Egypt's polarised media: Between claims of faked videos and Sisi posters

Egypt's polarised media: Between claims of faked videos and Sisi posters

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Mon, 19/08/2013 - 11:40

"Finally, a video exposing the sleazy actors of the Brotherhood and anti-coup protesters. Share now to expose their real face!"

This is the message that has been viewed and shared on social media websites - as well as Egyptian TV.

The message formed the caption to a video clip from a TV report screened on Qatari-owned channel, Al Jazeera International.

The video, from near Fateh mosque in Ramses Square, shows a young man with a bandage on his head, blood rushing from the head wound hidden from view. As a field doctor pulls up the man's bloodied t-shirt to check for any other wounds, the injured man supposedly loses consciousness and kicks up with his leg in an abrupt way.

According to privately-owned Egyptian channel CBC, as well as social media users sharing the video, the man was clearly afraid his act would be unmasked when the doctor pulled up his t-shirt on camera only to find that there was no wound and the whole scene was a fake.

On YouTube alone, the video has been viewed around two million times receiving more than 100,000 comments, of which almost none were challenging the authenticity of the caption. Additionally, on Facebook, the video along with its caption were shared more than 100,000 times.

The video was not only picked up by social media users and some Egyptian TV channels, but also Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy, who used the video during an international press conference held on Sunday as proof of the opposition's bad faith and a hostile media outlet's fabrications.

To an average Egyptian viewer who has been saturated with reports of "sexual Jihad," foreign espionage drones and poor hygiene leading to an outbreak of scabies, this scene - along with the explanation media have provided - is believable.

"Of course it is an accurate report. Muslim Brotherhood supporters have been faking deaths and killing themselves to make the military look bad, and drag them down to their level," Ahmed Fakhr, a taxi driver, said. "Everyone is aware of the [Muslim Brotherhood's] forgeries by now. Many of my passengers are very well-rounded, educated people and they hold the same view."

Little do Fakhr, his passengers and the several millions who have shared the video or watched it on Egyptian TV, know that the injured young man's abrupt kick is due to the "agitation state" caused by the "frontal lobe edema" he suffered after receiving a bullet in the head.

"He was shot in the head with birdshot from the rightside which bruised the brain and created pressure  on it; a condition called frontal lobe edema," Dr. Mohamed Ahmed, neurosurgeon at Demerdash hospital where the young man is currently being hospitalized, told Egypt Independent. "This condition makes the patient very agitated and unable to control his reactions towards any external stimuli. This is what people saw on the video and mistook it for an act."

He added that when the patient was admitted to the hospital, he was at a "disturbed consciousness level" and "hardly obeying commands." According to the neurosurgeon, this causes agitation, which explains the abrupt kick he gave the doctor who was trying to pull up his t-shirt on camera.

The young man appearing on the video is Omar Nasser, 25, a medical student who has just finished his internship year and about to start his residency as a toxicology doctor at Demerdash Hospital. On Saturday, Nasser went to Ramses Square to help the injured protesters and deliver those in need of further intervention to the nearby Helal hospital. He was shot by security forces at Ramses near the Fateh mosque.

Propaganda and demonisation

Following army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's speech urging Egyptians to support the regime's endeavors and curb further protests and sit-ins, an Egyptian newspaper mimicked a Larry David HBO poster to promote Sisi on its front page. The general was standing at the front with a crowd of civilians behind him, all of them with the head of Sisi. The headline to the picture: "We are all al-Sisi."

On Saturday when Fateh mosque was being surrounded with protesters trapped inside, Egyptian TV, newspapers, radio channels reported that Fateh mosque had been cleared of any protesters after successful negotiations between security forces and protesters. Video streams and eyewitnesses proved otherwise.

In the weeks leading to the breakup of the Rabaa al-Adaweya sit-in, anchors reported an outbreak of scabies due to the camp’s lack of hygiene, "sexual jihad," a permit for unmarried, at times, nonconsensual sex to uplift morale of "jihadis" in the square and a "foreign drone", for espionage purposes flying over Rabaa al-Adaweya protesters.

The scabies outbreak never happened. The "sexual jihad", although made it to Egypt's TV and newspapers' cover pages, proved to be a rumour spurred by an random question on an unofficial Muslim Brotherhood Facebook page. And the suspicious foreign drone turned out to be a consumer camera used to take overhead pictures of the crowds.

