I’ve just returned this past weekend from Cairo, where Egyptians today are seething at Western media after a BBC report aired on Saturday regarding Egypt’s upcoming presidential elections.
The BBC report criticized Egypt’s human rights record, claiming that political opponents had been “disappeared” by Egyptian authorities. However, the main subject of the report, who had allegedly been “disappeared,” quickly showed up alive, well, living with her husband in Giza, and directly refuting the allegations made by the BBC.
Orla Guerin’s report, entitled “The Shadow Over Egypt,” had struck an ominous tone: “Egypt will elect a president next month. Opponents have been rounded up. Many have been jailed, tortured or disappeared.”
— Orla Guerin (@OrlaGuerin) February 23, 2018
Other Western media figures jumped in to defend the BBC report, including the New York Times’ Cairo bureau chief:
Today Egypt published a 1,900-word screed against @OrlaGuerin and her BBC documentary on torture and illegal detention. If only the same spokesman could offer comment before this story – or, indeed, just about any story – was published. https://t.co/BkDrcvjQLH
— Declan Walsh (@declanwalsh) February 25, 2018
Admittedly, there is much for Western media and countries to criticize regarding Egypt’s human rights record. But many Egyptians see this episode as yet another instance of Western media hyping claims by the Muslim Brotherhood or Western NGOs of “disappearances” of activists. This was not the first time; other subjects were later arrested as parts of terror cells or for appearing in terrorist videos.
The BBC report led with the story of 23-year-old Zubeida. According to her family, she and her mother had been detained and tortured by the Egyptian government after participating in Muslim Brotherhood protests. Following their release, they were said to have disappeared altogether last April: Zubaida’s mother claimed that armed and masked men showed up at the house and abducted her after throwing her into a police vehicle.
Soon, ONTV aired Zubeida herself being interviewed alongside her husband and newborn son, and directly refuting the allegations. During Zubeida’s interview with Amr Adib of ONTV, she acknowledged that she and her mother had been detained. But she denied the allegations of torture and threats of rape. And rather than being abducted by police, Zubaida had been living in Giza with her husband (she presented their March 2017 marriage certificate) and had simply not been in communication with her mother for months over disagreements about her marriage:
So far, neither Orla Guerin nor the BBC has responded to Zubeida’s interview, nor has a correction been posted to the 5,000-word story published on the BBC site.
This was not the only case covered in the BBC report. However, since Zubeida’s case was the lead element of the video package, Egyptians I spoke with yesterday accused Western media of again falsely pushing a narrative intended to destabilize Egypt and delegitimize the upcoming elections.
A growing string of forced disappearance claims pushed by Western media and NGOs — aided by claims from Muslim Brotherhood leaders based in Turkey, Qatar, the UK and even the U.S. — have eventually fallen apart:
- Earlier this month, a video by Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, the Islamic State affiliate in Egypt, featured the son of a senior Muslim Brotherhood leader who his family had claimed was on holiday from his studies in Malaysia. In fact, he had trained with ISIS in Mosul and returned to conduct terror attacks inside Egypt. The video claimed Omar Ibrahim El-Deeb had been killed in a shootout with Egyptian forces last year.
- Western NGOs hyped the claim that Salaheldin Attia had been “disappeared” by Muslim Brotherhood leaders and the Swiss Organization for the Protection of Human Rights. Attia was later exposed as a member of a terrorist cell killed during a confrontation with police earlier this month.
- Last year, Mohamed Abdelsatar was claimed to have been “disappeared” by unknown Egyptian authorities. Abdelsatar was later killed in a counterterrorism operation targeting the Hasm terror wing of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Egyptian Ministry of the Interior said that Abdelsatar and one of his associates had been responsible for transporting IEDs for the terror group.
- One of the Muslim Brotherhood groups touted in the BBC report, the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedom, had publicized the claimed “disappearance” of Cairo University student Mohamed Magdy al Daleai by the Egyptian Army in Sinai. Those reports were refuted when Daleai emerged as senior Islamic State leader “Abu Musab al-Masry”in an IS-Sinai video last August.
Particularly following my speaking appearances at the British University of Egypt and Sixth of October University last week, I heard from many who felt frustrated by what they perceive as a deliberate slant in Western media coverage of Egypt. They said Egypt was being painted as an unstable terrorist hotbed on the verge of another revolution because of repression by the Sisi government.
In fact, most Egyptians I spoke with did not discount the acts of terrorism or the human rights record. Instead, they were concerned with stability and prosperity rather than the dreams of Western “analysts” and pundits yearning for yet another revolution in Egypt.
They say these Western media outlets were repeatedly fed false stories of “disappearances” by the Muslim Brotherhood. Worse, when the truth was revealed, the outlets and Western NGOs never issued corrections or apologies.
They also say it’s unlikely that an apology and retraction — if one is ever made — will receive as much attention as the original false reports, anyway.
And on that, they definitely have a legitimate grievance:
— Egypt Independent (@EgyIndependent) February 26, 2018