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Opinion: Exploiting Mandela’s Passing | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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South African mourners gather in front of the Cape Town City Hall on 06 December 2013 where the late South African president Nelson Mandela made his first public address after being released from prison. (EPA/Nic Bothima)

The death of the great South African leader Nelson Mandela at 95 made the headlines across the world.

This man is not just a symbol of South Africa or the African continent, but also the entire world. He is a godfather of the civil rights struggle who transcended the wounds inflicted against him and the oppression he suffered at the hands of South Africa’s apartheid rulers. After a terrible 27-year imprisonment, Mandela came out not to take revenge on his jailers, but to reach out to them in order to build a country for all South Africans regardless of race.

By mixing politics with morality, Mandela set an excellent example and thus became a role model for the entire world.

Mandela, whose name and image became kind of political “currency” in international politics, has now—like Gandhi—become an eternal icon.

As a result, political figures across the world sought to exploit and take advantage of the halo surrounding Mandela’s death in order to serve their own interests.

The official responses to the death of Mandela included a comment made by senior Muslim Brotherhood leader Azza Al-Garf, who likened deposed Islamist president Mohamed Mursi to the South African leader. This was an ambitious attempt on Garf’s part to polish Mursi’s image, which is the subject of a heated debate between his supporters and opponents both inside and outside Egypt.

An Al-Jazeera journalist likened the Palestinian writer Azmi Bishara, one of the ideologues on Al-Jazeera, to Nelson Mandela without even bothering to give evidence or point out the supposed similarities between the two. This hurried comparison simply aimed to capitalize on the common portrayal of Nelson Mandela.

There is a banal vulgarization of all of role models and icons in cyberspace and on TV screens.

If he had died before the hubbub of YouTube and Twitter and the uncontrollable proliferation of television channels, Mandela would have been eulogized in a better, more accurate way, even if these eulogies included criticism of him.

Now everyone is in a hurry, and social media networks require a daily dose of news to catch the public’s attention.

Everything receives the attention of the public, from Mandela’s death and the typhoon in the Philippines to Haifa Wehbe’s divorce, Real Madrid’s latest win over FC Barcelona or the discovery of a new comet on a path towards Earth.

As long as they attract an audience, each of these events will be exploited by trivial people seeking only to increase their followers on social media.

Everything has been vulgarized.