Egypt’s 12-year-old ‘politics prof’ stuns world

Voice of the Arab street: As he speaks, the TV reporter’s questions probe deeper.

Millions around the world have been amazed watching a 12-year-old Egyptian boy explain his country’s deepening crisis. So tell us, Ali, what is wrong with theocracy?

When the television crew chose Ali Ahmed to interview for part of a standard vox pop report from Cairo, they may have hoped for a child-centred view of opposition to then-President Morsi. Some views about the disruption to his schooling caused by Egypt’s unrest, perhaps, or how upset his family had been about the ill-fated leader’s failure to kickstart the economy and help provide ordinary people with the basics of a functioning state.

Instead, they had a global internet sensation on their hands: the 12-year-old’s interview, in which he displays total mastery of political analysis and argument, has become an international marvel. Although the video was recorded last autumn, it has been whizzing around the world since the weekend: non-Egyptians have become increasingly worried by violent clashes between supporters of the now-deposed Morsi and his party, the Muslim Brotherhood, and those who wanted him ousted by the army. Each night the death toll has risen, and the interim government is not in control.

Struggling to understand, global audiences have found a way to get to grips with this dangerous second revolution in Egypt through Ali’s insights. Asked first why he and his family were on the streets protesting against Morsi, who had not yet been removed from power, he answered: ‘to help prevent Egypt from being a commodity owned by one person and to protest the confiscation of the constitution by a single party.’

As it continues, the interview shows Ali explaining his opposition to fascist theocracy, and to Islamic laws that prevent fair and equal protection of women’s human rights. People around him are stunned. The interviewer cannot believe what she is hearing. And now, nor can the wider world.

Traditionally, media organisations have tried to gauge the mood of ordinary people in the Middle East and North Africa by talking to what they call ‘the Arab street’. The phrase, as often through over use, has become something of a cliché. But by being exposed to Ali Ahmed’s insights, the world has paid a different quality of attention to the crisis now affecting the largest and most important Arab Spring nation.

For one, for all?

In one sense, Ali’s voice is very much his own. The interviewer and then the international audiences who were so impressed with his answers and explanations could not help wondering where he had found these opinions: through thought and investigation, he firmly replied.

This has brought him respect and allowed the rest of the world to understand much more clearly how he, his family and the Egyptians, who insisted that Morsi should go, feel about building a free country for themselves. The Arab street is now peopled with real individuals, thanks to one 12-year-old boy.

You Decide

  1. Do you have to be as sophisticated as this boy to care about politics?
  2. What are the best ways to arrive at informed opinions about what’s going on in the world?

Activities

  1. Watch the video and read the accompanying article from theWashington Post. What do you notice about the reporter’s reactions?
  2. Listen to Ali’s explanation and then write your own article about theocracy in the Middle East.

Some People Say...

“The world would be a better place if it was run by children.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Surely almost no-one could hope to equal Ali?
The interview is amazing, it’s true. But if you pay attention to what he says at the end, you might find some clues about how to get as well informed about issues you care about. When challenged as to where he gets his opinions, Ali stands up for himself very well and explains: ‘I listen to people a lot and I use my own brain. Plus I read newspapers, watch TV and search the Internet.’
So those really are his own opinions?
Most of us absorb some points of view from those we are close to and those we respect – nothing wrong with that. But it’s important to seek out other sources of information. Everyone has their own journey to finding out the values and beliefs that motivate them. Sometimes it takes a lifetime of reading and listening.

Word Watch

Cairo
The Egyptian capital is the largest city in Africa and in the Arab world.
Vox pop
Short for vox populi, or voice of the people: a standard type of reporting where a media organisation asks several people for their opinions and runs them together to try and give the reader or viewer a sense of the range of opinions in a group.
Theocracy
Rule by the priests or imams of a religion, whose laws cannot be challenged by ordinary people unless they brave a charge of heresy or blasphemy. Iran, which has been called the Islamic Republic since the revolution of 1979 overthrew its pro-Western royal family, is the clearest modern example.
Arab Spring
First in Tunisia, and then across North Africa and the Arab world, the populace rose up against its dictators and repressive regimes in a ripple of protest and would-be democracy during the first half of 2011. Egypt, as the largest, most populous, and most diplomatically important nation convulsed by this movement, is being watched very closely now all round the world.