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How Amnesty International was Played by the Egyptian Junta
On 2 August 2013, Amnesty International issued a press release which said that evidence, including testimonies from survivors, indicated that supporters of ‘deposed President Mohamed Morsi’ at the Raba’a al-‘Adawiyya and at the Nahda protest camps tortured and killed individuals from ‘a rival political’ group. The press release was entirely based on statements made by three individuals Mastour Mohamed Sayed, Ahmed El Kelhy, and Hassan Sabry, who were described as ‘anti-Morsi protesters’. It quoted the Egyptian Ministry of Interior as saying that on 30th July, 11 bodies bearing signs of torture have been found since the outbreak of the crisis, a number which a campaign group called “I am Against Torture” said to Amnesty International that it had verified.
There was no independent verification of any of this on the part of Amnesty International except that Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa said in the press release that investigations into all of this were necessary. Nevertheless, its content went viral over the internet and became grist to the mill of pro-Egyptian Junta websites, as well as Zionist websites with the same agenda as the Junta, in order to bring the hue-and –cry against the Muslim Brotherhood to a higher and shriller pitch.
We, as a group of protesters constantly present at the Nahda protest camp from July 3rd to its crushing by military force on August 14th 2013, can testify that this certainly didn’t happen at Nahda, and that we have many colleagues who would testify that none of this happened at Raba’a. However, our word on this isn’t enough and on the 100 day-anniversary of the Raba’a and Nahda massacres, al-Jazeera has issued a documentary on the subject which not only backs up our claims but also demonstrates how the Egyptian Junta developed and spun that disinformation which was made to gain credibility by emerging into the media space through the auspices of Amnesty International.
The al-Jazeera documentary starts with the Egyptian Minister of the Interior, Mohammed Ibrahim making the 30th July claims mentioned above, on state media. The principal charge during that appearance accuses the Muslim Brotherhood of torturing political opponents at the Raba’a protest camp until death and burying them under the main podium, which was erected front of the mosque for the purpose of hosting preachers, lecturers, and leading protest figures, as well at times for the entertainment of the protesters by singers, comedians and satirists. On the day of the massacre, the 14th August, the Junta media, both state and private satellite TV stations, swooped in on the site, which until then they had not been allowed to enter. Ever since the enforced closure of all Egyptian media opposed to the coup, only the London based al-Hiwar and al-Quds channels, and the Qatar based al-Jazeera covered the protests.
The documentary describes how the frenzied Junta media on the day of the massacre centred its attention on Raba’a, which was by far the larger of the two protest camps. The focus was on twenty shrouded corpses lined up in front of the Raba’a podium, held by the Egyptian Junta to be anti-Morsi protesters who had been killed during the protests and said to have been stored under the podium. Here was to be final and incontrovertible proof of the Minister of Interior’s claims.
One of the satellite channels, ON TV, showed distance shots of these corpses being carried earlier in the day from tents around the place, with a running commentary by several broadcasters inviting viewers to witness the what they insisted was the ‘disrespect’ with which those carrying the corpses out of the tents were treating them. The carriers seen in those distance shots were presented as being ‘Muslim brothers’ and chided for crudely and indecorously lifting the corpses over their shoulders, whilst keeping them in blood-stained shrouds. This is held in the commentary to be proof that those dead persons must have been those ‘anti-Morsi’ protesters torture and killed, because ‘Muslim brothers’ wouldn’t treat their own in what the presenters maintained was such a ‘disgusting’ manner. Never mind that the corpses were not being carried out from under the podium. Never mind that those carrying the bodies were under attack at the time of the filming. Never mind that all these were distance shots.
