope we would think the men are thugs because they appear dark-skinned compared to the sisters? It certainly appears that way since this contrast of darkness and light, so obviously contrived, is the only salient feature of this photo.

The women do not look "frail," as Kristof claims, nor "timid" nor intimidated, as they would if they were heroically standing up to an armed, threatening mob of hired thugs, as Kristof also claims.  Quite the contrary, one is smiling and the other, "Amal," the one who glows white, is beaming and wagging her finger condescendingly, just the way one of our third grade teachers (Jared's) used to do when she caught somebody without their homework.  And by the way, the women do not look "middle-age[d]."

Based on the evidence of this photo, everything Nicholas D. Kristof has told us about the women and their experience in Tahrir Square is a lie. Well, almost everything: we cannot say from the photo that they are not sisters.

Now, given sufficient time, we imagine that Kristof could have staged a picture of men threatening two women to fit the details of his story.  Therefore, if this photo supported his claims it would not prove he was telling the truth.

But since the photo does not support his claims, since it contradicts his article on every point -- no being "surrounded," no being "jostled," no "thugs," no "weapons," no being "shouted at," no threatening gestures on the part of the men and no frailty or timidity on the part of the women, plus they are not even "middle-age[d]" -- and since Kristof could have no conceivable reason for staging a picture that contradicts his article, therefore we can assume that the picture is telling the truth, whereas Nicholas D. Kristof is not.

Next we will examine Nicholas D. Kristof's video, entitled "Meeting Mubarak's Supporters," which is a) manifestly dishonest but b) nevertheless disproves the claims Kristof makes in his Times article.

Quite an achievement.


Kristof's video: dishonest before it starts


If your browser does not show this video, it can be viewed on the New York Times website, at

In his video "Meeting Mubarak's Supporters" (embedded above), Kristof addresses us several times, plus there are a couple of snippets of interviews with Mubarak supporters, some footage of Mubarak supporters chanting, and one exchange between a Mubarak supporter and the two women Kristof claims are sisters.

The video puts the nail in the coffin wherein lies Nicholas D. Kristof's credibility.

Frankly we don't know what is most disturbing about the video: the fact that what Kristof shows us flatly contradicts what he tells us, or the fact that he seems utterly confident that we will believe him anyway.

Mr. Kristof manages to lie to us even before the video begins.  He does this by means of the thumbnail image he has chosen to represent the video.

Below is a screenshot of that thumbnail as it appears near the beginning of Kristof's Times article:
Larger screenshots can be viewed at

This thumbnail image is a lie for two reasons.

First, the video's title, "Meeting Mubarak's Supporters," appears under the thumbnail as if it were a caption, clearly communicating that this is a still shot taken from the video, i.e., that these men standing on a tank at twilight are among "Mubarak's Supporters" whom Kristof "Meet[s]" in the video.

But the thumbnail is not a still shot taken from the video. Whenever and wherever it was filmed or photographed (and by whom), Kristof chose this very threatening image of men swarming over a tank while a light glows ominously in the background to represent the video not because it is a preview of what is in the video, but because it orients us to view the Mubarak supporters as an aggressive paramilitary force, whose job is to attack the anti-Mubarak people, even before we start the video.

Second, if one examines a larger version of the image in question, one will see something quite revealing.  We accessed the larger version by starting the video from Kristof's article and choosing full screen mode. At the end of the video, after the copyright information, the video closes with the thumbnail image more than twice as large as picture below.
To see the much larger version of this image go here.

Look at this detail:

Do you see what is remarkable about it?  (If not, check out the larger version.)

What is remarkable is that the men in front of the tank are praying. Indeed, all but one are prostrated on the ground -- on a city street, in the midst of a political upheaval! -- in prayer.

Contrary to recent Western media coverage, most Egyptian Muslims do not routinely prostrate themselves on city streets in front of tanks in prayer; this method of worship, which creates an atmosphere of political intimidation, is the province of believers in the Islamic version of clerical fascism -- Islamists. So, far from being Mubarak supporters the men in this picture are Islamists, probably supporters or members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the most extreme anti-Mubarak faction.

A double deception, and the video has not yet even started.


