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memri
September 27, 2019 No.
8297

Qatar Fanning Anti-Sisi Protests Via Al-Jazeera, With Aim Of Toppling Egyptian Regime

On Friday, September 20, 2019, citizens took to the streets in several Egyptian cities to demand the ouster of President 'Abd Al-Fattah Al-Sisi. Apparently, the immediate cause of the sudden outbreak of protests was the allegations and calls made by Mohamed 'Ali, an Egyptian actor and contractor who worked with the Egyptian regime, and in particular with the Egyptian military, in the last 15 years. After leaving Egypt a month ago, 'Ali began posting videos on social media in which he made bold corruption claims against top officials in Egypt's military. He also harshly criticized the management of mega-projects initiated by Al-Sisi, including the widening of the Suez canal and the construction of new presidential palaces, stating that they were wasteful, especially considering the desperate poverty of many Egyptians.[1]

'Ali's social media campaign was extensively promoted by Qatar's Al-Jazeera network and other Qatari media outlets, which lent 'Ali a platform as part of the hostility that has prevailed between Qatar and Egypt in the last few years and Qatar's support of the Muslim Brotherhood organization, which is outlawed in Egypt.[2]

Egypt's pro-regime media initially tried to disregard Mohamed 'Ali and spoke in general terms against maligning the army, without mentioning his name. However, after 'Ali's videos went viral, Al-Sisi decided to respond and answer his claims directly. In a youth conference he convened in Cairo on September 14, he called 'Ali's claims "falsehoods and lies" while declaring his own integrity and his loyalty to Egypt, and came to the defense of the army. On the construction of presidential palaces he said that he builds them for Egypt, not for himself, and that he is proud of this.[3]

'Ali, for his part, continued to post videos against Al-Sisi and called on Egyptians to take to the streets on Friday, September 20, 2019, and hold non-violent protests for an hour to demand Al-Sisi's resignation.[4] The call was heeded by hundreds to thousands of Egyptians who dared to demonstrate against the regime, which in the last two years has escalated its measures against its critics and taken steps to control the media and limit freedom of speech in the country.[5] Protests were reported in several Egyptian provinces and in Cairo, including in Tahrir Square, the emblematic site of Egypt's Arab Spring protests, which had been empty of demonstrators for several years. Videos circulated on social media showed protesters chanting "Al-Sisi, leave!" and "Say without fear, Al-Sisi has to go." The security forces eventually dispersed the protests with tear gas and arrested dozens of them. On the next day, September 21, the protests continued but on a smaller scale.[6] Since the outbreak of the protests, the Egyptian regime has exacerbated its measures against its critics and opponents, and against human rights organizations, which report that over 1,000 have already been arrested.[7]

The Qatari media, and especially Al-Jazeera, which as stated is hostile to the Egyptian regime, covered the protests extensively and even actively encouraged them. From the first day Mohamed 'Ali's videos appeared, it aired them in full and held studio debates on them. It also aired live coverage of the protests, from several locations, and urged Egyptians to send it videos of the events. Furthermore, Al-Jazeera employees and presenters posting on Twitter described the events as an intense wave of protest sweeping Egypt and urged the Egyptians to continue it. Some of them also tweeted fake news, claiming that the Egyptian regime was teetering and that Al-Sisi, who had flown to New York for the UN General Assembly, had actually fled Egypt and might not return. The tweets were posted under hashtags calling for Al-Sisi's ouster.

The Egyptian regime was enraged at the Qatari media's coverage of the protests, especially the coverage on Al-Jazeera. It denied that protests had taken place, claiming this was fake news and that the streets and squares were empty and quiet. The Egyptian media blamed "media serving the Muslim Brotherhood," mainly Al-Jazeera, of instigating protests in Egypt and trying to destabilize it.

This report reviews the slanted coverage and the fanning of the protests by Al-Jazeera and its reporters, and the Egyptian regime's response to this.

 


Cartoon accompanying article in Egyptian Al-Fagr paper on Al-Jazeera's coverage of the protests (elfagr.com, September 25, 2019)

Extensive Al-Jazeera Coverage Of Egypt Protests

The Al-Jazeera network, and especially its Al-Jazeera Mubashir channel, lent an extensive platform to Mohamed 'Ali's videos from the day they first appeared and gained popularity. In the weeks preceding the outbreak of the protests, the channel aired Mohamed 'Ali's videos in full and held studio debates on his claims, with the participation of prominent critics of the Egyptian regime, such as the writer Alaa Al-Aswany or scientist and former presidential advisor 'Essam Heggy.