After Sisi's 3 July speech announcing the overthrow of Morsy, anti-Brotherhood media outlets blatantly celebrated the ouster with hosts shouting "good riddance!" against the backdrop of patriotic songs and tears of joy.

Sectarianism and violence

Pro-Morsy channels, on the other hand, were reported to have resorted to hate speech and sectarianism.

Following Ettehadiyya sit-ins protesting against Morsy's Constitutional Declaration, Brotherhood media reported the presence of "used condoms," alcoholic drinks and drugs where the protesters were camping out. All of which proved to be from staged photos and footage.

The Muslim Brotherhood has also consistently reported news disproven or unverified by independent media outlets and human rights groups. Pro-Brotherhood media claimed that nerve gas was used during the Rabaa demonstration break-up, and an official death toll of over 2,000 casualties among pro-Morsi protesters on the day of dispersal alone.

Following the killing of protesters on 8 July at the sit-in in front of the Republican Guard's headquarters, media supporting the Muslim Brotherhood resorted to publishing pictures of "victims of the massacre" which then proved to be archived pictures of Syrians killed during the civil war between President Bashar al-Assad and rebel forces.

They have also turned a blind eye to the fact that while their protests "against the coup" are predominantly peaceful and unarmed, there do exist armed individuals in some of their rallies as reported by many eyewitnesses and journalists including Egypt Independent's own.

These allegations and others are proof of a binary that has been unfolding on social media, private media outlets, and the nation’s state-owned radio stations, television channels, and newspapers before and since nationwide protests erupted on 30 June.

Experts' view

Tarek al-Shamy, director of Al Hurra's bureau in Egypt, told Egypt Independent that professionalism was absent in Egyptian media coverage of the recent events unfolding in Egypt.

"Foreign media surpassed all Egyptian outlets as they were mostly able to set agendas aside and not be part of the political equation in Egypt," he said, referring to BBC, Al Hurra and France 24 as examples of news outlets providing professional coverage.

The post-30 June regime is complaining that foreign media is "misled" and fails to capture the full picture of what is unfolding in the country, according to Mostafa Hegazy, presidential adviser. Al-Shamy explains that if there is any truth to this claim, it would be because the Egyptian government does not provide the necessary protection and assurance to foreign journalists trying to cover events.

On Saturday, Tom Rollins of Egypt Independent was harassed by security forces and plainclothes men in Ramses Square, his passport was stolen along with all his equipment. A string of other foreign reporters have been robbed, assaulted or detained.

On the same token, Yasser Abdel Aziz, media analyst, says that some foreign media were one-sided in their coverage because of cultural reasons and tenets. For instance, in the west, military rule is almost a taboo. Hence, some foreign media might not give as much weight to stories of soldiers dying or police stations looted as it gives to stories of sit-in dispersal or a civilian dying.

Mohamed Soliman, a journalist at Al Karama newspaper and a TV producer, explains that a code of conduct for reporters is almost non-existent in Egyptian media.

Media became a tool in the hands of those who own it, he said.

"Affiliations came before professionalism and respect to the audience," Soliman added.

Qutb al-Arabi, assistant secretary general of the Supreme Council of Journalism, said that he knows of some newspapers that refrained from publishing some writers’ articles for opposing their owners' political affiliations, others banned media professionals from TV shows so as not to express the other point of view.


Jaqueline Zaher of DPA believes that the Egyptian media have become "vessels" for political powers.

"Authentication and double-checking news are not on the table for many of them. Rumors and half-leads were considered okay to publish or air," she said. "This was either due to an avarice to publish more news to feed the audience that is always hungry for information, or, in most cases, to serve political agendas of the media owners."

Al-Arabi also said that anonymous sources have run rampant in Egyptian media, making it easy for some newspapers to get away with inaccurate news.

Media outlets private and state-owned are steamrolling moderate, unpolarised opinions and news coverage leaving average Egyptians confused, while those affiliate to either side of Egypt's political divide complain of media bias or resort to the end of the spectrum that confirms their bias and feed it even more, leaving little room for unbiased reports.

Egyptians are confused and the deep polarisation present in the street proves that few of them are empowered with the tools needed to weigh news before sharing them on social media or even adopting some of the media's propaganda as personal opinions.