Weapons of talk destruction


The video begins with some Mubarak supporters chanting, following which Kristof appears on screen, telling us that:

"Mubarak today seems to have sent in the thugs to try to restore his role to Tahrir Square. There have been people pouring in with exactly the same talking points, with very similar signs."
[Our emphasis -- EC]
-- New York Times video, "Meeting Mubarak's Supporters,"
embedded above

Aside from his incoherent language -- what does it mean to "restore his role to Tahrir Square"? -- please recall that in the headline and very first sentence of his article, Kristof told us he was "watching" as:

"Pro-government thugs at Tahrir Square used clubs, machetes, swords and straight razors on Wednesday to try to crush Egypt's democracy movement. [...].
[Our emphasis -- EC]

The problem is, except in farces, a government mobilizing a mob of gutter-thugs to carry out lethal attacks does not worry about getting them to memorize "exactly the same talking points," or indeed any talking points at all.

People armed with "clubs, machetes, swords and straight razors" would not "crush Egypt's democracy movement" by talking.  In claiming both that the Mubarak supporters are armed with "machetes, swords and straight razors" and that they are armed with "talking points," Kristof turns his attack into a burlesque, inviting a cartoon parody in which thugs, armed with weapons of mayhem, torture their victims by endlessly repeating "exactly the same talking points," until said victims break down and renounce the so-called "democracy movement."  Thus are tyrants victorious!

Kristof has to resort to this foolishness because, as we shall see, in his video he cannot produce a single image of a Mubarak supporter doing anything but talking.  No weapons.  No intimidation.  Not even any mean looks. 


Footage inserted to deceive


Since Kristof makes his opening statement -- that Mubarak has sent "thugs" "pouring" into Tahrir Square with "exactly the same talking points" and "similar signs" -- immediately after showing us some pro-Mubarak demonstrators chanting and holding signs, he obviously wants us to believe we have seen the supposed "thugs" "pouring in."  The problem is a) the opening shots show only ten Mubarak supporters, hardly a flood and b) in any case, since all they are doing is holdings signs and chanting, why should we believe they are "thugs"?

Attempting to give credence to his use of the word "thugs," immediately after Kristof utters it, the video jump-cuts (from 0:22 to 0:25) to a shot of a man walking, talking on a cell phone, holding what appears to be a police billy club.  This is the video's only image of a weapon and, inserted at this point, seconds after we have been shown Mubarak supporters chanting and less than a second after Kristof has told us that Mubarak "sent in the thugs," it is obviously intended to convey the impression that "Mubarak's supporters" are armed (although keep in mind, Kristof has not shown us swords, machetes and razors, just one small club.)

However, when one examines the video critically it becomes clear that a) there is no evidence of a spatial or temporal connection between the opening shot of pro-Mubarak demonstrators and the lone man with the billy club; b) we have no way of knowing who this man is (a policeman possibly?), or when or where he was filmed (or by whom), and therefore c) we certainly have no evidence that he is either pro-Mubarak or a "thug."  What Kristof is relying on here is that, looking at the video hastily because we are pressed for time, and intimidated by the reputation of the New York Times, we will suspend our critical faculties and accept that Kristof has shown us armed "thugs."  In fact, he has only shown us that he is trying to deceive, just the way he did with the thumbnail of the men standing on the tank.


When there's statutory duty to be done (to be done),
a Kristof cameraman's lot is not a happy one (happy one).

-- With apologies to Gilbert & Sullivan, Pirates of Penzance


In his Times article Kristof tells us that the pro-Mubarak people --

"singled out foreign journalists [for attack -- EC], especially camera crews, presumably because they didn't want their brutality covered."
[Our emphasis -- EC]
-- See Kristof's column, Appendix I

-- indicating that they fought not to be videotaped displaying their brutality, but he also writes that when he tried to videotape an interview with the two sisters --

"thugs swarmed us again. I appeased the members of the mob by interviewing them (as one polished his razor), and the two sisters managed again to slip away [...] ."
[Our emphasis -- EC]
-- See Kristof's column, Appendix I

-- indicating that they fought unless they were videotaped displaying their brutality, thus putting the poor cameraman in the position of the Fool in King Lear [1], trapped, if we may mix our metaphors, between Scylla and Charybdis.

Kristof would want to prove both these claims by showing us the footage in which the pro-Mubarak people threatened his own cameraman (at 1:17 in the video Kristof says this did happen) as well as the footage where he started to interview the two alleged sisters, whereupon, as you will recall, the "thugs," so-called, "swarmed us again," and he "appeased [...] the mob by interviewing them (as one polished his razor.)"

Since according to Kristof all this happened while the camera was rolling, this sensational material, which provides such strong evidence for the case Kristof is trying to make, should be in the video, right?  Including the guy polishing his razor.  Don't forget him!

So, let us investigate.

In the video, there are two interviews.  The only one involving a group is the first, which starts at 0:27, in which Kristof interviews an English speaking man identified as Ismail Farouk, an engineer.

