In the Internet age, the war fought online is often as furious — if not as deadly — as the war fought on the ground. As Egypt‘s political crisis deepens, the social-media battle is one the Egyptian military, which ousted the democratically elected Islamist President Mohamed Morsi on July 3, has thus far been losing.
The generals this week took a page from the Israeli media blitz that surrounded their last Gaza offensive in November and launched some propaganda of their own. The military distributed a 36-minute video to government officials and journalists in Washington — see an edited version above — that explains their case for the removal of Morsi from power and the subsequent rooting out of his supporters from protest camps, which has claimed the lives of at least 850 people in the past week according to Reuters.
The video, which is recorded in English, clearly with an international audience in mind, claims that the pro-Morsi protesters camping out in Cairo were militants in training. It uses footage showing rioters destroying property, shooting indiscriminately at buildings, throwing a man off a roof and building barricades around their camps. “How would you like it if thousands of people camped out in your city? Where would they go to the bathroom? How do you prevent disease?” a senior Egyptian official in Washington tells me. “Now imagine they’re armed and eager to die for their cause. In New York they hardly tolerated the Occupy movement, in England [British Prime Minister David] Cameron said don’t lecture him on human rights [in relation to the 2011 summer riots].”
The video also shows in graphic detail the corpses of security personnel purportedly killed by Muslim Brotherhood supporters and shows footage of attacks on police and local authorities. “This is even before today when they killed 25 police,” another senior official notes, referring to the murder of two busloads of Egyptian police by insurgents in the Sinai on Monday. “Those responsible for the violence will not be part of the team, or the political situation,” the official continues, noting that no political prisoners are being held, only those who are being charged with felonies. Dozens of Islamist officials are reportedly being held. “This doesn’t mean the Muslim Brotherhood isn’t invited, but only those who haven’t committed crimes.”
The senior military officials who spoke with TIME — both declined to be identified as they said they wanted the focus to remain on the civilian interim government — said the removal of the protesters was necessary, and the longer Egypt had waited the worse it would have become. “They were building concrete walls, giving military training to their people, as you see in the video,” one of the officials says.
But the video may be too little too late. There were reports on Tuesday that Obama Administration is looking at suspending military aid to Egypt — Some $500 million of this year’s aid remains to be distributed. (Note: the money never actually goes to Egypt, it sits in a bank in the U.S. and the Egyptians use it to shop for weaponry from U.S. manufacturers.)
On Aug. 16, the National Press Club condemned the crackdown — which has already led to the deaths of four journalists — decrying “the Egyptian government-ordered violence” that’s led to hundreds of deaths and “the shooting, beating and detainment of many others.” But this video paints a different picture, showing the military’s concern for Egyptians and Egypt’s reputation abroad. “There has been a lot of misinterpretation in the U.S. and in Europe,” one official says. “We are looking forward now and starting reforms. Stability is what Egypt needs.”
Update: Here’s a link to the full video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=ZgEP1NB3pLk.