The Egyptian Lie

Amr Khalifa
11 Min Read
Amr Khalifa

In the personal realm a lie is but a simple three letter word that can be destructive. When interjected with bureaucracies, businesses and nation states the lie undercuts the ultimate necessity in the relationship between citizen and state: trust. If the past 10 days are any indication Cairo has a serious and growing trust issue. Worryingly, the Egyptian lie is mushrooming from the top down. In three notable incidents involving the military, the Ministry of Interior and Egypt Air the same pattern has held true. Clearly the powers that be have decided, when in doubt, lie.

In all three cases those perpetuating the lie forgot one crucial dynamic: we are in the age of the internet and any citizen with triple-digit IQ can research for themselves. Moreover, the condescension involved in telling a lie presumes that the system of checks and balances, which should be present in any society, has died a quick death in the age of this highly muscular police state. But arrogance does not change reality, lie and you will pay a price in any relationship no matter its parameters.

Exactly two months after a vicious, organised and sustained attack by “Sinai State” (the ISIS Sinai affiliate) on Sheikh Zuweid in Sinai, a 37 minute video appeared, Wednesday, to strongly counter the Egyptian army’s narrative. As told by the Egyptian army, the “Sinai State” attack resulted in 21 Egyptian dead, initially reported by the army as 17. However, “Sinai State” suffered, by far, the heavier causalities, initially reported as over 90, and totaling 205 in the days that followed during operations by the army. While the video does not claim, or show, with the one exception being an Egyptian Christian, a specific casualty count, it displays something of extreme importance about the 1 July attack, explains Michael Horrowitz, a senior analyst with The Levantine Group. It shows “a suicide car bomb that destroys the building it was targeting… if this was indeed a position of the Egyptian army, casualties resulting may have been quite high’’.

There are other deeply worrisome signs, explains Horrowitz. The missile attack, shown in detail on the video, on the Egyptian navy ship ‘’does raise doubts over the claim by the military that there were no casualties’’. In an effort to maintain high troop morale rarely is there ever a mention of the degree of militant organisation. As Horrowitz lays out ‘’the level of coordination and the very material used by the group raises questions regarding the official death toll”.

To hear the official narrative the average person would believe that terror is trapped strictly within the confines of the northern Sinai Peninsula. But this is not so insists the senior analyst. Events on the ground support Horrowitz’s view, after two recent car bombs within the crowded capital. These are not isolated incidents and the fight against terror is not going according to Al-Sisi’s ‘security first’ plan.

“There is indeed an expansion of ISIS in mainland Egypt,’’ confirms Horrowitz. These two attacks point to ‘’the fact that ISIS reorganised its operational capacities in mainland Egypt’’. It is no secret that the continued iron fist policy provides fertile ground for militant recruitment. A particularly painful, but revealing, scene, towards the end of the video, shows young children cheering on militants as they return from their 1 July attack.

But Egypt is dealing with a multiple front war when it comes to terror and problematically, Al-Qaeda is one of those fronts thus mirroring an international pattern of competition between ISIS and AQ. Yet, you will be hard pressed to find nary a mention of this, Al-Qaeda inspired, dynamic in mainstream Egyptian press and the deep state’s verbiage. Three attacks betray this competitive binary: the assassination of General Prosecutor Hisham Mubarak, the attack near the Helioplois Court and, more recently, an attack in Beheira, near Alexandria, which killed three and injured when a bomb went off near a bus carrying conscripts.

In the Egyptian zeitgeist, however, all these attacks are lumped together as the work of Islamist extremists that are, ultimately, according the government narrative, linked directly or indirectly to the Muslim Brotherhood. This sort of oversimplification and manipulation of facts is one of the chief reasons the government continues to lag behind in its fight against organised terror-well on its way to being an organised insurgency. To combat ISIS, which far outpaces its governmental opponent in understanding modern media, Horrowitz suggests a change in tactics. But that is not an easy task and many western state actors have failed. ‘’Egyptian army has to develop a new media strategy to counter ISIS propaganda,’’ because the old ways will no longer cut it against ‘’an actor like ISIS that has learned the codes of today’s PR’’. Put succinctly, the army needs to heed our mother’s warning about lies. From a rational standpoint, credibility is garnered most efficiently by relaying a facsimile as near to reality as possible. The Egyptian army must become “a reliable source for journalists”, said Horrowitz. Currently, it is not.