The problem is, during said interview:

a) The two supposed sisters are nowhere to be seen.

b) Nobody pressures Kristof to interview them (or, as Kristof also maintains, not to interview them); rather it is Kristof who seems hyper as he questions Farouk, while Farouk appears relaxed about the whole thing.

c) None of the pro-Mubarak people filmed during the interview, or indeed elsewhere in the video, threaten Kristof or seem the least bit hostile, although he is manifestly a Western reporter, and therefore they should be primed to fight with him (for one reason or the opposite).

d) Mr. Farouk does not rant against the anti-Mubarak forces, but speaks calmly and with tolerance.  Too much tolerance for Kristof, apparently, as demonstrated by a little editing trick Kristof pulls off at 0:57-0:58. 

Kristof has just asked Farouk, "Do you think that the police and the soldiers, should they remove the protesters or not?"  Farouk appears to reply, "I hope that. For all Egypt, we need stability," which would mean, 'I hope that the police and soldiers do remove the protesters, for the sake of stability.'  Not a statement suggesting that Farouk means to lead a charge to drive away the anti-Mubarak people, to be sure, but consistent with the accusation that Kristof (and all the rest of the media) have made, that, as Kristof puts it in his Times article, the pro-Mubarak people "arrived in busloads that mysteriously were waved past checkpoints," as part of a scheme to justify police and military action to crush the anti-Mubarak forces. 

So: in these remarks of Farouk's, has Kristof supplied the first piece of actual evidence to support his case?  No, he has not.  We do not know what Mr. Farouk said to Kristof -- only Farouk and Kristof and his cameraman, Jaron Gilinsky, know that -- but, what is almost as helpful, we know that he did not say, "I hope that. For all Egypt, we need stability."  That is because, if you look carefully between 0:57 and 0:58, you will see that, immediately after Farouk utters the word "that," there is a visually evident break.

Something has been cut out.

To be precise, Kristof and Gilinsky have removed whatever Farouk and possibly also Kristof said, whether he or they spoke for a second or an hour, between Farouk's words, "I hope that," and his words, "For all Egypt."

Very possibly Farouk said something like, "I hope that, since the President has confirmed that he will not run for another term and reforms will be instituted, the people in Tahrir Square will give the government a chance to act on these promises so that Egypt can remain stable in the process of reform.  For all Egypt, we need stability."

These possible remarks would be consistent with what an oil worker tells Kristof later in the video (1:28), and with comments that pro-Mubarak people make in a Time magazine article that is unique in presenting both sides of an Egyptian street debate on whether Mubarak should be forced out.

Notice that if Farouk did indeed say something along these lines, his next sentence -- "For all Egypt, we need stability" -- would, by appealing to Egyptian unity, constitute an attempt at conciliation, as in, 'I hope they will understand the need to act with restraint because all of us need a stable Egypt.' That is, this sentence would not then be a justification for a police and military crackdown.

The fact remains, whatever Mr. Farouk said, Kristof has cut out a chunk of his words, so that Farouk falsely appears to be calling for a police and military crackdown. This so-called 'journalism' is shameful; Nicholas D. Kristof will surely get a third Pulitzer Prize.

e) Notice that neither Mr. Farouk nor his associates are armed.  This is certainly a problem for Kristof: nowhere in the video is anyone seen carrying a weapon of any kind (except for that irrelevant footage of a man with a billy club, which was filmed who-knows-where-or-when, and which Kristof/Gilinksy inserted earlier), let alone is anyone seen sharpening a razor while being interviewed although that is what Kristof tells us in his Times article that he saw -- and recorded on film.

f) During this interview, Farouk's colleagues chant in the background.  They are not threatening; they chant enthusiastically and cheerfully, and they carry a motley assortment of hand made signs -- hand made, that is, not stamped out in bureaucratic uniformity by some government agency, as Kristof implies in his column.

So how do Kristof's claims in the Times article hold up so far against the video evidence?  Well, the men he has described as a mob of threatening thugs in fact appear calm and friendly.  Their body language is not threatening and their facial expressions are not harsh.  Indeed, they seem earnest, just as one might expect from Egyptians naively trying to enlighten foreign reporters, and, through them, to reach Western audiences, unaware that Kristof and his associates will attack them whatever they say, making things up as required to fit their assignment of smearing those who oppose the anti-Mubarak people.

And allow us to repeat, the pro-Mubarak people have no weapons. Contrary to Kristof's claim, nobody threatens any women prior to being interviewed, and nobody sharpens any razor.  The people he films are unarmed except for their voices: they are well-armed with words, indicating that they have come to Tahrir Square to persuade the anti-Mubarak forces that they are mistaken, not to fight them.