On the first day of the protests, Al-Jazeera Mubashir covered them extensively, airing live footage from several locations, including the cities of Cairo, Damietta, Mansoura, Suez and Alexandria. It also aired a phone interview with Mohamed 'Ali. On the second day of protests the live coverage from several locations continued, but on a smaller scale, due to the smaller scale of the protests. The channel also covered the social media campaigns and hashtags that accompanied the protests, such as the "Tahrir Square" and "People's Revolution" hashtags. In addition to airing the events inside Egypt, on September 21-22 the channel aired protests and demonstrations outside Egyptian embassies and consulates in Europe and the U.S. (in London, New York, Berlin, Milan and elsewhere). It also aired footage from Egyptian channels and discussed the Egyptian media's coverage of the events.

On Social Media, Al-Jazeera Presenters, Reporters Encourage Anti-Sisi Protests: "The People Wants To Topple The Regime"

The Al-Jazeera network and some of its talk-show hosts and presenters, as well as other Qatari journalists, posted on their Twitter pages numerous reports and commentary that described the events in Egypt as an intense wave of anti-Sisi protests that are sweeping the cities and garnering international support, and urged Egyptians to continue them. Many of the tweets claimed that the Egyptian people had "broken the barrier of fear"[8] and that the Al-Sisi regime was teetering. The tweets were posted under the hashtags "Tahrir Square," "The people wants to topple the regime," and "Al-Sisi, leave!", and some included false information.

Al-Jazeera presenters played a conspicuous role in encouraging the protests. For example, newscaster Osman Ayfarah tweeted on his personal account: "[We are] the mouthpiece of the Egyptian people, yes. We say that 'the people want to topple the regime,' and we will say it again. It's not for our own sake, it's for the sake of Egypt. You think you scare us with your empty words? You don't!"[9]


Osman Ayfarah's tweet

Al-Jazeera Presenters: Al-Sisi's Regime Is On The Brink Of Collapse

Presenter Ahmad Mansour claimed in multiple tweets that the Al-Sisi regime was teetering. For example, on September 21 he tweeted: "Al-Sisi did not take his plane to New York in order to attend the meetings of the UN General Assembly, as he claimed, but in order to monitor the situation [in Egypt] from abroad and seek asylum, after discovering that the people were about to break the barrier of fear and take to the streets to demand his ouster. The people indeed took to the streets, and if the protests persist, Al-Sisi will not return to Egypt."[10]


Ahmad Mansour's tweet

Another Al-Jazeera presenter, Jamal Rayyan, tweeted in a similar vein. On September 20 he wrote: "Bye bye, Al-Sisi. It looks like the Egyptians will topple Al-Sisi within a week."[11] On the following day he set up four polls on his account, all of them on the topic of Al-Sisi's downfall. In one of them he asked, "What country will be willing to give asylum to 'Abd Al-Fattah Al-Sisi and his family? Your opinion counts." As options he listed Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Israel.[12]


Jamal Rayyan's Twitter poll

On September 23 Rayyan set up another poll, in which he asked, "What [kind of] regime will the Egyptian people agree to after overthrowing Al-Sisi?". The options were "military dictatorship," "constitutional republic," "constitutional monarchy," and "parliamentary [regime] with power in the hands of the people."[13]

Jamal Rayyan's second Twitter poll

In September 21 tweets, Ahmad Mansour urged the Egyptian security officers at the protest sites to reconcile with the Egyptian people and support their freedom. In one of the tweets, he wrote: "Al-Sisi fears the junior and mid-level officers in the armed forces. If some of them set out, in uniform, and announce that they stand with the people against Al-Sisi and his corrupt regime, high-ranking officers will be compelled to stand with the people [as well] and sacrifice Al-Sisi. I remind [you] of the [March of] a Million on April 20, 2011, when some of the military officers joined the [Egyptian] people in [Tahrir] Square and the army commanders were struck with terror."[14]


Ahmad Mansour: "Al-Sisi fears the junior and mid-level military officers"

In another tweet, Mansour made the false claim that Al-Sisi's associates were flocking to the airports because the regime was collapsing: "Egypt's airports are teeming with Al-Sisi's associates and with the greatest thieves, who are fleeing [the country]... Oh Egyptian people, the regime is collapsing, but its fall depends on your taking to the streets in numbers that the security forces will not be able to handle and on your steadfastness in the squares... The people are in the right, and the regime is illegitimate."[15]


Ahmad Mansour: "Oh Egyptian people, the regime is collapsing"

In yet other tweets he urged Egyptians to act against the regime, and on the Egyptian opposition in Europe and the U.S. to stage demonstrations in solidarity with the protesters in Egypt, because "today the world must know that the Egyptian people are ruled by a dictator and that the people demand his ouster, while the West receives him with great pomp."[16]


Ahmad Mansour: "The greatest responsibility lies with the Egyptian opposition in the countries that allow demonstrations in Europe and the U.S."