The documentary switches then to film taken on the ground. The field hospital is shown quite clearly as overflowing with corpses as a result of the eight-hour long military assault on the site. The decision is taken by doctors to shift a number of corpses to other tents surrounding the area. The most harrowing section of the documentary then follows. It shows us film of the very people who had been the subject of ON TV’s distance shorts, and who carried the same corpses to the tents which had originated in the field hospital, now out of the tents and onto the ground in front of the podium. What was the reason, for this hurried, and what the ON TV presenters called ‘disgusting’ way, in which the corpses were carried out of the tents? The reason was not shown on the Junta media pictures. However, the documentary has astonishingly clear shots of bulldozers mowing down the tents, and of people rushing to get those corpses out to safety, which had only just been moved there from the field hospital.
The end of that sequence shows how after the removal of some of the corpses, the people fail in their desperate attempt to remove them all, as fire from flame-throwers engulf the remaining corpses, and as they are swept away with general debris piling up in front of the bulldozers. Thus the documentary answers its first question: why were the corpses in front of the podium? Well we all know the answer to that question now.
The second question it poses is: what proof is there that these twenty corpses – the subject of a day-long Junta media frenzy – were only killed on the day of the massacre, the 14th August 2013? The Minister of Interior maintained that those killed by the Muslim Brotherhood had been kept under the podium for weeks ‘in fridges’. The question is an important one to answer, for the Junta’s allegations had not yet been supported by any evidence, there was nothing under the podium and it was not about to make these corpses available for independent forensic analysis at any later date. In another earlier documentary al-Jazeera showed how the military took nothing out of the Raba’a site and simply burned everything in it, destroying all evidence.
The long exposure of the twenty corpses to the lenses of the Junta media gave the documentary makers a unique opportunity to answer the second question. The field hospital staff had written the names of all the dead on the shrouds for identification purposes, and where names were not available, descriptions of the person and what he or she was wearing would be written instead. The most visible name on any of the shrouds scanned on Junta media film was that of a young man called Abu Obeida Kamal el-Din Nour el-Din. It turned out not only that Abu Obeida was a vocal pro-Morsi supporter, but astonishingly that he had, fearing rumours of a military attack on the camp, filmed a last testament on the eve of the massacre: on the 13th August 2013. He is shown in the documentary making this testament.
The Alliance for the Support of Legitimacy in Egypt is the umbrella organisation which runs the protests and demonstrations in which we take part. Its narrative of peaceful protest has in fact been developed by the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the party founded by the Muslim Brotherhood, which is evidenced in video lectures on its website promoting the ideas of Gene Sharp, founder of the Albert Einstein Institution in From Dictatorship to Democracy and Anti-Coup. It is not only the protests as such, but also their peaceful narrative which has thus been constantly battled by the coup Junta, by such means as have been described here. In fact, these lectures have been frequent, and, in one of them, dated the 21st August, a snippet is introduced after its introduction with President Morsi forcefully insisting on the peaceful nature of all protests. Furthermore, this commitment by the Muslim Brotherhood to developing the praxis for Sharp’s ideas in the Egyptian context is an early one, as evidenced the posting of Sharp’s books on its website as far back as 2011, when the revolution began.
As events have developed in Egypt, although we continue the resistance, our group is no longer demonstrating together, and Mohamed Malik has been recovering from an eye injury since a while. We hope to have brought some light on the events in Egypt in our various articles which began on July 12th, and which we believe concern humanity as a whole. We dearly hope that we all learn from these events. This includes human rights organisations such as Amnesty International, which do such good in the world, which could develop more sophisticated and pro-active methods of dealing with complex events like those Egypt, where the government is ever adept at manufacturing events in its effort to capture or neutralise the narrative of its opponents.
Al-Jazeera documentary 23rd November 2013
Al-Jazeera documentary 21st August 2013
Mohamed Malik (weaver) can be reached at email@example.com.
Mohamad Omar (surgeon) can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also contributing to this report: Badr Mohamad Badr (teacher), Yasser Mahran (lawyer), Ahmad Abdel-Ghafar (businessman), Sayed Khamis (teacher), Mohamad Gheith (pharmacist),others whom we thank have helped in the redaction of this article