Following this first and quite unthuglike exchange (indeed, in this first exchange it is Kristof not the Egyptian Farouk who seems pushy, although Kristof is also not polishing a razor) Kristof addresses us again, claiming that the "pro-Mubarak forces" have tried to break his cameraman's camera.  (Apparently this has occurred when they were in their no-interviews mode.)  If Kristof is not lying, why does the video contain zero footage of this supposed incident, which would be so useful to his argument?  Indeed, why does all the footage in the video show the pro-Mubarak people acting perfectly cordial?  Are the pro-Mubarak people violently hostile only off-camera?  Really, why should we not conclude that Nicholas D. Kristof is lying?

But let us go on.

Kristof next shows us a conversation with another Mubarak defender, an oil worker identified as Mohamad Magdi, who again is a) not armed, b) not hostile, and c) quite articulate.

Mr. Magdi says about Mubarak:

"I want him to stick to the end and then there will be a new president chosen by the people. But he should go out in dignity. He has helped this country."
-- New York Times video, "Meeting Mubarak's Supporters," 1:28
Video is embedded above

We then watch Mr. Magdi argue in Arabic with Kristof's two alleged sisters.  In this argument, a) nobody is arguing on Magdi's side (that is, it is not a mob assault) and b) the two sister's are entirely unintimidated.  If anything, they are mocking. 

Mr. Magdi is translated saying that nobody can sleep or go to work, apparently because of the disruption caused by people burning down buildings and rioting in the streets.  He then says: "Let it be a smooth transition instead of destruction," meaning, let Mubarak finish his term and then Egypt can move to a new administration without people burning and looting half the country (as the anti-Mubarak "protesters" had in fact been doing), to which the women scornfully (not timidly) reply, "Enough of fear," apparently meaning, throw caution and the country to the winds, you wimp.

Mr. Magdi's sentiments sound neither pre-programmed nor thuggish and he is neither threatening nor armed.  Nevertheless, after Magdi's interview and argument with the two women, Kristof appears again and tells us, referring to the pro-Mubarak people:

"One had a machete; another had a straight razor; several had sticks; there's stone throwing in various places. It seems to be an effort to create violence by these provocateurs and thereby perhaps create a pretext for a crackdown or at least simply scare people out of the democracy movement."
-- New York Times video, embedded above 

Why does nothing Kristof has just told us correspond to anything he has shown us?

Since his cameraman has filmed Kristof telling us this in Tahrir Square; since said cameraman has filmed a couple of groups of pro-Mubarak people with signs, as well as two interviews and an argument (Mr. Magdi and the unintimidated ladies) -- since, in other words, Kristof and his cameraman have been filming hither and yon, where the action is, how come he has no pictures of mobs of thuggish pro-Mubarak people attacking with machetes or straight razors or clubs or swords, or at least pushing and jostling, or at the very least threatening somebody, anybody, not to mention none throwing stones? Remember, in the very title of his article, Nicholas D. Kristof claims he watched Mubarak supporters with "razors and clubs."

In what world did he see them?


A tale of two worlds


Apparently Kristof occupies two worlds.

In one, so-called "pro-Mubarak" people, that is, people opposed to destroying the government and indeed the country of Egypt, want to talk to the anti-Mubarak people and persuade them to give the government a chance.  That world could be found on February 2 in Tahrir Square, but Kristof pretends it didn't exist.

In the other world, lethally armed pro-Mubarak "thugs" threaten timid but brave ladies, break cameras and attack the anti-Mubarak people with razors, machetes and swords.  That world could not be found anywhere at any time except in Nicholas D. Kristof's head, but he tells us it did exist.

Having of necessity filmed the real world of pro-Mubarak talkers, Kristof nevertheless describes the imaginary world of pro-Mubarak killers, with the result that his video is a slightly incoherent parody of the doublethink George Orwell writes about in 1984.  (You know, where they show us war and we are required to say peace.) Here we are shown reasonable discourse; we are told we have been shown vicious mob intimidation; we are expected to say "Thugs!"

You say you are worried about democracy in Egypt?  With media like The New York Times, how can we have democracy in the U.S.?

-- Jared Israel and Samantha Criscione
Emperor's Clothes


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[1] King Lear, Act I, Scene IV

Fool: I marvel what kin thou and thy daughters are:
they'll have me whipped for speaking true, thou'lt
have me whipped for lying; and sometimes I am
whipped for holding my peace.

