August 14, 2013 marks one of the darkest days in Egyptian modern history. Over 800 people were killed by security forces during the dispersal of the pro-Morsi Rabea and Nahda sit-ins that lasted over a month. Ever since, the emergency law has been reinstated as well as a month-long 7pm-6am curfew in 10 provinces, leaving nothing but the television as a source of information and news.
Since the dispersal, over 50 churches have been attacked and burnt in Upper Egypt; however, there has been very little media coverage of these attacks except when the Muslim Brotherhood can be blamed for it. Some police stations have also been attacked and police brutally murdered, as was the case in Kirdasa. This seized the media’s attention because it vilified the Muslim Brotherhood even more than their actual crimes had in the past. The unrest, clashes and deaths continue with the death toll now reaching over 1600 individuals, of whom quite a few were journalists. Hundreds have been arrested and many are still missing.
On August 18, 2013, 38 prisoners were killed in police custody while being transferred to prison. They allegedly died by suffocation through excessive use of tear gas fired into the truck transporting them. The Egyptian media, however, did not appear to be interested in this event since the pictures of the bodies were extremely graphic and suggested that the Muslim Brotherhood could have been the ‘victims’ in this incident. This, of course, is the one thing they are not in the eyes of the masses, especially with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) propaganda constantly portraying the Muslim Brotherhood’s long history of “crimes and violence”.
Sinai, over the past weeks, has also witnessed a fair share of attacks on various security points and police stations. The most recent attack was on August 19, 2013 when 25 conscripts were killed in North Sinai. Almost instantly all media outlets focused solely on the killed conscripts, except Al Jazeera, erasing any possible speculations about what had happened to those 38 prisoners.
The media has been a crucial player in directing and polarizing events as they unfold. State media and several privately owned Egyptian channels such as CBC, Dream, Nahar, Tahrir, Mehwar, Sada El Balad, Qahera Wal Nas, and ONTV are all singing the same chorus of SCAF’s version of what has and is still taking place in Egypt since the 30th June. More ridiculously, all of these channels have put some variation of a “Fighting Terrorism” badge permanently on their screens. ONTV and Mehwar even created English-dubbed sister channels in the hopes of spreading the propaganda to western audiences and press, since they have been accused of failing to show the Muslim Brotherhood as “terrorists and monsters.”
Local media has created one-minute promo videos blasting “Egypt is above all” and “The People of Egypt against Terrorism” rhetoric mixed with 2-second shots of YouTube videos showing armed men on the “loose” with Independence-Day background music. This type of propaganda has replaced commercial breaks and actually puts Bush’s “Fight on Terrorism” campaign to shame.
On the other hand, some international and regional media outlets have been picking sides. The most popular examples are Al Jazeera and CNN, who have pre-selected guests that only represent the pro-Muslim Brotherhood camp whilst ignoring the other camp’s arguments. Al Jazeera have been the leading voice of the Muslim Brotherhood camp; they have streamed almost every Muslim Brotherhood event since the start of the Rabea and Nahda sit-ins.
On the international level, CNN has become the American version of Al Jazeera, also pre-selecting guests who are mostly on the Muslim Brotherhood’s side, and failing in investigative, balanced coverage. I even got a call from CNN to comment on the Rabea massacre and when I told the reporter I denounce the massacre, but that I am against both SCAF and Muslim Brotherhood, she said she would call back and never did.
In general, Al Jazeera has been very unwelcome in Egypt lately, and since it basically became the Muslim Brotherhood’s mouthpiece, which resulted in it being viciously attacked by both local media and the general public, the Arabic Al Jazeera channel’s office was closed.
In addition to Al Jazeera “hate posters” on the streets, Al Jazeera journalists have been banned from State press conferences and are, at times, attacked and forced out of other conferences by fellow journalists. Not to mention the unlawful arrest and current detention of their journalists Mohamed Badr and Abdullah El Shamy.
“The makers of sectarianism”
To be fair, Al Jazeera hasn’t sunk to the level of ONTV. Every now and then they have invited opposition figures to comment via the telephone and even Hassan Shahin, Tamarod’s (Rebel Campaign) spokesperson, was invited to comment recently.
One of the main videos circulating on ONTV portraying the message that “Al Jazeera is lying and unprofessional” is a video of a scene at the Fattah Mosque in Ramsis, where hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters were under siege surrounded by security forces and thousands of “residents” who apparently wanted to kill them. The video shows a fire extinguisher being blown from inside the mosque, the footage itself doesn’t suggest that tear gas had been used or why the people inside the mosque used the fire extinguisher. ONTV’s presenter, Youssef Al Hosiny, chose to portray this as an attempt by those in the mosque to give a “tear gas effect” and attacked Al Jazeera for fabricating that tear gas had been used. Whether tear gas was fired or not, no one knows, and Youssef Al Hosiny certainly doesn’t know.
