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Egyptian Government Slams Foreign Press As Journalists Come Under Assault

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CAIRO -- Facing a wave of international condemnation for its approach to a Muslim Brotherhood protest movement, and the soaring violence that followed in its wake, Egypt's government opened a sustained broadside against Western journalists over the weekend, accusing them of ignoring facts and "biased coverage."

"Egypt is feeling severe bitterness towards some Western media coverage that is biased to the Muslim Brotherhood and ignores shedding light on violent and terror acts that are perpetrated by this group in the form of intimidation operations and terrorizing citizens," one statement from the official foreign press coordination center said.

The criticism from officials within the government -- including statements or media appearances, much of them in English, by the presidential spokesman, the foreign minister and the press center -- came as several journalists found themselves subject to attacks on the streets of Cairo as they attempted to do their jobs.

On Saturday alone, half a dozen reporters faced intimidation, assault and detention by both authorities and unofficial vigilante gangs, as the journalists attempted to cover the siege of a mosque in downtown Cairo, where Muslim Brotherhood supporters had holed up ever since fighting broke out on Friday.

Matt Bradley, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, and Alastair Beach, a correspondent with the Independent, both came under attack from the unruly mobs that had swarmed around the mosque, seeking to take out their frustration with the Brotherhood. Both men were eventually pulled from the crowd by nearby Army soldiers and suffered minimal physical damage, although Beach was hit in the head by an assailant with a long stick.

In a dramatic moment captured live on the television cameras of Al Jazeera, the two men could be seen being shielded by a group of sympathetic bystanders who formed an arm-linked chain, while the soldiers put the two reporters into an armored personnel carrier for their protection.

Both reporters later said they were not seriously hurt, and that the military had treated them kindly and with respect. "Today, I feel like the army and I are very much on one hand," Beach wrote on Twitter after the events, a reference to a common refrain at pro-military demonstrations, "The people and the army are one hand." "Gotta say I agree," Bradley replied.

In an even more harrowing experience, Patrick Kingsley, the Egypt correspondent for the British paper the Guardian, documented on Twitter a series of captures and releases over the afternoon at the hands of several different gangs of individuals downtown, some of them police, others seemingly unrelated to the authorities. His laptop computer and cellphone were also taken from him in the process.

Earlier in the week, officials at the Press Center, which regulates and accredits foreign journalists, announced that no visiting journalists would be issued press identifications without prior approval from the intelligence services, a break from long-standing practice.

In a statement put out on Friday, Sherif Mansour, the Middle East and North Africa coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, called the situation facing reporters in Egypt unprecedented. "Journalists are in more danger than they were under Hosni Mubarak," he said.

But the campaign to persuade and cajole western media to cover the government's side of the story more fully began in earnest on Saturday evening, when the Press Center sent reporters a seven-point dispatch that accused them of "conveying a distorted image" of the situation. Among the complaints were a failure to cover the extent of the "violent and terror acts" allegedly committed by the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as ignoring "the huge numbers of victims" among the police and army during the fighting.

“Many of these stories are missing [on the international media],” Mostafa Hegazi, a spokesman for the presidency, said in one of the official condemnations on Saturday.

The Press Center also distributed a compact disc of images and videos showing what was said to be evidence of terrorist acts and violence being perpetrated by members or associates of the Muslim Brotherhood. A similar course played out at the press conference for the president's spokesman on Saturday night, which commenced with a 10-minute video about the Brotherhood's alleged crimes, before a separate appearance Sunday morning by the foreign minister, Nabil Fahmy. At that final event, a packet of images entitled, "Egypt Fighting Terrorism" was handed out to reporters.

Each of the packages contained similar content, much of it even identical: primarily captured on state television, it showed men seemingly associated with Muslim Brotherhood protest marches firing automatic weapons at crowds, and the aftermath of churches and police stations that were allegedly attacked by Islamists.

In fact, many journalists have covered these events, with reporters traveling to towns where police were attacked and churches burned in the days after the violence started, on Wednesday. And while the evidence of automatic weapons at the protests has been clear, the nature and background of those using them, and their relationship with the Brotherhood itself, remains opaque.

Nearly 1,000 people have been killed in violence across Egypt since the recent bout of clashes started on Wednesday, a number that seems poised to keep rising. The toll includes dozens of police officers. Also on Saturday night, some 250 Muslim Brotherhood members were arrested, state media reported, pending charges for weapons possession and terrorism. More than 1,000 Brotherhood figures have been arrested in recent days, and many of the party's top figures are in hiding.

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