On September 18, the Al-Jazeera Mubashir channel called on Egyptians to film videos of the events in Egypt and set up a WhatsApp hotline to which to send them. The hotline was announced on the Twitter account of Al-Jazeera presenter Hosam Yahia, under the hashtags "Al-Sisi, leave, or the people will take to the streets," and "Al-Sisi, enough."[17]

Ibtisam Aal Sa'd, a columnist for the Qatari Al-Sharq daily, likewise exhorted Egyptians to take to the streets and demand the ouster of the regime. She tweeted on September 20: "For the sake of those who died in the flower of their youth... for the sake of those unjustly arrested and imprisoned... so that Egypt will once again be the mother of the Arabs and the mother of the entire world, there is need for a 'Friday of Rage' on which everyone will say, with one voice: 'The people want to topple the regime.'"[18]

Egyptian Regime And Media: Al-Jazeera Is Fabricating Reports In Service Of The Muslim Brotherhood

The Egyptian regime was enraged at Al-Jazeera's slanted coverage. Both the regime and the regime-affiliated media stated that the reports of demonstrations were false and fabricated, and that their publication was being led by the MB and its media mouthpiece Al-Jazeera and by channels operating out of Turkey. The Egyptian media even accused Al-Jazeera and the MB of disseminating old video clips of 2011 demonstrations against the Mubarak regime on social media and presenting them as demonstrations happening now in Tahrir Square. Al-Jazeera denied the accusation.

On Egyptian TV, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry accused Al-Jazeera of disseminating false information: "Egypt's domestic arena is stable, but some unprofessional media outlets such as Al-Jazeera are spreading false images, out of profound hostility towards Egypt's achievements and towards the attention Egypt is getting in New York [at the UN General Assembly] from world leaders. I spoke with some of the media and told [the Saudi] Al-Arabiya TV that they have teams in Egypt that can check the streets for themselves [to verify reports], and added, If you go out [into the street], you will find nothing."[19]

The State Information Service, which is headed by Journalists Union head Diaa Rashwan, announced its demand that the foreign press publish nothing about events in Egypt except for what their correspondents see with their own eyes or base on credible sources. The authority called on the foreign press to maintain neutral commentary, to leave room for various positions including the Egyptian regime's, and not to use social media as a news source.[20]

Egyptian political parties also attacked "the MB information mouthpieces in Qatar and Turkey," stating that they were trying to stir up conflict between the Egyptian people and the military.[21] Egyptian Party chairman Hossein Abu Al-'Atta said that Al-Jazeera "and its allies" are "undeterred from lying, falsifying, and rebroadcasting old video clips and presenting them as happening right now in [Tahrir] Square."[22]

On September 21, Egyptian MP and journalist Mustafa Bakri tweeted: "Al-Jazeera is leveraging a small number of gatherings and broadcasting old video segments because of its desire to ignite the country... and to hand it over to the MB." In another tweet, he wrote that there were no gatherings at Tahrir Square and that the video clips disseminated by "the traitorous channels" were aimed at undermining Egypt.[23]


Bakri's tweet

Similar accusations were leveled by journalists, columnists, and other members of the Egyptian media, who claimed that the publication of fabricated reports on demonstrations was part of a Qatari plot, via Al-Jazeera, to destabilize Egypt. On his television program, host Amr Adeeb, who is identified with the Egyptian regime, provided what he said was evidence that young people had been paid to go out and protest, and that the MB had "invested millions" in a social media campaign aimed at "inciting against Egypt."[24] A few days later, he published confessions by two Egyptians who said that they had paid young people who protested at Tahrir Square, after being promised by friends in Qatar that the latter would send them the funds they needed to recruit as many young people as possible to participate in demonstrations.[25]