There is another video that was repeatedly shown, once again by Youssef Al Hosiny, on ONTV. It is of a “wounded person” inside Fattah mosque, who supposedly wasn’t actually wounded. The video depicts him lying down, not allowing the doctor to lift his shirt and when the doctor does so, it becomes clear that there is no wound underneath the bloodstained shirt. In this instance, it was OK of course, to use Al Jazeera’s “lying” footage because it served ONTV’s endless propaganda stream.
Ironically, on the other hand, some Egyptians have been raving about Fox News. This is because their reports are pushing for the same propaganda as has SCAF; against the Muslim Brotherhood. And of course, none other than ONTV rebroadcast this footage to their viewers who might have missed it.
Al Jazeera streams live coverage of all Muslim Brotherhood events and sit-ins while ONTV cheerfully streams live coverage of the army and security forces arresting citizens who break the curfew, shoving them like sardines into police vans. The media is extremely polarized and both discourses appear to be driven by their own agendas and incapable of reporting the truth. All they are showing are 2-minute videos dubbed with racist and fascist remarks, telling their viewers what to and what not to believe, and this is all done by supposed ‘professional’ presenters who are allegedly ‘professional journalists.’
One of the best examples is Youssef Al Hosiny of ONTV, who speaks for hours daily saying things like “When our state fights terrorism, we must put human rights to one side”, inciting racism and xenophobia. And, of course, he only invites guests that applaud this rhetoric. Most of the guests on Egyptian TV channels display chauvinistic political views bordering on the fascistic whilst promoting sectarianism. Vigilante committees are regularly warmly welcomed to help the police and army in catching those “terrorists,” while words like “conspiracy against Egypt” are regularly repeated instilling fear in people, which in many ways is the reason why so many have complied with military rule.
Anyone who speaks of “reason” now, or even takes a position against both the Muslim Brotherhood and SCAF, is labeled a traitor or Muslim Brotherhood member, because the word Muslim Brotherhood has, to a certain extent, become an insult. Those who are not praising Wednesday’s massacre are now considered not Egyptian “enough” to many of those TV presenters. And those who voiced concerns over human rights violations were accused of being part of a “mob”, as Youssef Al Hosiny confidently declared on ONTV, whilst making fun of them on social media.
The actual journalists on the ground, attempting to get at the truth and report on the daily deadly clashes, like Sarah Carr - who wrote about the scrutiny especially foreign journalists face - are too few to raise the voice of reason over the voices of the two extremes.
Basically there is no “real” coverage of what is happening in Egypt, only half-truths tailored to either side’s argument and broadcast to a population that is mostly inured to bloodshed. Thankfully, at least some of us still have the common sense to assess information given by either outlet, to get a glimpse of the truth.
Many of the videos and pictures broadcast are better understood if muted, to avoid listening to the ramblings of the presenters. This next video is a good example; it has been widely circulated on ONTV as “Oh look at what the Muslim Brotherhood are doing in Rabea! They are removing bodies from under the stage before the police attack!,” insinuating that they had killed these people during the month-long sit-in and were now attempting to make it appear that these were Muslim Brotherhood members who were killed by the police. The video doesn’t actually indicate anything close to the conclusion that Khaled Tallima, an ONTV presenter, provided. If one were to ignore his explanation and mute it, all one sees are people in Rabea moving dead bodies from one place to another while loud gunfire is shot in the background. When watching this 2-minute video, it is unclear who these people are, when and how they were killed, and definitely doesn’t tell you by whom. Someone overlooking Rabea shot the footage and all you can hear in the background is someone saying “look at how they are placing the dead bodies on the floor.”
There is endless similar footage, where one simply cannot understand the full story and certainly cannot figure out the truth. All local media outlets are blistering pro-SCAF, pro-police propaganda, as if the long history of police brutality were miraculously erased from people’s memories. However, there still are some who remember and refuse to forget.
Controlling through fear may succeed with some, but definitely not everyone. If General El-Sisi believes that the good old days of full control are back; controlling people through curfews, emergency law, media blackout, and a “terrorism scare,” it will not be effective for long. Egyptians no longer live in the 1990s let alone 1954. The people will soon see the “true colours” of SCAF and revolt just like they did under Mubarak and Morsi. The people will rise up again, and this time hopefully victory will be achieved!
*This article was originally published on Gigi Ibrahim’s blog on 20th August 2013.