Share on Google Plus Share on Twitter Share on Facebook 1 Share on LinkedIn Share on PInterest Share on Fark! Share on Reddit Share on StumbleUpon Tell A Friend 1 (2 Shares)  
Printer Friendly Page Save As Favorite View Favorites View Article Stats   2 comments

OpEdNews Op Eds

People, power, or propaganda? Unraveling the Egyptian opposition

By (about the author)     Permalink
Related Topic(s): ; ; ; ; ; ; , Add Tags Add to My Group(s)

View Ratings | Rate It

opednews.com Headlined to H2 7/19/13

Become a Fan
  (7 fans)
Source: AlJazeera

Uncorroborated turnout estimates of the June 30 protests have used to justify the actions of the military.

"The opposition may have made an impressive showing on June 30 and in the days that followed, but the stunning crowd counts it spread across the world do not seem to hold up against critical scrutiny," writes Max Blumenthal [AFP]

The debate over the legitimacy of Egypt's new, military-installed government has become a popularity battle, with some of the most vocal supporters of the coup claiming that the June 30 protests against President Mohammed Morsi represented the largest demonstrations in human history, a real-life Cecil B. DeMille production, with crowd sizes ranging anywhere between 14 to 33 million people -- over one-third of the entire population of Egypt.

Substituting subjective head counts for vote totals, Morsi's opponents have also pointed to the 22 million signatures supposedly gathered by the newfangled Tamarod youth movement. To them, the tens of millions in the streets were a clear sign that "the people" had sided unequivocally with the army and its political allies.

The importance of head counts to the military-installed government's international legitimacy was on display at a July 11 press conference at the US State Department. Pressed by Matt Lee of the Associated Press on whether the Obama administration considered Morsi's ouster a coup, and if it would respond by canceling aid including a planned shipment of four F-16's to Egypt, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki countered by citing Tamarod's figures, declaring that the US could not reverse the will of the "22 million people who spoke out and had their voices heard."

Days later, the Pentagon announced  that the F-16 sale would proceed as planned. As far as the US was concerned, Egypt had not just witnessed a military coup. Instead, "the people" -- or at least 22 million of them -- had spoken.

With Egypt's new army-backed regime relying on jaw dropping, record-shattering crowd estimates and petition drive figures to assert its democratic legitimacy, it is worth investigating the source of the numbers, and asking whether they add up at all.

Baseless claims born in an echo chamber

Among the first major Egyptian public figures to marvel at the historic size of the June 30 demonstrations was the billionaire tycoon Naguib Sawiris. On June 30, Sawiris informed  his nearly one million Twitter followers that the BBC had just reported, "The number of people protesting today is the largest number in a political event in the history of mankind." Sawiris exhorted the protesters: "Keep impressing...Egypt."

Sawiris was not exactly a disinterested party. He had boasted  of his support for Tamarod, lavishing the group with funding and providing them with office space. He also happened to be a stalwart of the old regime who had thrown his full weight behind the secular opposition to Morsi.

Two days after Sawiris' remarkable statement, BBC Arabic's lead anchor, Nour-Eddine Zorgui, responded to a query about it on Twitter by stating, "seen nothing to this effect, beware, only report on this from Egypt itself." Sawiris seemed to have fabricated the riveting BBC dispatch from whole cloth.

On June 30, one of the most recognizable faces of Egypt's revolutionary socialist youth movement, Gigi Ibrahim, echoed the remarkable claim, declaring  on Twitter, "I think this might be the largest protest in terms of numbers in history and definitely in Egypt ever!" Over 100 Twitter users retweeted Ibrahim, while a BBC dispatch reporting that only "tens of thousands of people [had] massed in Tahrir Square" flew below the radar.

Some Egyptian opponents to Morsi appear to have fabricated Western media reports to validate the crowd estimates. Jihan Mansour, a presenter for Dream TV, a private Egyptian network owned by the longtime Mubarak business associate Ahmad Bahgat, announced"CNN says 33 million people were in the streets today. BBC says the biggest gathering in history."

There is no record of CNN or BBC reporting any such figure. But that did not stop a former Egyptian army general, Sameh Seif Elyazal, from declaring during a live CNN broadcast on July 3, just as the military seized power from Morsi, "This is not a military coup at all. It is the will of the Egyptians who are supported by the army. We haven't seen in the last -- even in modern history, any country in the world driving 33 million people in the street for four days asking the president for an early presidential election." CNN hosts Jake Tapper and Christian Amanpour did not question Elyazal's claim, or demand supporting evidence.

Three days later, Quartet's Middle East special envoy Tony Blair hyped a drastically different, but equally curious, crowd estimate. In an editorial  for the Observer (reprinted by the Guardian), Blair stated, "Seventeen million people on the street is not the same as an election. But it is an awesome manifestation of people power." The former UK Prime Minister concluded that if a protest of a proportionate size occurred in his country, "the government wouldn't survive either."

