On Tuesday July 24, the Egyptian Defense Minister and Commander of the Armed Forces, Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, during a graduation ceremony broadcasted live on Egyptian television, asked "all honest and trustworthy Egyptians" to come out to the streets in large numbers this coming Friday. The goal of such street action was to "show the world" the determination of the Egyptian people while giving him and the army a "mandate to confront violence and potential terrorism." A few hours later, the "Morning Brief" of Foreign Policy Magazine opined that al-Sisi's statement "raised fears that he may be searching popular legitimacy to back another crackdown on the Islamists."
While al-Sisi's statement is remarkable in its own right, the Foreign Policy Morning Brief is a good illustration of the general reporting bias the Western media is subjected to with respect to the current situation in Egypt. The following lines will seek to look at the circumstances of why this curious conglomerate called "the global media" has been reporting in such a biased fashion until now and reveal a few inconvenient truths that have so far been ignored, with the goal of better contextualizing the Commander's statement in light of recent developments. In order to do so, lets quickly look at the crucial episode of the beginning of this month.
On Sunday, June 30, approximately 20 million Egyptians from across the religious, socio-economic, educational, age and gender spectrum of Egypt took to the street with one clear message: irhal! -- "get out." The following day, the Armed Forces issued a statement, giving Morsi and the opposition 48 hours to come to terms with each other and announcing that in the absence of any such agreement, the army would intervene to announce a road map for the future. On July 2, Morsi went on television in a last-ditch effort to turn things around.
Following his speech, which was ridiculed by a wide majority of Egyptians, al-Sisi went on air, flanked by a key organizer of the Tamarrod campaign, the leader of the National Salvation Front, the Sheikh al-Azhar, the Pope of the Coptic Church and other state dignitaries. He pointed out the failure of the president's speech to meet the demands of the people and acknowledged the "patriotic duty" of the Armed Forces to protect the demands of the revolution. A few hours later, the army instigated a takeover of the government apparatus that lead to the ouster of President Mohammed Morsi. Tanks rolled into the streets of Cairo, surrounding the areas where the Islamist parties have been gathering for a sit-in, in the vicinity of the Rabaa al-Adawiyya mosque in Nasr city, as well as in front of Cairo University. TV stations were closed down and the police arrested 300 members of the Brotherhood. Then, after several days of street fighting and violence, the confrontation between the army and the supporters of Morsi reached a bloody show-down during the early morning hours of Monday July 8 at the Republican Guard's Headquarters at Salah Salem street, where the president was suspected of being held. That day, the New York Times reported that the army had killed 51 people during this tragic Monday morning.
Despite the impressive manifestation of popular will on June 30, the reassertion of the military over political life in Egypt was almost unanimously seen as a "coup" internationally. Anticipating the military takeover of civil authority, this narrative of events had in fact been pushed by the Brotherhood's English-speaking social media platforms and website ikhwanweb.com even before July 3. Once the army intervened, the "coup"-narrative was broadcasted by the Qatari-owned and Brotherhood-leaning station al-Jazeera, from where it was adopted by CNN and into the global media loop to the extent that it has today become the accepted truth globally. The same reading of events, that of an authoritarian army bent on killing the democratic baby breast-fed by the peace-loving Muslim Brotherhood, continues today, as alarm bells at foreign editors' desks ringing with al-Sisi's announcement. Meanwhile, the Brotherhood draws the spectre of a looming "civil war" in Egypt. And though it is crucial to read al-Sisi's statement and motives with the greatest precaution, it seems that it has been already interpreted ante post facto as a carte blanche for the military to commit yet another crime.
It is not the right of this author to speculate about the exact circumstances of the tragic events of July 8 and other instances of escalating violence in Egypt over the last few weeks. Many innocent people lost their lives and God may have mercy on their souls -- rahamahum Allah. But if opinion-makers in the West assume that the dead were simply victims of a brutal army killing innocent civilians, one has to ask oneself some critical questions: to what extent are "opinion-makers" -- innocently -- subject to built-in psychological mechanisms of availability bias, interpreting things along the lines of a historical precedent of a military flexing its authoritarian muscles? Or to what extent do such commentators - less innocently, given the ethical standards of journalism -- engage in spreading a one-sided interpretation of events that is both intellectually misleading and morally flawed?
