Monday, December 19, 2011

Egyptian military of SCAF not only target protesters but also the media and the truth

 This picture of soldiers beating and dragging this nwoman whose blue bra and belly have been exposed, has already become an icon of the way SCAF deals with its fellow Egyptians. Egypftian novelist Ahdaf Soueif wrote a beautiful piece about it in The Guardian. 
Two versions have emerged of what has been happening these last days to the sit-in in front of the Cabinet building and on and around Tahrir Square in Cairo. One version was spread by the state media, the government and SCAF itself. It began with Prime Minister Kammal al-Ganzouri who on Saturday during a press conference denied that that the army used violence or live amunnition and 
called what was  “happening not a revolution, but [rather] an assault on the revolution”.
Next was the state media that described the protesters in the street as thugs, street kids, drug addicts and forces from outside Egypt. State television even broadcasted interviews with people who said that they were protesters who had been paid by liberal groups to attack the military. It was, as the New York Times wrote, an echo of the propaganda from the last days of the Mubarak government. 
After that SCAF repeated this story. There was the hair rising remark, by General Abdel Moneim Kato, an adviser to the military's Morale Affairs Department, who talked to the private newspaper Al-Shorouk about the events and the violence used by the army. People had better worry about the country's welfare, he said, in stead of being concerned about "some street bully who deserves to be thrown into Hitler's ovens".
 Kato's remarks were condemned by many. But on Monday afternoon a civilized version of what he said was presented during a press conference of General Adel Emara, one of the SCAF-leaders 'The armed forces,' Emara said, 'does not use violence systematically. We exercise a level of self-restraint that others envy. We do not do that out of weakness but out of concern for national interests.” 
General Emara

As reported by Al-Masry al-Youm of which the English section recently has been renamed  Egypt Independent), the general said that violence erupted on Friday when demonstrators who had been holding a sit-in in outside the cabinet’s headquarters for the last three weeks attacked a military officer. Military personnel guarding the cabinet’s building came to the officer’s rescue, but they were subjected to “deliberate humiliation and provocation,” continued Emara, who affirmed later that the armed forces had no intention of dispersing the protest.   
 According to activists and eyewitnesses, however, the version of what happened during the past few days is completely the other way round. Military personnel picked a fight with protesters with the intention of dispersing the sit-in, whose main demands were the firing of the newly appointed Prime Minister Kamal al-Ganzouri and the transfer of power from the military to civilians.
The military started to throw stones and office furniture at protesters from the roofs of nearby buildings. Soldiers in military uniforms were even photographed urinating on protesters from the rooftops. In the meantime, gunshots were heard. The next day more ugly scenes emerged of soldiers beating up demonstrators with sticks and dragging a woman through the street, stripping her naked and kicking her. Also 14 protesters died so far, most of them by gunshots
 Emara didn't challenge the authenticity of photos and videos showing the woman, which have gone viral in cyberspace and in the foreign media.Yet he argued that the footage didn't prove that the military had resorted to excessive violence.“I say yes, this scene actually happened and we are investigating it,' bu he added that the circumstances should be taking into account as well.

As Al Masry al-Youm/Egypt Independent wrote: The weekend’s violence brought back memories of earlier military brutality, including an attack on a Coptic-led protest in October and the dispersal of an anti-military rally in November. In the first incident, the military was held responsible for the killing of 27 people; in the second, both the armed forces and the police were blamed for the murder of at least 40.
 On both occasions, the military and the state-owned media invoked conspiracy theories, using the common refrain that “hidden” hands were fomenting chaos to ruin the state and thwart the transition to democracy.
On two sides walls built by the army of concrete blocs and in the middle the burnt out building of the Institute for the Advancement of Scientific Research. (Picture M Shestawy)
The problem with the two versions, however, is that many ordinary Egyptians - indeed most Egyptians - tend to believe the version of the state media and the SCAF, in which the protesters are depicted as criminals and thugs, influenced by foreigners, who try to undermine the government and the army and in the process destroy Egyptian property. 
 That in itself is bad enough, as it clearly has the effect that the pro-revolution forces are marginalised.  But it us not even the whole story. Al-Ahram Online reports that in the recent military raid on Tahrir Square, media personnel and cameras became a primary target. Men in military uniform, assisted by plainclothes men, confiscated cameras and smashed them.
Reporters and filmmakers on rooftops surrounding the square were not excluded from the attacks, Al-Ahram Online reports. Al-Jazeera English producer Adam Makary told the paper that 20 plain-clothed men stormed his hotel overlooking the square and smashed any camera they found.
Makary saw the men severely beating a French reporter and a female member of staff at the hotel, after which he hid in a closet and heard more people being beaten and equipment being smashed. According to Makary, the plain-clothed men who attacked the hotel – whilst protesters were being evicted from Tahrir – were “instructing each other and everything seemed very orchestrated.”
 Filmmaker Cressida Trew, who was filming from a friend’s flat overlooking the square, was visited by a military officer, assisted by three others, who confiscated her cameras. According to Trew, she tried to negotiate with the officer to take her memory card and leave the camera but her proposal was refused. Two more media personnel accompanying Trew also had their cameras taken in addition to all their lenses.
This was not the first time the media had been targeted since military took power. Makary explained that this was the third time he had been attacked while doing his job. It had happened twice before in Alexandria.
Masry Al-Youm photographer Ahmed Abd El-Fattah lost his eye while covering clashes near the Ministry of Interior in Mohamed Mahmoud Street where 40 people were killed and over a thousand injured. Abd El-Fattah said police officers shot at his eyes. Although activists have also lost their eyes and even their lives, Abd El-Fattah said his injury was no coincidence as media were being targeted. “Five Masry Al-Youm reporters, in addition to ten working for other media institutions, were injured that day and they all had cameras,” he said.
Moreover, Abd El-Fattah said media personnel often suffered accusations of spying while on the job. “People are affected by the military’s media and the military also has secret agents all around to stir such accusations,” he said.

No comments: