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Sunday, February 6, 2011

Suspicious letters from Cairo.

Friday morning a strange letter from Cairo was forwarded to my e-mail.  It was an account by an Egyptian man named Rafiq, and it was accompanied by a second version of the same letter in Arabic. The letter gave a fascinating account of the Cairo protests that were dramatically (and suspiciously) different than the ones that I've been following for  the past two weeks. In particular, he shares some descriptions of a pro-Mubarak rally in Cairo. I've excerpted a key portion of the letter here (the ALL CAPS are from the original letter)my own commentary follows:

***

We decided to take to the streets to voice our opinion. On Tuesday February 1st we went to Mustafa Mahmoud square in Mohandessin. There were about one thousand people there around 3:30 pm. (Yes, we broke the curfew.) The crowd grew to about 2,500 by 5:00 p.m. People were calling their friends over the phone telling them to come. We left at about 6:30 p.m. and returned yesterday, Wednesday, starting at 11:00 a.m. The small group had swelled to TENS OF THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE standing together with banners saying things like:


- yes to stability, yes to Mubarak
- give change a chance
- we are sorry Mr. president
- we accept dialogue, we trust you
- no to ElBaradei, no to the muslim brotherhood (many like this one)
- we are the Egyptians, where is Al-Jazeera, let them come and see
- no to corruption, no to vandalism
- we got what we asked the president for, so why are people still in Tahrir?  Who are they? What do they want?
etc., etc., etc.


By 2:00 p.m., the crowd had grown to SEVERAL HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE, maybe up to a million, stretching from Sphinx square to Sudan street. We had a great sense of unity and victory. We met with people who were in the original protest in Tahrir square who decided to join us saying: we got what we asked for, and now we accept Mubarak's changes and proposals.”
We left around 4:15 p.m. The numbers had grown even more, POSSIBLY OVER A MILLION. As we drove home we saw the same slogans on banners all over the city, on cars, on walls, on shop windows. We learned that similar demonstrations are taking place ALL OVER THE COUNTRY, IN MAY DIFFERENT CITIES. THIS IS THE CRY OF THE PEOPLE OF EGYPT THAT IS BEING TOTALLY IGNORED BY THE INTERNATIONAL NEWS MEDIA. Is this on purpose??!!! I am perplexed!!!


I am wondering: How come CNN, the BBC, and others are reporting ONLY the anti-government protests as the voice of the people? This is not JUSTICE, this is not TRUTH. There have been reports that these people are being paid by the government.  NOT TRUE! I was there with many, many others. I SAW THE STREETS.


Now to the situation in Tahrir square. Only a few people (hundreds?) are still there from the original protesters. They have been slowly replaced by other HIGHLY ORGANIZED GROUPS. They all have the same model of cell phones. They all have the same blankets (eye witnesses). THESE ARE NOT THE PEOPLE OF EGYPT.
Some witnesses claim that they don't look Egyptians, and don't sound Egyptians (different accent, different dialect). THIS IS A BIG ORGANIZED COUP TO TRY TO CONVINCE THE WORLD THROUGH THE MEDIA THAT EGYPT WANTS MUBARAK TO GO, AND THE MEDIA IS PART OF THE DECEPTION. People in Tahrir square are escalating the situation on purpose to topple President Mubarak FOR THEIR OWN HIDDEN AGENDAS. This is TYPICAL OF THE MUSLIM BROTHERS, AND EVERYBODY IN THE STREETS OF CAIRO KNOWS THIS. We heard people on the streets saying that the plot to take over the country is now clear.

THE INTERNATIONAL MEDIA DON'T WANT YOU TO KNOW THIS. The escalation of violence in Tahrir square is because of this. Egyptians who love Egypt, the millions that took to the streets yesterday, want this to end. They fully understand that President Mubarak is between a rock and a hard place, that he cannot quench the unrest in Tahrir through the army, so the people want to go to Tahrir to disperse the crowds there by themselves. People in Tahrir are vastly outnumbered. If Egyptians go the Tahrir square to take control of the situation, more chaos will erupt, giving a chance to the international media to blame the president even more.


***

The letter had been forwarded through multiple parties, most recently through Christians doing outreach work in Israel, so I asked the sender about its origins. She sent a few e-mails asking for more information from the people that sent the e-mail on to her, but little clarification emerged.

Yesterday I was busy with other things and so I was unable to follow-up on this, but today I looked a little more deeply.  As I suspect, this letter has been making the rounds in certain circles and was recently posted in its entirety (along with two follow-up letters) on the website of the prominent Christian publication Charisma Magazine under the heading "Eyewitness Report: What the Mainstream Media Won't Tell You About Egypt Crisis"

I encourage you to read the letter in its entirety, as it contrasts starkly with everything that I've been saying here.  It also contrasts starkly with everything that has been printed in the international press (BBC, Al Jazeera, CNN).  It also contrasts starkly with everything that's been coming out of the country through other channels like twitter, YouTube, Flickr, facebook, blogs, phone conversations, text messages, and the small pieces of paper tied to the legs of homing pigeons.

In fact, the only thing that Rafik's descriptions match are the messages produced and disseminated by Egyptian state media.  (By the way, if this is the Rafik who I think it is, he also works for the Egyptian Ministry of Communications). It was as though I was receiving strange news from an alternate universe where an otherwise identical Cairo was experiencing an entirely different sort of disruption.

It is important to remember that what those of us who are observing from outside of Egypt have been seeing is dramatically different than the news inside the country. The government has choked or entirely suppressed nonstate media and electronic communication repeatedly over the past week, sometimes going as far as to shut off the Internet altogether.

As of two days ago, it has largely come back online.

 
People were able to get messages out through creative applications of technology, but the information flow into the country has been severely restricted as well.

(Evidence of state violence during the government imposed media blackout can be found here.  Warning: this is graphic and disturbing material and I do not recommend that you watch unless you still believe that the pro-Mubarak forces are the good guys.)

I saw this happen in 2009 after the Iranian elections as well.  The state took dramatic measures to restrict communication into and out of the country, and attempted to limit the narrative internally and externally while working hard to discredit the protests in the street as the work of foreign machinations (Israel and the US are the two traditional targets).

Heather Keany, an AUC professor living in Cairo has written an excellent piece of analysis on the media war over how the events in Egypt are percieved (thanks to Marilyn for the link).

"Facebookers and upper and middle class folk who know English and have satellite dishes watch CNN and BBC and Al Jazeera English & Arabic. For everyone else, after the government shut down Al Jazeera Arabic here, unless they watched BBC Arabic they are very likely watching state news. The result is two very different presentations of what is happening."

The impact of this can be painfully seen in the paranoia and confusion that the inhabitants of Egypt are experiencing right now.  One of the most touching and stark portraits of street-level Cairo can be read
over at Arabist.net, where journalist Abu Ray describes his arrival home from a 10 day trip to Asia.  "I had left Cairo and come home to Baghdad."

(I wonder if this is also a reference to a poem by Rumi called “In Baghdad, Dreaming of Cairo: In Cairo, Dreaming of Baghdad”)

Speaking of dreams... 

3 comments:

  1. This is so good. Thank you. I think the difficult thing is how do you fight against this false presentation of events. Thanks for putting this out.

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  2. Pity you couldn't find the author. I'd have fired back an email with a Glenn Beck pic and a trollface saying "U brothers?". :p

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  3. @willow - Thanks for reading! I was actually able to identify the author and I did send an inquiring email his way, but I suspect that this was not so much a matter of him trolling as it was an instance of his employers at the Ministry of Communication commanding him to insert the propaganda into an email that would have otherwise just been a call to prayer.

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