Egyptian Army and media ignore eyewitness reports and blame Coptic Christians for violence
JIHAN HAFIZ, TRNN: It’s been just over a week since army soldiers killed over two dozen protesters, and the injured are still dying. But the army refuses to admit responsibility for what has become known in Egypt as Bloody Sunday. In a press conference, army generals claimed the protesters turned violent upon reaching the state TV and radio building, and that those who shot protesters and ran them over in army vehicles were not soldiers.
(SUBTITLED TRANSL.): The armed forces will never raise their weapons against the people, no matter what the reason.
HAFIZ: The general also blamed external forces for provoking the Egyptian people against the military. Meanwhile, activists, eyewitnesses, and human rights workers have ridiculed the military’s denial of culpability. Despite countless eyewitnesses and numerous videos showing armed video vehicles plowing down civilians, many Egyptians remain skeptical that the army is to blame.
(SUBTITLED TRANSL.): The vehicles were going at a slow speed, just enough to disperse the protesters so they could move. That is what I saw on television. This was very obvious in the military’s press conference.
(SUBTITLED TRANSL.): The army are the sons of the country. They would never do that to the people.
(SUBTITLED TRANSL.): I don’t think it was the army. But the army is allowing thugs in the streets in a very obvious way.
HAFIZ: Human rights workers who have been documenting violence committed by the military say suspecting the army of a bloodbath is sensitive for many Egyptians who view the military as the saviors of the Egyptian Revolution.
KARIM ABDELRADY, THE ARABIC NETWORK FOR HUMAN RIGHTS (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): The media organized campaigns portraying the military as the standard-bearers of the revolution, but this is a lie. This has never happened. They are trying to illustrate to the people that the assault was from the protesters against the soldiers and that the soldiers were trying to defend themselves.
HAFIZ: Part of the NGO’s work is to sift through the newspapers and determine how the media is reporting the Maspero violence.
(SUBTITLED TRANSL.): This convicts the Copts (Christians), not the army. It says the Copts protesters blocked roads, burnt army cars, and threw Molotov cocktails at the army. Al-Youm Al-Saba, which is an independent paper, wrote that three soldiers were martyred. This news is correct. The death toll is 24. One soldier was killed. This suggests that more soldiers died in order to shape public opinion against protesters. And this is a government newspaper. It’s supposed to provide a public service to the people. But instead it’s serving the people in power.
HAFIZ: For its part, the television media seemed to rally people against the protesters that evening.
RASHA MAGDY, ANCHOR, CHANNEL 1 (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Until now, maybe more than three martyrs, 20 injured, and they are all from the army. And by whose hands? This army is the one that protected the revolution and refused to fire a single shot on any of the sons of the Egyptian people.
(SUBTITLED TRANSL.): She needs to be prosecuted! She needs to be prosecuted! She is inciting people against each other.
HAFIZ: State television also broadcast messages that Christians were burning copies of the Quran, the Islamic holy book, and told, quote, respectable Egyptians to take the streets and protect the army. Such messages led to this: sectarian street battles that further divided the people against each other. The state media coverage of the Maspero attacks has since become a scandal in Cairo. Journalists staged a protest in front of the TV and radio building, demanding the removal of the minister of information, who they say is feeding the Egyptian people the Military Council’s propaganda.
OSAMA SAAD, BROTHER OF VICTIM (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): The Egyptian television is using the same methods since the beginning of the Egyptian Revolution. By misleading and lying to the people, they are inciting people into sectarian strife, by saying that the Christians have weapons and are killing the army. This is public incitement from [Information Minister] Osama Heiko, and he should be prosecuted for his statements. And I am sure these were instructions that came from the Military Council. We don’t have a government. We have Tantawi and the Military Council ruling the country according to the policies of Hosni Mubarak.
JANE FAHMY, DOCTOR: They were pouring the lies and propaganda on TV, hoping that people will believe it. And, you know, actually, some people are believing it. Some people stop us on the street and say, why are you saying that about the army, though we have the videos and we have the reports and we have everything. So you know what? Propaganda sometimes work. But this time it’s so stupid [snip] have been down, the revolution now has understood what the army is up to, and we have–we all have to remember that these are Mubarak’s men.
HAFIZ: A candlelight vigil was one of many taking place throughout the week. It was held in downtown Talaat Harb to honor the victims. It was meant to be a silent memorial service, but the protesters could not contain their outrage.
(SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Field Marshal … you murderer!
ASTHMA MOHAMMED, JOURNALIST, TAHRIR NEWSPAPER (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): This is not a setup from outside as they claim. It’s a setup from the Egyptian intelligence and the Military Council, and this is for sure. Maybe the soldiers who were there didn’t have anything to do with this, but this is a plot from the Military Council and the Egyptian intelligence. This is not the first time they’ve attacked. They’ve been beating people since the beginning of the revolution. It’s not the first time. They beat us before, many times.
HAFIZ: Despite the public demonstrations of solidarity from non-Christians, many Egyptians were persuaded by the military’s press conference. These Muslims tried to stage a Muslim-Christian unity march from Al-Azhar Mosque in Old Cairo toward the Coptic Cathedral. This is an example of the deep divide in Egypt. These protesters here are screaming “Muslims and Christians are one”, while on that side they’re screaming “the people and the army are one”. The pro-army supporters attacked the protesters, and the march ended before it could begin.
(SUBTITLED TRANSL.): The people are ignorant. I don’t understand. How can they demand security when the army is shooting its people?
SA’HAT MAGDY, TEACHER (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Military Council … hostile toward us!
CROWD (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Military Council … hostile toward us!
MAGDY: Our families … join us!
CROWD: Our families … join us!
HAFIZ: Despite aggression from the pro-army supporters, the march successfully made its way to the cathedral.
(SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Old bribes are still the same! Come on, give us some more freedom! Go on and send for your police!
(SUBTITLED TRANSL.): This council of thugs of the entire republic, they come out at every demonstration, and it was peaceful. The field marshal is a dictator.
HAFIZ: The protesters headed toward Tahrir Square, the epicenter of Egypt’s ongoing revolution, and then the state media building.
MAGDY: We want to send a message to the Military Council and tell them that Egypt will back down, because Muslims and Christians are one and we will always be brothers. We drink from the Nile together and we eat together. We’re recruited into the army together. We go to universities and live together. And anything we go through, we go through together. During the revolution there were Muslims and Christians. Here there are Muslims and Christians. They want to cause sectarian strife to confuse people because of the elections. They use the Copts as a political card. And that is not going to work, because national unity has reached the red line. This will not be like Iraq. We are Egypt. Egypt is bigger than Tantawi. And I say to Tantawi, step down and let the people see their freedom. Leave this country, which has been humiliated for 30 years, and let the youth see their freedom.
HAFIZ: The military is conducting an internal investigation, but opposition groups are demanding an independent probe in hopes it will lead to criminal charges against the Military Council. Jihan Hafiz for The Real News in Cairo, Egypt.
End of Transcript
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