Al-Jazeera on the media demonisation of protesters at Raba’a and Nahda

In the HRW report All According to Plan (see previous post) Sarah Lea Whitson makes no bones about the fact that “… the highest levels of government in Egypt planned this dispersal, there was a very high level meeting called of the most senior government officials… including then Defence Minister, now President Sisi … to plan this dispersal and anticipate that they would have a very high death toll”.

A part of the plan that the HRW doesn’t cover is a media blitz in Egypt to demonise the protesters prior to the attack on the camp. To this end, the new Egyptian junta banned all opposition TV and radio on the day of the coup on July 3rd 2013, and it only kept those stations open that had talk show hosts tied either to the country’s General Intelligence Services (GIS) or its State Security Investigation unit (SSI). Magdi Hussein, editor of el-Shaab (The People) Newspaper, famously outed all these figures in an article last May, in his newspaper.

Al-Jazeera produced a 30min film on this very subject in Arabic (see last post), and while I have tried at several junctures to convince the channel to produce an English version ever since, I have failed. This film is important enough to relate in English, so here goes.

This is the film:

This is an English summary:

There is 1min introduction in black and white which sets the scene, where the narrator says that the Egyptian media accused the protesters of torturing and killing tens of people, and hiding them under main podium in Rab’a al-Adawiyya square. This was to be the justification for a brutal attack on the camp.

The film cuts (in colour now) to someone’s living room and a TV has been photoshopped onto a desk, onto which TV screen footage of the Rab’a dispersal from various channels is to be displayed. First, State TV shows Mohamed Ibrahim (Minister of Interior) saying that he has information that at the Nahda camp 6 dead bodies have been found and 3 torture victims have been taken to hospital. Meanwhile at Rab’a apparently there have been 3 tortured to death and 7 torture victims still alive. Then ONTV is shown interviewing a victim of protester wrath almost entirely encased in plaster on a hospital stretcher, relating his experiences in a broken voice (one though that resembles the meanderings of a drunk). Then footage from the CBC channel shows a talk show hostess taking a call from a woman, who described someone being beaten up by protesters, whom she said she later saw in a mortuary in a “terrible state”. WATAN TV then shows a man with two black eyes who charges that members of the Muslim Brotherhood beat him up and wanted to cut his hand off with an electric carving knife on suspicion of stealing, although an old man intervened who made the alleged attackers only take a finger, on the basis that it was only “suspicion”. Dream TV then has its talk show host say bluntly that the Muslim Brotherhood had killed 80 innocent people at Rab’a and dumped them in the gutter [N.B.: The new Egyptian régime’s term for all protesters is “Muslim Brothers” (=terrorists) and this is used throughout all TV discussions].

We now cut from the living room to Rab’a square (@ 5min 13sec) with the sound of police shouting through loud hailers to clear the square, and the picture of a row of shrouded and bloodied bodies. We cut back again to the living room with the very same bodies being discussed in sequence by all the channels concerned, the TV hosts telling us in no uncertain terms that these are the bodies of the innocents that have been killed by the protesters over the past few days – and that finally this is the evidence for the Minister of Interior’s earlier allegations. The commentators get heated up, shouting about how these “criminal protesters” were spilling the blood of Egyptian patriots, calling these deaths “mass crimes”. One commentator on the CBC channel refers to the resignation of Mohamed el-Baradei (acting Prime Minister at the time). Baradei had resigned over his disagreement with the use of force at Rab’a. The commentator shouts (almost insanely loudly), and addresses Baradei for the purpose of effect (Baradei clearly isn’t there – he had left for Vienna): are you happy now? You can now come and pray over these bodies and apologise!

A discussion is then ensues between two commentators (a man and a woman) recorded from al-Hayat TV. The female voice says of the bodies that “it is obvious” that they belong to people killed in the protest camps in the past few days. The male voice retorts that he didn’t want to judge without evidence and maybe they had come out of the field hospital (i.e. they had died that day). The film then cuts to the events at Rab’a with a man in the square shouting: “I’ll tell you where these people came from: they came from the field hospital, they had to be moved because the bodies were piling up and we had nowhere to put any more bodies, we put them under the podium because it was shady under there (in the August heat)”.

The film (@8min 8sec) narrator then asks: was the claim true that the Muslim Brotherhood killed those people before the 14th August and hid them under the podium? This question is broken down into two further questions based on the Egyptian media’s allegations: (1) Why were these bodies put in the street and not in the hospital? Answer from the protesters (to be defended): because the hospital was full (2) The allegation was that the bodies were rotting and this is evidence that they were killed before the 14th August. Answer from the protesters: the bodies were not rotting (to be defended).