From what source did the claim of 17 million demonstrators originate? Apparently, it was a single anonymous military official. One of the first Egyptian outlets to cite the number was the newspaper Shoroukwhich headlined its June 30 report, "Military source: The number of demonstrators is 17 million and increasing."

Strangely, a day before the military told Shorouk that 17 million demonstrators were in the streets against Morsi, another unidentified military source claimed  to Reuters that 14 million were protesting. The news service noted that the figure was "implausible," but amidst the excitement and chaos, examples of critical detachment like this were rare.

Meanwhile, the Tamarod youth movement triumphantly announced that it had collected a whopping 22 million signatures on its petition calling for early elections and Morsi's withdrawal. European and US outlets repeated the claim without any critical scrutiny, noting that the number of signatures far exceeded the votes Morsi received when he was elected president.

Like the massive crowd estimates, Tamarod's signature counts were impossible to independently verify. Increasingly it appeared that the numbers were products of a clever public relations campaign, with the Egyptian army and its political supporters relying on the international press and Western diplomats to amplify their Mighty Wurlitzer.

"Impossible" crowd estimates collapse under scrutiny

Was there any credible source for the widely cited figure of 33 million demonstrators? It has been impossible to locate one, either in English or Arabic media. As for the estimations of 17 and 14 million anti-Morsi protesters, there does not appear to be a valid source beyond the two anonymous military officials -- not exactly dispassionate observers.

On July 15, the BBC reported that it was unable to find any legitimate sources for the opposition's claims of either 14, 17, or 33 million protesters, affirming the conclusions of BBC Middle East correspondent Wyre Davies, who concluded that mobilizing such a massive number of protesters was "impossible."


Supporters of deposed president Mohammed Morsi hold a picture of him during a rally in Cairo's Ramsis square under the Six of October bridge on July 15, 2013.  [AFP]

Through simple Algebra, the Egyptian blogger Shereef Ismail has also poked gaping holes in the opposition's numbers. Estimating that each protester occupied a space of approximately .45 square metres, Ismail calculated that the absolute maximum number of anti-Morsi demonstrators who could fit in the total area of major public spaces in Egyptian cities was at most 2.8 million.

There are other factors that cast doubt on the June 30 crowd estimates, like the basic logistics of cramming between 20 and 40 percent of Egypt's population into already densely populated urban spaces without a staggering number of deaths and injuries ensuing, especially in the oppressive summer heat. Yet many among the army-installed government's supporters are holding fast to their claims, insisting that "the people" led the way against the Muslim Brotherhood's anti-democratic "ballotocracy."

The opposition may have made an impressive showing on June 30 and in the days that followed, but the stunning crowd counts it spread across the world do not seem to hold up against critical scrutiny. And as the mirage of a 30-million-person march evaporates, an unsavory military coup stands exposed.

You can follow Max Blumenthal on Twitter @MaxBlumenthal

 

http://maxblumenthal.com

Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and best-selling author whose articles and video documentaries have appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Daily Beast, The Nation, The Guardian, The Independent Film Channel, The Huffington Post, Salon.com, Al Jazeera English and many other publications. He is a writing fellow for the Nation Institute. His book, (more...)
 

Share on Google Plus Submit to Twitter Add this Page to Facebook! Share on LinkedIn Pin It! Add this Page to Fark! Submit to Reddit Submit to Stumble Upon

The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this website or its editors.

Writers Guidelines

Contact Author Contact Editor View Authors' Articles

Most Popular Articles by this Author:     (View All Most Popular Articles by this Author)

Inside The Strange Hollywood Scam That Spread Chaos Across The Middle East

Progressive Democratic hero Elizabeth Warren enlists to serve AIPAC's pro-war agenda

Shocking "Extermination" Fantasies By the People Running America's Empire on Full Display at Aspen Summit

Is the U.S. Backing Neo-Nazis in Ukraine?

Dubious Intelligence and Iran Blackmail: How Israel is driving the US to war in Syria

Exposing the Dark Forces Behind the Snowden Smears

Comments

The time limit for entering new comments on this article has expired.

This limit can be removed. Our paid membership program is designed to give you many benefits, such as removing this time limit. To learn more, please click here.

Comments: Expand   Shrink   Hide  
2 people are discussing this page, with 2 comments
To view all comments:
Expand Comments
(Or you can set your preferences to show all comments, always)

All very true but totally besides the point. The p... by Dennis Etler on Saturday, Jul 20, 2013 at 4:42:39 PM
is savory to you?... by BFalcon on Sunday, Jul 21, 2013 at 12:41:40 AM