02/03/2011, 00.00
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Beijing censors Egypt protests

Video and pictures of street protests and tanks in the streets are banned. News stories are relegated to the back pages of newspapers. Words like Egypt and Tunisia are blocked online. Experts believe the Chinese government is concerned that events in Egypt will not only awake memories of Tiananmen Square in 1989 but also raise ideas about the current situation.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – China's state-run media has largely avoided commenting on the turmoil sweeping Egypt. Unlike the rest of the world, the strife has been reported as a secondary story. For experts, the situation in Egypt is too similar to that of China, and events in Cairo are too close for comfort to the protest and slaughter of June 1989 in Tiananmen Square.

Chinese media have hardly shown any images of the mass protests or tanks in Egyptian streets, which are too much of a reminder of anti-government protests in Beijing in 1989 (pictured, an Egyptian demonstrator opposing a tank).

Some media sources say that Chinese media have been ordered to relay only stories from the state-owned Xinhua news agency. Some papers have only reported on the special flights that repatriated Chinese nationals.

Chinese websites have disrupted searches for “Egypt” on micro-blogs, though some comments have been getting through, as well as pictures of the protests and tanks on the streets. Comments include statements like “These are the real soldiers of the people,” and “The Egyptian army has not opened fire on their fathers or brothers.”

For Li Datong, a former journalist, Egypt “is a highly sensitive story for the government and brings back memories of 1989”.

Beijing-based political scientist Liu Junning said that the uprising in Egypt showed authoritarian regimes were a lot more vulnerable and fragile than they appeared.

For its part, Xinhua's English-language service noted the call by some Egyptians to stay away from unrest, saying that some even “distributed leaflets among protesters, urging people to stay away from ‘violence' and ‘chaos'.

State television has instead concentrated its reporting on the run-up to the traditional Chinese Lunar New Year holiday, hardly mentioning Egypt.

The one exception is the Global Times, a popular tabloid that warned that protests in Tunisia and Egypt would not bring Western-style democracy to these countries.

Some experts note that the situation in China is different because the power of the Communist Party is strong and economic development has lifted millions out of poverty, something not found in Egypt where only the ruling classes and not the majority of the population have benefitted from the economy.

Others disagree. “Rising corruption, inflation, high housing prices. I think there's another country like this, but which one could that be?” someone wrote sarcastically on a micro-blog.

“If the economy slows down or even crashes, China is very likely to see turmoil again with widespread discontent with the government,” said Beijing-based analyst Hu Xingdou.

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