Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Egyptian state TV blamed for stirring up tension during Sunday's clashes with Copts
The question marks over what exactly caused the bloodbath during the Coptic demonstration in Cairo on Sunday, will surely remain in place for quite some time. One may hope that the commission of inquiry, that the government installed in the meantime, will shed some light on how it was possible that the army reacted in the outrageous way it did, running over unarmed protesters with heavy armoured vehicles. Also should be examined how it was possible that it did not keep mobs from attacking the marching Copts in Shubra in the first place, as that, accoing to many reports, seems to have ignited the riots.
It seems quite obvious that something is completely wrong with the way the army handles security matters in Egypt. Although prejudices against the Copts, which are widespread in salafist circles as well as in the predominantly Muslim army, certainly seem to have played a big role, one should also remember that it is not the first time that attempts by the army to handle security matters went completely out off hand. One has only to remember the utter chaos that broke out on 9 September when protesters went from Tahrir to the Israeli embassy and took apart the wall that had been erected in front of it. (see also here, in Dutch). That day ended aslo with several dead and no less than over the 1000 wounded.
This time, however, it seems that not only the army was to blame. Also the Egyptian state television came severely under fire. Al-Ahram Online reports that the TV is heavily criticized because it not only failed to calm matters, but actually played a role in aggravating the situation. Broadcasters on state television at one point called on the Egyptian public to head en masse to Maspero to defend Egyptian soldiers from what they described as 'angry Christian protesters'.
It seems that these calls were heeded as indeed later in the night vigilante mobs with swords and machetes attacked demonstrators who fled the scenes where the army was using bullets and tear gas. Call-ins to state TV from viewers, meanwhile, where not very helpful either. 'Armed Christians clashed with and killed military police,' one call-in viewer claimed. State television also aired footage of injured military police officers, but failed to carry images of flattened corpses of killed demonstrators which were circulating virally over internet sites.
In this context it is noteworthy that Egyptian state television is one of those media where the staf still lagely consists of the old guard from the days of Mubarak, because only a handful leading figures were replaced. One cannot help but ask one self to what extend the remaining staff might still be familiar with the habits of the former government, which used so frequently to turn the Copts into scapegoats.
In the meantime it became clear that some 25 protesters, mainly Copts, were killed as army tanks ran over several people and shot rubber, and live bullets. State TV reported that there were also three dead among the military police, but had later to admit that it made this up. The Egyptian ministry of health confirmed that at least 329 people were injured.
Meanwhile on Monday the Egyptian authorities executed a man who was sentenced to death for the killing of five Copts and a Muslim watchman in January of last year in Naga Hammadi in Qena Governorate. The murder by Mohamed Ahmed Hussein, who was better known by his nickname al-Kammouny, was considered to be one of the worst sectarian killings in recent years in Egypt.