Myth vs. reality in pro-Morsi sit-in
BY AMRO HASSAN Cairo – The rumors and fabrications targeting tens of thousands of supporters of President Mohamed Morsi, who was removed from office on July 3 by a military coup, have reached new heights of malicious creativity.
Unlike in 2011, when some pro-Mubarak Egyptians went to Tahrir Square to take a closer look at what the January 25 protests were all about, few of the anti-Morsi camp have even considered approaching the Rabaa El Adaweya sit-in. Ever since the military takeover, Egyptian state and independent media networks and channels have mostly abandoned the sit-in, assuming perhaps that one day it will fade away and simply vanish.
The obvious bias of the majority of Egypt’s media against the Islamist camp has made the exchange of information in and out of Rabaa exclusive to the minimal reports of foreign correspondents, whose coverage of the Brotherhood members reaction to the seismic events of the past two weeks far superseded that of their Egyptian counterparts.
Among the first rumors that spread online and across social media networks was based on a report issued by a number of well-known Egyptian newspapers, which lacked sources or medical reports supporting their claim that eight cases of scabies cutaneous at the sit-in due to the poor hygienic conditions and the high density of protesters.
This unconfirmed report swiftly made its way to millions of readers, who were only too happy to believe claims that tarnish their ideological others.
To add insult and a bit of “credibility” to the injury, social media network users and unaccredited news websites have taken it a step further by reporting that a number of protesters were seen spraying “vaccinations” to avoid further contamination. Once more not a single source was mentioned.
Ramadan Mohamed Mahmoud is a Muslim Brotherhood member from Sharkeya who has been at the sit-in for at least 10 days. The lies that are being said about protesters at Rabaa do not surprise him anymore, he says.
“We don’t have media in Egypt nowadays. We only have propaganda for one side against the other,” he adds. “What diseases is the media talking about? And what vaccinations? I walk around with flasks of water on my back; I spray water at people so they can bear the July heat during the day.”
“And if there were actually cases of such diseases, would they be cured by water splashes?”
Mahmoud, like the majority of Brotherhood protesters, is convinced that the media campaign to ‘smear’ the sit-in is an integral part of the larger plot to depose Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically-elected civilian president.
Another myth that was widely circulated was that Brotherhood members have decided to take advantage of some vague “Islamic religious rule” allowing Muslims to engage in sexual relations with unmarried women at times of war or religious and political jihad. The term “jihad marriage” came to prominence when two Syrian women allegedly filed a police report, accusing two protesters of approaching them on the basis that “sexual jihad” at the time of the sit-in is not forbidden.
A female leader of the Muslim Brotherhood was said to have promoted the idea of jihad marriage, a claim she strongly denied.
“Our differences in opinions and ideology should never let us succumb to such a degraded path of throwing lies and false accusations,” Hoda Ghaneya said in response to claims that she was promoting such marriages.
Protesters were enraged at theses rumors, especially when it is related to their own wives, sisters and mothers, who are all joining their families in demonstrating against Morsi’s ouster.
“There is absolutely nothing in Sunni Islam about jihad marriages or any sort of sexual acts during wars or protests. I call on those people who keep reading false news about us to come and take a look at the sit-in before they judge us,” Atef Mohamed, another protester said.
The latest in a series of unconfirmed reports coming from the sit-in was a fatwa made by the Brotherhood’s Supreme Guide, Mohamed Badie on Twitter, calling on supporters not to fast in Ramadan to maintain the strength needed to fight for Morsi’s return. At times of combat Islam allows believers to quit the Ramadan fast even though it is one of the five pillars of Islam.
The claims were once again strongly denied by one of the Brotherhood’s spokesmen, Gehad El Haddad, who said that Mr. Badie does not have own the said Twitter account and has sent such messages.
Similar rumors will continue to surface for as long as the Rabaa sit-in continues unless the Egyptian state and independent media ends the blackout and starts offering credible coverage and reporting from the square to end the stop the false perception that it is a wild, isolated and ugly place.
Many protesters at Rabaa have already given up on fair and transparent coverage of their sit-in. They believe that the “ongoing media campaign” has been in the making long before June 30.
“Independent media has been throwing rumors and accusations at Morsi and the Brotherhood for over a year now. They said that Morsi was selling the Suez Canal, and that the economy is collapsing and many other unaccounted lies,” protester Mohamed Abdel Halim said.
“But the media hardly reported anything when over 50 people were shot at the Republican Guard. What sort of objectivity is this? They only report what they want and spread certain rumors and when it really matters, they don’t report anything,” he adds.