How to get out of an Egyptian jail
October 27, 2013 10:04 PM   Subscribe

Free, Tarek and John: Longread by Justin Podur about the campaign to free Canadian filmmaker John Grayson (among his films is the South Africa-based Proteus) and doctor Tarek Loubani, who were on their way to Gaza via Egypt in August 2013 when they were detained. Insight into what went on behind the scenes and what political and strategic calculations were made.
posted by larrybob (7 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I found this interesting:

Another group tried to claim that they had more extensive contacts than they actually did, and fed us either ministry of foreign affairs propaganda lines or publicly available information. This second group had varied motivations, but we have learned that they arise inevitably in situations like these. They can be dangerous if they are not identified. In some cases, they might ask supporters to stand down their public efforts to let the back channels work. This is usually a mistake, and in our case, it would have been a severe mistake. We decided that a strong public campaign would give those making the behind-the-scenes arguments a stronger bargaining position, to say: please, let them out quietly, so that this public campaign for their release can end.

This second group almost seem like agent provocateurs.
posted by craniac at 10:23 PM on October 27, 2013

Activists try to raise wide-ranging social issues and policies, and are used to being ignored by the media. The media, by contrast, are best at covering human interest stories at an individual scale, and find activist issues and discussion hopelessly abstract. But once there is a story that is likely to generate wide public interest, the media feel the need to have access to the sources of that story, and may cover a story properly if they are given good sources and good information. While sources try to cultivate relationships with journalists, journalists do the same. Relations may seem very friendly, but it is worth remembering that interests are different – the journalist wants to be the first to publish the story, while the source usually wants the best and widest possible dissemination. Understanding these interests and differences in approach can help activists navigate media in difficult and complex situations.

So the best way for an activist to bring media attention to injustice is to become a victim of it, but then the activist becomes the story and the broader injustice is ignored. It seems purposefully self-defeating, but I guess that's the way it's been designed to work.
posted by three blind mice at 2:34 AM on October 28, 2013

Are you seriously proposing that they tried to get imprisoned as a PR stunt? Because that's a pretty shitty accusation to make without something more to back it up than a misreading of the text you quote.
posted by ardgedee at 6:25 AM on October 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Are you seriously proposing that they tried to get imprisoned as a PR stunt?

C'mon. What the article suggests is that unless a story becomes a human interest story AND the media can identify with the humans involved, it doesn't become a story for the broader media.

A "PR stunt" is something else altogether.
posted by three blind mice at 6:32 AM on October 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Perhaps not a PR stunt but I am looking forward to their reporting on the Golan Heights via a land drive through Syria.
posted by sammyo at 7:00 AM on October 28, 2013

I'm sorry, I haven't had a chance to read the article, but I can tell you that locally, in Toronto, it was a masterful campaign. They had everything lined up: people constantly on the news talking about it, postcards at every event. I was/am involved with another campaign - about Russia's LGBT crackdown - and we were just flailing around while the Free Tarek & John people were like a machine. I was trying to figure out how they did it, to improve our efforts.

Having a personal story helps - it's much easier to worry about two people with faces and names and family on the radio than faceless oppressed people. But also it didn't hurt that they had people with excellent media/art connections, and the know-how and/or money to produce slick postcards, etc.

I'm really happy for them, obviously, but saddened that there are still hundreds of equally innocent people trapped in prison in Egypt (as well as not-"innocent" but still not deserving of mistreatment).
posted by jb at 9:03 AM on October 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Another piece of the puzzle which this article doesn't mention is the efforts of Tarek's father Dr. Mahmoud Loubani, also a physician. He flew to Cairo and, in Tarek's words "was able to put a human face on this, and do it in Arabic."
posted by larrybob at 11:11 AM on October 28, 2013

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