China Censors Egypt Coverage

Parallels between Tahrir Square in 2011 and Tiananmen Square in 1989 haven’t been lost on China’s media censors. Last week two of the nation’s biggest Internet portals, Sina.com and NetEase.com, blocked keyword searches of the word “Egypt.” So did Weibo, China’s Twitter equivalent. (China’s Great Firewall already blocks access to the real Twitter, as well as Facebook and YouTube.) The party warned that websites refusing to censor comments about Egypt would be “shut down by force.”

Chinese authorities see the political turmoil in the Middle East as a continuation of the so-called color revolutions that toppled authoritarian post-Soviet regimes in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan, and that made Beijing wary about pro-democracy spillover. But China’s troubleshooting strategy is no longer simply about blocking access to foreign news reports. Beijing is also trying to shape the debate in real time. Last week an editorial in the state-run Global Times displayed the headline "Color Revolutions Will Not Bring About Real Democracy." While it conceded that democracy has a “strong appeal” thanks to its success in the West, it cautioned, “Whether the system is applicable in other countries is in question … Some emerging democracies in Asia and Africa are taking hit after hit from street-level clamor.”

That assessment sounds like a throwback to Tiananmen: antigovernment protests bring chaos; status quo brings stability. Or as a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman put it: “We hope Egypt will return to social stability and normal order as soon as possible.”

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