This week witnessed some of the worst violence in Egypt since the armed forces removed Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected president, from power in early July. As the death toll rises – as many as 500 were reported dead Thursday – observers are not only focusing on the role the military and security forces played in this latest bloody chapter of Egypt’s revolution, but are also honing in on how the Egyptian media, both state and private, might have contributed to polarizing the Egyptian population.
Thursday morning – just minutes before U.S. President Obama spoke out on the violence in Egypt, VOA reporter Cecily Hilleary spoke with Gehad El-Haddad, a senior advisor to the ousted president’s Freedom and Justice Party and spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood. She asked him for his thoughts.
Below please find transcribed highlights of the interview. You can listen to it in full using the audio player at the bottom of this post.
El-Haddad: I still can’t understand the fixation of the media of this being pro Morsi or anti-Morsi. This ended being about Morsi since the coup. This is now a choice of returning to a military dictatorship and losing our way forward since the January 25th revolution—or struggling with an inexperienced democracy while sticking by it until it delivers fruition.
Hilleary: The media has been accused in Egypt—on all sides—of playing a role in polarizing people, and we are seeing unprecedented polarization in Egypt. What role did media have in bringing about this tragic violence we’ve seen today?
El-Haddad: Once media drops its job and becomes a spin and ruler machine, it inflicts harm on all sides. It dislodges information; it spreads misinformation through rumors; it increases hate and polarization, and that’s exactly what happened. Once it starts on one end, the other end cannot respond [except] by actually doing the same thing, and it keeps going through that cycle. If I was to blame anyone in Egypt for the mess that we are in at the moment since the President’s election, I would blame the media and all media professionals in Egypt. The level of journalistic integrity has sunk to extents where they are creating fictional rumors and spreading them for months.
Hilleary: Are all sides of the media to blame in this?
El-Haddad: Of course.
Hilleary: So, for example, what are some of the kinds of things we’ve seen in state media that you believe have helped incite some of this? Examples.
El-Haddad: The main example that would come to mind—and specifically when looking at some of these soldiers that have psychologically come to the understanding that it’s okay for them to kill and literally pick off the streets bodies of hundreds of supporters, peaceful supporters that have nothing to show but their empty hands, shouting in front of them to stop their killing. We’ve seen the photos and videos. There were no weapons. There was no violence. But the reason that they [security officers] were able to kill so easily and so calmly is because throughout the past couple of weeks, the media has literally charged them with the image that these are hateful supporters, that these are people of violence, that these are terrorists, with nothing to stand for except the claim that the media kept pushing. No evidence, no journalistic work, no investigations, nothing at all.
And our sit-ins were open. We always invited international human rights agencies, and despite that, the claims of torture and violence and killings have been rampant across most Egyptian media and many international media, with no evidence whatsoever to support it—except the hearsay of the police forces in the Egypt and their so-called investigations.
Hilleary: Now we are hearing, for example, demonstrators in Giza today have attacked and set fire to a government building. There is an argument that all of this violence could have been prevented had people just stayed home. The military warned that this crackdown was coming.
The one mistake that we did in 1954 is that we trusted the military and we left the streets. We don’t intend to do so now. I would rather die hoping to achieve a country that is founded on democracy, on freedom, on human rights, than live in fear in my household under a military dictatorship for a new cycle of 60 years. I’ve tried that before. I don’t want my son or daughter to go through that. If it means I have to put my life on the line, I will. And there are thousands more like me among the Egyptian youth.
El-Haddad: For some reason, many dropped the fact that the military coup happened. Are we supposed to give up our freedom for gaining security? That is the ultimate argument of any despotic regime. And we have said, “No. We will stand in front of the military group in the streets, peacefully protesting, exercising our rights of protest and assembly, until we reverse that military coup.”
We know what comes next. They are going through the same manuscript that they did in 1954. In a couple of hours, in 12 hours, they killed over 4,000 people across all Egypt. We had never had that level of a massacre in Egypt. That butchering was unprecedented. And they are going [now] on the same path. We know what’s next. So we are going to stand peacefully in their line. We cannot be responsible for everything that goes wrong in the country. It was the military coup that went wrong, and with it, a string of political instability that keeps on expanding.
The Muslim Brotherhood sticks to its peacefulness, sticks to its nonviolent movement and asks its supporters to do the same, and anyone in its circles. But at the same time, yesterday’s blow killed our central coordination. Now — unintelligible – and we are calling on people to remain peaceful and not act on their own. The violence is happening everywhere. I’m amazed that the police forces would leave the vandalizers [sic] that went and burnt mosques and churches and go focus on killing and arresting protesters! They are still, as I’m speaking to you know, arresting injured protesters from hospitals on claims of torture and murder, when they themselves are made murderers and torturers.
Hilleary: So what’s next? You’re looking back to 1954, are you anticipating a bloodbath?
El-Haddad: No. The one mistake that we did in 1954 is that we trusted the military and we left the streets. We don’t intend to do so now. I would rather die hoping to achieve a country that is founded on democracy, on freedom, on human rights, than live in fear in my household under a military dictatorship for a new cycle of 60 years. I’ve tried that before. I don’t want my son or daughter to go through that. If it means I have to put my life on the line, I will. And there are thousands more like me among the Egyptian youth. When the generation made the January 25th revolution – a way to stand in the street and defend their country.
Hilleary: You said at the outset of this interview that this is no longer about the Muslim Brotherhood versus the military. Do you have any sense of how many people have joined your side, anti-coup? What kind of numbers are we talking here?
El-Haddad: No. We have no sense. But seeing as what happened yesterday, the clashes in almost all governates in Egypt, the thousands on the street. They were not aired by all media. But social media covered it extensively. And a few media like Al Jazeera covered it as well. Thousands, thousands of people everywhere in the streets. I don’t know who these people are or how they came about. But many of them lost loved ones, as I hear, in Rabaa and other other cities. They are connected to the cause now. And the cause has been sealed in blood. Unbreakable.
Hilleary: One last question for you: How satisfied are you with the international response so far.
El-Haddad: Not satisfied. The media has been strong in declaring that this is a coup from the beginning and in asking their leaders to show respect to the principles that they uphold as democratic countries. The leaders have failed, unfortunately. Nothing more than condemnation and strong words. And the one leadership, the one country – the U.S. – that holds real power and real control over the Egyptian army with its U.S. aid has constantly been saying that they are not going to change their position and they are going to continue financing such a terror machine that is only good for killing and now, it’s killing its own citizens.
Hilleary: I think the U.S. has left its options open. President Obama is scheduled to speak in a few minutes and we’ll all be listening anxiously to what he has to say.
El-Haddad: I hope the president says more wiser [sic]words than the words we’ve heard from Secretary Kerry about military coups bringing about democracies. This is not the democracy that we wanted, and I certainly don’t think that any political scientist in the world is going to call this a democracy being brought over by a military coup.
Listen to Cecily Hilleary’s full interview with Gehad El-Haddad:
Cecily began her reporting career in the 1990s, covering US Middle East policy for Dubai-TV English. She has lived and/or worked in the Middle East, North Africa and Gulf regions, consulting and producing for several regional radio and television networks and production houses, including MBC, Al-Arabiya, the former Emirates Media Incorporated and Al-Ikhbaria. She brings to VOA and MEV a keen understanding of the region's top social, cultural and political issues.