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Press Crackdown In Egypt, As Battle Of Ideas And Information Rages On

Analysis: In some way, one full year after the Jan. 25 revolution began, the same standoff is at play between a military-led establishment and a grassroots popular movement. And controlling the message, and the media, is as central as ever to each camp.

The anniversary of Jan. 25 is approaching (Lilian Wagdy)
The anniversary of Jan. 25 is approaching (Lilian Wagdy)
Sharif Abdel Kouddous

CAIRO - The war of information in Egypt — one that has been at the heart of this revolution since its inception — is escalating.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), and the institutions it rules over, are making twin use of a fully compliant state media apparatus to demonize the protest movement and champion SCAF policies while intensifying a crackdown on dissent, attacking journalists and raiding civil society organizations.

Grassroots organizers have taken to the streets to transform public spaces across the country into forums that expose military abuses while continuing to use social media to foster growing discontent against the SCAF and push the boundaries of dissent within established private media outlets.

The latest escalation in this long-running media tug of war began last month, during clashes on Qasr al-Aini Street in downtown Cairo between protesters and the military that left at least 17 people dead and hundreds injured, marking the first sustained street battle involving army soldiers since the revolution began.

During the clashes, military forces assaulted and detained journalists, destroyed and confiscated media equipment and targeted news outlets. While much footage was lost in the army raids, the violent suppression of the protests was nevertheless captured on video and widely broadcast on private television stations and the internet. The notorious image of a young woman being dragged by two soldiers and stomped on by a third, her abaya pulled over her head to expose her stomach and bra, made headlines across the world.

At a televised news conference in the midst of the clashes, SCAF member Major General Adel Emara denied any wrongdoing, claiming the military "exercises a level of self-restraint that others envy." He blamed the violence on provocateurs executing a systematic plan to topple the government and accused the media of "helping sabotage the state." To back up his claims, Emara played video footage of people throwing Molotov cocktails and — in a surreal presentation — of children "confessing" that they were paid to attack the military.

In response, activists launched a campaign they called "Askar Kazeboon" (Lying Officers) to expose violations by the army against protesters to the wider public. Using portable video screening equipment, organizers have been traveling to districts across the capital and to cities around the country setting up screens in public squares and sidewalks — even once projecting video on the wall of the Supreme Court — to air footage that clearly shows the army brutally beating and shooting at protesters interlaced with the SCAF's denial of any wrongdoing.

As the first anniversary of the Jan. 25 revolution approaches, the military council appears to be tightening its grip on any expressions of dissent, including highly-publicized raids of at least seven civil society groups by public prosecution officials backed by armed security forces. Files and computers were hauled away as part of a campaign by the transitional government against NGOs accused of receiving foreign funding. While fitting nicely into the SCAF's months-long narrative of a foreign plot to destabilize Egypt, the local NGOs targeted had also been a thorn in the side of the SCAF, including one that works to promote accountability and transparency in the military budget.

A year after the revolution began, the battle of information and ideas is as fierce as ever.

Sharif Abdel Kouddous is an independent journalist based in Cairo.

Read the full story at Al-Masry Al-Youm

Photo - Lilian Wagdy

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