In an article in the government daily Akhbar Al-Yawm, National Press Authority director Karam Gabr praised Egypt's citizens who posted video clips disproving the reports on demonstrations and showing that "the streets are quiet, traffic is light, and life goes on as usual. There are no demonstrations, no strikes, and no [protest] marches." He added that this "is the most mature response to the criminal Al-Jazeera that has lost its mind with its faked video clips, and presented a model of ridiculous media that has practically declared war [on Egypt]."[26]

Hamdi Rizq wrote in his column for the independent daily Al-Masri Al-Yawm, under the headline "Satan's Pact": "Two capitals, Doha and Ankara, have, on satellite television channels and on social media, declared war on the patient Cairo. They are not hiding their open hostility; they have crossed all boundaries, violated all obligations, and ignored all international charters and documents in order to incite against the Egyptian people, army and president... The former [i.e. Qatar] is funding and spreading incitement, and the latter [Turkey] is wantonly harboring branches of the terror organization [MB], culminating in last Friday night's [September 20] open declaration of war on the Egyptian nation – more chapters of which we will see in the coming days and perhaps in the coming years. The ostensible aim [of these efforts] is to harm the Egyptian president, but primarily the arm –, and this is the crux of the matter – to weaken the center of gravity [in Egypt] in order to undermine confidence in the main tent pole, leading to the country's descent into civil war."[27]

Also, 'Abd Al-Nabi Al-Shahhat, editor of the portal of the government daily Al-Gumhouriyya, wrote in an article that an anti-Egypt campaign is underway and that Egypt's enemies "are using Mohamed 'Ali, by means of platforms of incitement, in order to cast doubts on the Egyptian military, that was and will remain a stronghold defending the capabilities of this homeland... This agent [Mohamed 'Ali] came out against us in a well-fashioned, meticulously directed systematic move. Following the posting of [his] first video, social media accounts and pages in his name were opened, and a large team of electronic brigades and MB channels and the Qatari Al-Jazeera operated them simultaneously."[28]

 


[1] Bbc.com, September 19, 2019; Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), September 12, 2019.

[2] It should be mentioned that the Qatari government press and pro-Qatar websites hinted that 'Ali was a front man for Egyptian military officers. This claim was made, for example, to the Khalij Online website by Mahmoud Refa'at, an associate of former Egyptian chief-of-staff and former presidential candidate Sami Anan (who was arrested in January 2018 after submitting his candidacy for president). Refa'at is also a member of the Egyptian Officers Front, an oppositionist group which is considered to be close to Anan and has half a million followers on Facebook. (alkhaleejonline.net, September 24, 2019). An article in the Qatari Al-Sharq daily titled "Who Is Behind Mohamed 'Ali?" listed several officers who have been deposed by Al-Sisi, and also quoted a statement issued by the Egyptian Officers Front calling on Egyptians to take to the streets (Al-Sharq, Qatar, September 22, 24, 2019).    

[3] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), September 14, 2019.

[4] Al-Arabi Al-Jadid (London), September 16, 2019.

[6] Twitter.com/noonpost, September 21, 2019; raialyawm.com, September 20, 22, 2019.

[7] Raialyoum.com, September 25, 2019.

[8] Twitter.com/jamalrayyan, twitter.com/ajmubasher, September 21, 2019.

[9] Twitter.com/ayfaraho, September 21, 2019.

[10] Twitter.com/amansouraja, September 21, 2019.

[11] Twitter.com/jamalrayyan, September 20, 2019.

[12] Twitter.com/jamalrayyan, September 21, 2019.

[13] Twitter.com/jamalrayyan, September 23, 2019.

[14] Twitter.com/amansouraja, September 21, 2019.

[15] Twitter.com/amansouraja, September 21, 2019.

[16] Twitter.com/amansouraja, September 21, 2019.

[17] Twitter.com/HosamYahia, September 18, 2019.

[18] Twitter.com/Ebtesam777, September 20, 2019.

[19] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), September 22, 2019.

[20] Gate.ahram.org.eg, September 22, 2019.

[21] Al-Yawm Al-Sabi' (Egypt), September 22, 2019.

[22] Gate.ahram.org.eg, September 21, 2019.

[23] Twitter.com/BakryMP, September 21, 2019.

[24] Al-Yawm Al-Sabi' (Egypt), September 22, 2019.

[25] Al-Yawm Al-Sabi' (Egypt), September 26, 2019.

[26] Akhbar Al-Yawm (Egypt), September 21, 2019.

[27] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), September 22, 2019.

[28] Gomhuriaonline.com, September 21, 2019.