George Bush's “war on terror” continues to deliver. Even if the context is different, the slogan continues to haunt civilians, especially Muslims. But the latest chapter doesn't include an American army attacking a Muslim nation; rather Muslims who have branded their own as terrorists—people with whom they share heritage and race. The Egyptian interim government, led by American-trained Sissi, is using this abused slogan for its own vile purposes.
As part of this narrative, both state and private media channels, ranging from pro-Sissi to super-pro-Sissi, have plastered their TV coverage with “war on terror” 24/7. For Americans this would be tantamount to having only Rush Limbaugh covering politics on TV. In fact, in terms of the despicable and disgusting dehumanization of Muslims, even Girt Wilders, Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer could take a few tips from Egyptian media. As this quote from Hossam al-Hamalawy, member of far-left socialist party, illustrates:
“The media is lying, exaggerating, and picturing this like Islamist demons with horns creating havoc everywhere” [From an excellent piece in CSM]
Egyptians who rely only on local media outlets have effectively been brainwashed into seeing Muslim Brotherhood (MB) supporters as “others”. To make matters worse, since no one carries a MB badge on their sleeves, this brainwashing paints all overtly appearing Muslims as terrorists. There have been ample reports of bearded men just being picked up randomly by police.
While the Egyptian media is plastering the massacres as struggle against terrorism (and succeeding nationally), the proliferation of social media and presence of foreign journalists on the ground has made media narratives impossible to control completely outside its borders. In this regard the government's narrative is failing.
When the world sees unarmed civilians being shot openly and blatantly, no false narrative can hold up effectively. Foreign media outlets, initially slow to respond, have since done an admirable job. Washington Post's blistering editorial called out Obama as being complicit in violence, as well as calling for cut-off of aid to Egypt as did NY Times. The Guardian newspaper has also been effective with pieces such as this. Their collective coverage has been helped by the presence of brave journalists on the ground including NY Time's Robert Mackey, Guardian's Patrick Kingsley, WSJ's Matt Bradley, WaPo's Abigail Hauslohner, Democracy Now's Sharif Kouddous and others.
The government's dismay at losing its desired global media narrative was recently highlighted by the lecturing that Egyptian's State Information Service (SIS) gave to foreign journalists for coverage that “supports terror”, ironic to say the least.
In the backdrop, it appears that Egypt's Coptic Christians may be becoming unwitting pawns in the government's attempt to reassert its failing narrative. Many influential political commentators have started to openly wonder whether the post-coup massacres were actually deliberately extreme in order to incite a violent response by MB; permitting the government to effectively shut out MB from politics. Similarly, it is not a great leap of logic to see the attacks on Christians as part of a narrative-control strategy.
Attacks on Churches
Who is actually attacking churches and Christians in Egypt remains a mystery. Extremism has been growing in Sinai since Mubarak's removal and involvement by elements from this region cannot be discounted. As for MB, officially the organization has condemned such violence. But could pro-MB thugs acting on their own volition resort to such attacks? Of course.
When one considers the fact that the military coup was openly supported by Christian leaders, it is not difficult to imagine this position spurring some pro-MB thugs or Muslim extremists from Sinai into taking “revenge” on “soft targets”.
One might argue that even Al-Azhar supported the coup, however, the comparison between Al-Azhar and Christian Copts fails simply because the misguided “Christian vs. Muslim” theme needed for such heinous actions doesn't apply to Al-Azhar. While Christian leaders like other Egyptians had every right to voice their position on the coup. In this regard, Christian leaders may have made a strategic mistake of not remaining neutral but instead siding with a military coup. This position is as blameworthy as other Muslim groups taking up similar positions, however it was always going to be riskier for Christians due to underlying historical religious tensions.
Regardless of Christian leaders' choices, it was still their right as citizens to be protected by the government. And one would think that an interim government so whole-heartedly supported by its Christian minority would take every measure to protect it. And based on the massive number of military and police personnel that the government had at its disposal, it clearly wasn't for lack of resources that it has not protected its most vulnerable.
Hijacking The Narrative
The destruction of churches served the interim government's media narrative best. Thus one can logically conclude that this government made the strategic choice to either (a) destroy the churches using its own hired thugs—most Machiavellian option and some may say conspiratorial but cannot be brushed aside based on other abhorrent choices that this government has made. Or more likely to (b) simply not provide ample protection to churches deliberately.
If the choice to allow churches to be destroyed was not strategic, then it was certainly ineptness, and even by this most generous reading of the situation, Egypt's interim government has failed comprehensively in protecting its minority Christians.
In conclusion, foreign media should not fall into the government's narrative trap, which claims to call for “balanced” coverage—Egyptian style. The government is desperate for it, as evidenced by this recent tweet from the ground by Matt Bradley: “#Egypt's military was so keen on us covering the churches that were attacked that they offered to fly us to Minya by helicopter”.
Foreign journalists should report on church attacks, but for true balance, they should continue to bear in mind that this coverage is competing with the nearly 1500 lost lives (by official count). They cannot let the same government that claims it exercised “maximum restraint” and did not shoot live rounds while committing open massacre, hijack the narrative. And when pointing fingers, everyone, including journalists, should point it ONLY at Sissi's interim government. It took over power forcibly, and with power comes responsibility for preserving the life and property of every citizen, Muslim or Christian (or other).