Lets quickly look at the facts: following July 3, bloody clashed erupted in Cairo and across cities in Egypt. The next day Mohammed Badie, the General Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood and Mohamed Beltagy, a member of the Guidance Bureau, the Brotherhood's top executive body, appeared in front of packed crowds at Rabaa al-Adawiyya in Nasir City, holding fierce Orwellian speeches that reiterated the Brotherhood's commitment to "peaceful methods" while raising the banner of jihad in the name of Islam. Mohammed Badie's speech in particular was a good example of one of these twisted discourses, whose double objective is both to appeal to global public opinion by promoting peacefulness while energizing the rank and file through the activation of the image of an external enemy bent on destroying Islam, using charged terminologies such as takfir ("apostasy" -- a mortal sin according to a widely rejected interpretation of Islam).
The following night, supporters and opponents of the deposed president clashed at the Kobri el-Gamaa and the 6th of October bridge. Form the hundreds of videos uploaded to the web, as well as from interviews I have conducted myself at Cairo University in the aftermath of the clashes, a pattern emerges that might give an indication on the Brotherhood's ideology and methods. This pattern is one of small groups in the pro-Morsi camp armed with hand guns, revolvers and shot guns confronting elements of the anti-Morsi youth - for the most part split-off groups of the masses at Tahrir square that "defend" the square against "invading" Morsiists. The anti-Morsi camp included activists of the April 6 movement, football fans (ultras) and other youth of the revolutionary avant-garde, who were armed with Molotov cocktails and Khartoosh guns - both homemade Egyptian products - in some instances, bot not with handguns and other live weapons. During the weekend, Morsi supporters clashed with opponents in Sidi Gabir, a neighborhood in Alexandria and other cities in Egypt, revealing the same pattern. One particularly brutal scene shows how pro-Morsi people throw a couple of youngsters of a roof top in the same Alexandrian neighborhood. Meanwhile in the Sinai, armed commandos exploded a gasoline-line in the Sinai.
The main accounts of the nightly scene of July 8 come from two sources: a video uploaded on YouTube which can be found here and an eyewitness account by a young journalist called Mirna el-Helbawy, who lived right above the scene of the shoot-out. Whatever the exact truth of the sequence of events will probably remain unknown. But what seems to be clear is that among the supporters of Morsi, there is usually a highly committed minority of people armed and ready to commit acts of violence. Recruited at least in some instances from abroad, they seem for the most part organized through the Brotherhood's secretive paramilitary commando structure (historically called the tanzim al-khass or "special apparatus", but today organized under the qism al-askari or "military section" of the group, which is directly attached to the Guidance Bureau). It is these armed elements who were contributing in undeniable ways to the escalation of violence and the general disintegration of the security situation following July 3. In fact, in light of recent developments, it now seems legitimate to speculate if the Brotherhood has ever truly stopped its romance with political violence, despite of all the assertions of having "renounced" it over the past decades.
The tragic part of the story is that the greatest part of what is usually called the "Islamists" or "Morsi supporters" continues to be misled by a leadership that sees itself as being locked in a mortal combat against a powerful enemy bent on the destruction of Islam. The majority of these people, still holding out at Rabaa al-Adawiyya and Cairo University, are decent and respectful citizens who feel duped in their democratic rights, feel that they have an obligation to support what they perceive as the "rule of law" and oppose an illegal intervention by the army to depose a democratically elected president. While the Brotherhood propaganda machine continues to feed the global media with continued iterations of their peacefulness, it continues at the same time (through its Arabic channels) to mislead its rank and file by instrumentalizing Islam in the crudest fashion. And although it may well be that Morsi's supports are sometimes in their tens of thousands, they are still a relatively small minority compared with the millions who had protested on June 30, and nowhere near the "huge crowds" the international media, fed by Brotherhood outlets, magnifies them into with all their talk of a civil war.
It remains to be seen how large the numbers will be who will follow the commander's call tomorrow, and whether al-Sisi indeed commands the authority to mobilize large sections of Egyptians into the streets. It is by all means a risky strategy. And while we can and should speculate about the ulterior motives of the Commander and the army, it should be clear that there are some tangible reasons for him to raise the stakes. Given the apocalyptic worldview of the Brotherhood and the fact that they are engaged in the financing and arming of elements among their own ranks, such a step seem to become necessary. Meanwhile, the "global media's" biased and shameful reporting, such as exhibited in this update by al-Jazeera, continues unabated.