[2] "Cairo Street Debate: When Mubarak Foes and Backers Clash," by Rania Abouzeid / Cairo, Time, Monday, January 31, 2011, at,8599,2045278,00.html


Appendix I: "Watching Thugs With Razors and Clubs at Tahrir Sq."
By Nicholas D. Kristof, The New York Times, February 2, 2011

[Nicholas D. Kristof's column begins here]

Pro-government thugs at Tahrir Square used clubs, machetes, swords and straight razors on Wednesday to try to crush Egypt's democracy movement, but, for me, the most memorable moment of a sickening day was one of inspiration: watching two women stand up to a mob.

I was on Tahrir Square, watching armed young men pour in to scream in support of President Hosni Mubarak and to battle the pro-democracy protesters. Everybody, me included, tried to give them a wide berth, and the bodies of the injured being carried away added to the tension. Then along came two middle-age sisters, Amal and Minna, walking toward the square to join the pro-democracy movement. They had their heads covered in the conservative Muslim style, and they looked timid and frail as thugs surrounded them, jostled them, shouted at them.

Yet side by side with the ugliest of humanity, you find the best. The two sisters stood their ground. They explained calmly to the mob why they favored democratic reform and listened patiently to the screams of the pro-Mubarak mob. When the women refused to be cowed, the men lost interest and began to move on --- and the two women continued to walk to the center of Tahrir Square.

I approached the women and told them I was awed by their courage. I jotted down their names and asked why they had risked the mob's wrath to come to Tahrir Square. "We need democracy in Egypt," Amal told me, looking quite composed. "We just want what you have."

But when I tried to interview them on video, thugs swarmed us again. I appeased the members of the mob by interviewing them (as one polished his razor), and the two sisters managed again to slip away and continue toward the center of Tahrir Square, also known as Liberation Square, to do their part for Egyptian democracy.

Thuggery and courage coexisted all day in Tahrir Square, just like that. The events were sometimes presented by the news media as "clashes" between rival factions, but that's a bit misleading. This was an organized government crackdown, but it relied on armed hoodlums, not on police or army troops.

The pro-Mubarak forces arrived in busloads that mysteriously were waved past checkpoints. These forces emerged at the same time in both Alexandria and Cairo, and they seemed to have been briefed to carry the same kinds of signs and scream the same slogans. They singled out foreign journalists, especially camera crews, presumably because they didn't want their brutality covered. A number of journalists were beaten up, although far and away it was Egyptians who suffered the most.

Until the arrival of these thugs, Tahrir Square had been remarkably peaceful, partly because pro-democracy volunteers checked I.D.'s and frisked everyone entering. One man, a suspected police infiltrator, was caught with a gun on Tuesday quite close to me, and I was impressed with the way volunteers disarmed him and dragged him to an army unit --- all while forming a protective cordon around him to keep him from being harmed.

In contrast, the pro-Mubarak mobs were picking fights. At first, the army kept them away from the pro-democracy crowds, but then the pro-Mubarak thugs charged into the square and began attacking.

There is no reliable way of knowing right now how many have been killed and injured in Egypt's turmoil. Before Wednesday's violence, Navi Pillay, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, said the death toll could be as many as 300, but she acknowledged that she was basing that on "unconfirmed" reports. There are some who are missing, including a senior Google official, Wael Ghonim, who supported the democracy activists. On Wednesday, the government said that three more had died and many hundreds were injured; I saw some people who were unmoving and looked severely injured at the least. These figures compare with perhaps more than 100 killed when Iran crushed its pro-democracy movement in 2009 and perhaps 400 to 800 killed in Beijing in 1989.

Chinese and Iranian leaders were widely condemned for those atrocities, so shouldn't Mr. Mubarak merit the same broad condemnation? Come on, President Obama. You owe the democracy protesters being attacked here, and our own history and values, a much more forceful statement deploring this crackdown.

It should be increasingly evident that Mr. Mubarak is not the remedy for the instability in Egypt; he is its cause. The road to stability in Egypt requires Mr. Mubarak's departure, immediately.

But for me, when I remember this sickening and bloody day, I'll conjure not only the brutality that Mr. Mubarak seems to have sponsored but also the courage and grace of those Egyptians who risked their lives as they sought to reclaim their country. And incredibly, the democracy protesters held their ground all day at Tahrir Square despite this armed onslaught. Above all, I'll be inspired by those two sisters standing up to Mr. Mubarak's hoodlums. If they, armed only with their principles, can stand up to Mr. Mubarak's thuggery, can't we all do the same?

(C) The New York Times Company, 2011. Reprinted here for educational purpose, for Fair Use Only.

[Nicholas D. Kristof's column ends here]


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