The fact that Egypt's revolution had succeeded in its primary goal of ousting Hosni Mubarak really hit me on Saturday when I was walking home to my apartment. Every day, I pass a small convenience store with a number of foreign-language newspapers outside, one of which is the government-affiliated Egyptian daily al-Ahram. I usually don't bother to read al-Ahram, as the quality of its news and analysis has been on the steady decline for a while now. More independent newspapers like al-Masry al-Youm and al-Sharouk offer much more serious insight. Thus, I usually glance at al-Ahram everyday while walking by, and continue on my way. If I buy an Arabic newspaper, I buy al-Hayat or ash-Sharq al-Awsat.
But Saturday, I stopped to see the headline on the morning after Mubarak's resignation. It was clear that something had changed. The same newspaper that had continued to downplay the massive protests that began to sweep the country on January 25th now ran a massive headline that read: 11 February 2011...The Fall of the Mubarak Regime. Below it was a massive photograph of youths carrying a banner congratulating the Egyptian people and expressing their desire for an "honorable government". On page six, the newspaper printed all of the names and places of origin of the "martyrs of the revolution". This was clearly a different newspaper than it was under the Mubarak regime.
The devolution of al-Ahram is a fascinating example of how far Mubarak's regime has fallen. In the last few years, the newspaper has grown increasingly uncredible. Several high-profile Egyptian intellectuals (Fahmy al-Huweidi, Jalal Amin, Salameh Ahmad Salameh) who used to write columns in al-Ahram decided to make the move to the more independent-minded Egyptian dailies like al-Masry al-Youm and al-Sharouk. For what its worth, here's a personal anecdote. I remember al-Ahram being a far more ubiquitous newspaper in Cairo while studying Arabic there in 2006 in comparison to my time there in 2010. I even remember getting assigned al-Ahram op-eds in my media class back in 2006. By 2010, that newspaper had become such a joke that it would have been almost unthinkable to use its articles and op-eds in class. Instead, we were assigned op-eds from al-Masry al-Youm and al-Sharouk. After all, that's where all the most influential columnists had relocated.
I'm not saying that anyone could have seen the revolution in Egypt coming, giving the unpopularity of its semi-official newspaper. To some extent, its unpopularity can be seen as a barometer of public opinion, but by no means could that have indicated a possible revolution on the horizon. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see how al-Ahram reconstitutes itself, hopefully as an independent voice in a future democratic political process.