BEIJING — China’s state-controlled media downplayed the news of Egypt’s popular uprising that toppled its president, with some outlets carrying only brief items and one editorial warning Saturday that the country could fall into "chaos."
The reluctance to highlight the Cairo celebrations likely stemmed out of wariness of spawning unrest at home that might threaten the Communist Party’s monopoly on power. China’s authoritarian government relentlessly punishes political dissent and bans most public demonstrations.
Most Chinese newspapers and online portals were running a terse report on Saturday from the official Xinhua News Agency that gave basic facts about President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation while only briefly mentioning the widespread, emotional demonstrations that brought about his ouster.
The news from Egypt was buried in the middle of state television’s noon newscast Saturday. CCTV did not air any footage of protesters but instead used showed scenes of shuttered shops and empty streets.
"Social stability should be of overriding importance. Any political changes will be meaningless if the country falls prey to chaos in the end," said the editorial in the China Daily, an English-language paper that is geared toward foreign readers.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said in a statement that China hopes Egypt can restore stability and normal order as soon as possible.
Internet censors continued to block the ability to search "Egypt" and "Mubarak" on microblogging sites as they have since the protests started, though the restriction could be sidestepped by searching for an abbreviated version of the former president’s name, "Muba."
Most postings on the popular Sina Weibo site referred to the news in general terms without connecting it to the political situation in China, though it’s not clear whether more pointed comments had been deleted by censors.
"Today Mubarak stepped down, here we have been looking at these same faces for 20 years. When will they ‘get out,’" one user wrote, using a coarse expression.
On Twitter, which is routinely blocked in China but popular among tech-savvy dissidents who are able to circumvent Internet controls, artist and government critic Ai Weiwei speculated on the possibility of a similar overthrow of Beijing.
"It only took 18 days for the collapse of a military regime which was in power for 30 years and looked harmonious and stable. This thing that’s been maintained for more than 60 years, it may take several months," he said in a posting.
Human rights lawyer Teng Biao sent his congratulations to the Egyptian people in English, quoting Greek historian Thucydides.
"The secret of happiness is freedom, and the secret of freedom, courage," he tweeted.
Associated Press writer Gillian Wong and researcher Henry Hou contributed to this report.