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Egyptian activists counter 'state media propaganda lies'

Egypt's President Mohamed Mursi (bottom row, C) and Defence Minister General Abdel Fattah Sisi (bottom row, 3rd L) pose with other military officers after a meeting with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces in Cairo on 11 April 2013
Egypt's President Mohamed Mursi (bottom row, C) and Defence Minister General Abdel Fattah Sisi (bottom row, 3rd L) pose with other military officers after a meeting with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces in Cairo on 11 April 2013

REUTERS/Egyptian Presidency/Handout

“I swear, by God, the armed forces did not kill nor order killings of protesters,” Egypt's Defence Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sissi told Egyptian State TV earlier this month.

Al-Sissi defended the armed forces, insisting the military had “protected Egypt and safeguarded the January 25, 2011 Revolution.” He also warned the media against slandering the military.

Al-Sissi's comments came in response to leaks to the Guardian and Egypt's independent Al Shorouk newspaper from a report by a fact-finding commission implicating the military in human rights abuses during and after the 18-day mass uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak. The commission was formed after President Mohamed Morsi came to power in June 2012 in the wake of tensions with the country's powerful military. In a report handed to President Morsi in December, the commission stated that “the military had ordered doctors to operate on wounded protesters without anaesthetic and that soldiers killed and tortured demonstrators — including performing humiliating virginity tests on female protesters less than a month after the uprising”, according to the Guardian. The military had also participated in forced disappearances, with more than 1,000 people reported missing during the 18 days of the January 2011 uprising.

While al-Sissi has denied the charges, a video clip posted on YouTube shortly after his statement was broadcast on Egyptian state TV tells an entirely different story. The video was posted by Askar Kazeboon, or Military Are Liars — a group of volunteers whose declared aim is to “expose the lies of the armed forces and inform the public about military abuses.” The clip showed soldiers brutally beating and kicking protesters. It also depicted scenes of the December 2011 “blue bra incident” during which a female protester was dragged by soldiers and stripped half naked during protests against military rule outside the parliament building in Cairo. During the clashes between military forces and protesters on Qasr al-Aini Street, the army had also assaulted and arrested journalists, confiscating their equipment, and targeting news outlets. A military spokesman soon afterwards denied any wrongdoing, claiming that the army had “exercised self-restraint.”

Activists responded to the claims by launching Askar Kazeboon — an alternative campaign to “expose the state media propaganda lies” by screening video clips in public spaces across the country, depicting scenes of military forces practicing severe brutality against peaceful demonstrators. The footage is often interlaced with military denials of involvement in any criminal activity. Besides screening videos of military abuse, the Askar Kazeboon — or the Military are Liars — team has staged protest-marches in several cities and towns and used social media networks Facebook and Twitter to raise public awareness about the violent military crackdown on protesters demanding an end to military rule during the transitional period (when the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces was in power). The group's Facebook page has approximately 149,000 fans and the number is steadily increasing.

The latest Askar Kazeboon video which has gone viral on social media networks Facebook and Twitter, has embarassed the armed forces while serving as a reminder that it is becoming all the more difficult to hide truths in the 'Information Age' when activists and bloggers are constantly taking pictures on their mobile phones, uploading and sharing them with internet users around the world. But the video is not the first of its kind countering the narrative of state media . On 27 January 2012, the group's video clips were projected onto the facade of the Egyptian State Television building at Maspero “to shame the state broadcaster for propogating lies” — according to campaign members — after state TV channels broadcast a video produced by the military's Public Affairs Department depicting protesters throwing rocks and molotovs at military forces in downtown Qasr el Aini Street and showing children “confessing” to having been paid to attack the military. The following month, the Askar Kazeboon group took their campaign one step further, projecting their video clips onto the outer walls of the Ministry of Defence –the SCAF Headquarters.

“By taking our protest movement out of Tahrir Square into other districts , villages and hamlets, we have managed to attract more followers to our cause ” Reem Dawoud, a founding member of the campaign told Index. She added that the group's mission was the pursuit of” transparency, accountability and free flow of information.”

The campaign has over the last sixteen months evolved into an initiative “countering the lies of those who speak in the name of religion” — in reference to the ruling Muslim Brotherhood, which has reneged on several promises, including the promise not to field a presidential candidate. Askar Kazeboon and other initiatives — like Ikhwan Kazeboon and the No to Military Trials Campaign — do more than just open peoples' eyes to vivid truths; they also symbolise an unprecedented level of street and cyberactivism that was lacking in the pre-revolution days. Gone are the days when the state had near-total control over the media and when the government had succeeded in silencing voices of dissent. Despite growing fears that a government crackdown on media critical of the Morsi regime in recent months could pave the way for a regression in the freedom of expression — overturning the gains made in freedom of speech since the revolt more than two years ago — the campaigns bring hope of a freer, more transparent society where every citizen has the right to access information and hold authorities to account.

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