This plague of double speak and manipulation also infects the Ministry of Interior. While international and some domestic news accounts scream of ‘’hundreds of disappeared Egyptians …being tortured and held outside of judiciary oversight’’, the ministry, quite tragicomically, trumpets otherwise. Just on Monday, after a controversial visit by the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) to Tora Prison deemed Egyptian prisons free of systematic torture, ministry spokesman Major General Abu Bakr Abdel Karim took it much further. In telling ONTV ‘’torture is not a word that exists in the vocabulary of Egyptian prisons’’ he also, with a straight face, denied the very existence of the political wing of Tora Prison, informally known as Al-Aqrab prison. Only problem is, on the very same day, Al-Masry Al-Youm published a video from a prisoner’s mother whose son is held at Al-Aqrab: “my son saves orange peels and dry bread so he can eat on days when there is no food’’.

Most bitterly, this intelligence insulting statement was made, by the ministry, on the same day the Nadeem Center for Human Rights reported a marked rise in reported deaths at police hands in August. After having recorded 36 killed, in July, within the police system, the number soared to 56 in August. Moreover, the reports delineates 57 documented cases of torture and 38 cases of “forced disappearances”. Though this report only represents the work of one highly credible HR organisation, at a time that Human Rights Watch has termed “the worst situation in decades”, the ministry’s response is, nothing short of, a national embarrassment. Fortunately, three members of the NCHR agreed with this assessment, withdrew from a meeting and said the NCHR report about Aqrab prison “distorts reality”.

When the very top of the governing pyramid employs such methods it should come as no surprise that the national airline follows suit when it encounters troubled skies. On a very busy news day, 1 September, an innocuous news story involving a few injuries aboard a New York-Cairo flight due to air turbulence may have caught eyes of a few. To hear Egypt Air tell it turbulence caused one flight attendant to be burned while serving hot drinks and a number of others suffered light bruises, including three children.

What actually occurred is another matter, countered a frequent Egypt Air flier who posted on Facebook. After registering her extreme distaste for the dangerous episode she went on to accuse both airline and media of lying. ‘’Actual events of the accident were concealed by Egypt Air and the media’’. A full minute elapsed between the turbulence and seat belt sign initiation, she said. Not stopping there, she explained that ‘’had the pilot been alert and aware at the time’’ the episode could have been minimised. Disastrously, she outlined, injuries, some so severe a passenger lay ‘’shivering from blood loss’’ were treated with bathroom sprays, tiny bandages, and a service of tea. Yes, tea. The pilot was unprofessional, ‘’curt and insensitive’’, she added, even cracking jokes like ‘’we are all still here’’.

This account, is not the exception but, rather more often than not, for agendas that have little to do with the truth, is the rule.

Bluntly put, the Egyptian lie pervades. For Egypt to begin finding its way those who speak need to start realising that the citizen’s mind is an ever present checks and balances system. Whether it is government or business, both need to remember lies destroy trust. Once destroyed the vase of trust can never be repaired.

A German autocrat once said: ‘’if you tell a lie and tell it frequently enough it will be believed’’. His name was Adolf Hitler. Sadly, for once, the Egyptian hierarchy, has done its historical homework.

Amr Khalifa is freelance journalist and commentator recently published by Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, Ahram Online, Mada Masr, Muftah, the Tahrir Institute, and Arab Media Society. You can follow him on Twitter @cairo67unedited

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Amr Khalifa is freelance journalist and commentator recently published by Ahram Online, Mada Masr, Muftah, the Tahrir Institute, and Arab Media Society.