Answering question 1. We cut back to the living room looking in sequence at the various channels’ coverage of distance shots now of people moving bodies around. The various TV hosts are unanimous that the bodies being moved are being dragged to and fro in a chaotic manner without the “dignity due to dead people”. The conclusion reached is that this is behaviour indicative of the fact that these are “Muslim Brothers” carrying bodies of people who are “not one of them”. If the dead people had been Muslim Brothers they would have been treated with more dignity, so the dead people are pro-régime people who have been tortured and killed by Muslim Brothers (Q.E.D.).

We cut to scenes in the main hospital (@11min 36sec). We see scenes of chaos, with numberless dead and dying on the ground and in corridors, and the narrator tells us that this is why bodies had to be moved to new locations, and some of the tents outside in the square are then converted into additional emergency field hospitals. But then the most harrowing part of the film (@13min 14sec) occurs where these tents themselves now cease to be safe havens as army bulldozers begin to raise them to the ground amid oft-repeated cries of Oh God! and God save us! We hear women shrieking, and see men throwing stones at the bulldozers. Over the mayhem a police loud hailer tells people to move away for their own safety. The people meanwhile are desperately trying to move the bodies away as some begin to be consumed by fire thrown from the bulldozers, and tents begin to collapse on top of them.

We finally get a shot of the row of shrouded and bloodied bodies discussed earlier which had been the subject of media speculation, and which the media held was the evidence for the Minister of Interior’s claims. They had successfully been moved out in front of the podium, unlike the many who were destroyed under the caterpillar tracks of the bulldozers and burned. The narrator then states that he has finally shown us how the row of bodies actually got there, and the fact that they had originally come from the field hospital via the temporary tents. But then he adds that that doesn’t prove that they were killed on 14th August by the army, in an operation that began at 6:30 a.m. that day.

Answering question 2 (@20min 20sec). The narrator explains that all the dead were shrouded and had their names and addresses written either on the shrouds or on their clothes. Even the wounded would be asked their name and address for the record in case they were lost in the chaos. The narrator then asks if it would possible to identify specifically one of the bodies from the row of the shrouded and bloodied bodies that had been on everybody’s TV screens that day, and to find out when that person had died. From the ONTV screen shot, the name on one of the bodies was deciphered as that Abu Obeida Kamal-eddin Nour-eddin (@23min). Pictures are then shown of Abu Obeida alive amongst protesters, then his body is shown in the field hospital, then his subsequent funeral is shown, attended by a crowd of of the same protesters carrying banners with the now famous four-fingered yellow sign of Rab’a, as well as large blow-ups of his photo. It is therefore clear that he was alive at the outset on the 14th of August and that he was no antagonist of the protesters.

What is more, video footage that he took of himself is found on his phone. He made a last will and testament, saying his name, telling us he was an engineering student, and that he really wanted to learn in order to contribute to society, but that events had turned for the worse in Egypt and something had to be done. Where there had been freedom and freedom of religion before, this was no longer the case, and he had had to make a stand. He said that he hoped that if he died, that he died well: a martyr. The footage is dated the afternoon of 13th August 2013 and Abu Obeida is smiling in the sunshine, little aware of what was about to happen, and even less aware of the importance of this testimony of his.

The film concludes with a number of points, two of which stand out. The man on WATAN TV with two black eyes retracted his evidence about his finger being cut off (it was still there) in a later court case, which was featured in a newspaper article. On 18th September 2013 a public coroner (Hisham Abd el-Hamid) appears on al-Balad TV confirming that all the bodies that had come out of Rab’a on 14th August had died within a few hours of each other. If Abu Obeida had died on 14th August, then everyone else who was killed had died at roughly the same time.
The narrator apologises for the fact that this last piece of evidence comes at the end of the film. Showing it at the beginning would have lessened the effect. The purpose of the film makers was to show how Egyptian media had turned peaceful protesters into torturers, and victims into vicious killers for the benefit of the watching Egyptian public, on that dreadful day.

Perhaps with the benefit of the efforts of such as al-Jazeera, HRW, and ITN, the London lawyers who are pursuing Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi and his cohorts at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the International Criminal Court (ICC), as well in various local jurisdictions (open link http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/11/19/egypt-as-a-space-of-resistance/), things won’t “go to plan” after all for this bloody régime. In a period when Gaza has been mercilessly attacked by a criminal Israeli régime, we can only put the actions of the inbreds that make up the Egyptian junta in context by reminding ourselves that for a comparison to be possible, the Israeli régime would have had to turn around and massacre their own people.

ٍSeven demonstrators on this anniversary of the Raba’a and Nahda have been killed by the army and police.