The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Egypt in TV: Of revolution and conspiracy

It is finally over. The debate over whether or not the January 25 revolution was indeed a revolution or a Zionist/Iranian/US/Turkish/Serbian conspiracy has finally ended. Kinda.

The limbo over the final classification of the 2011 uprising had raised an awkward question for propagandists, which is if you both truly trust President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and think people who call Jan 25 a revolution are traitors – doesn't that by extension make Sisi a traitor for calling it that and writing as much in the constitution or worse someone who is fooled by them? Or do you, lowly latenight television host, know something the former head of military intelligence and current president does not know? It also raised the awkward question of why Sisi, who claims to think it is a revolution, never made the effort to correct his supporters.

In addition to raising awkward questions, the revolupiracy (or was it a conspolution?) sparked fights.

"I never said Jan 25 was not a revolution," says Sada el-Balad host Ahmed Moussa (above), who said precisely that every single day since it happened with the exception of national holidays and weekends, when he took time off. "Anyway," he added, deciding that he doesn't have to explain himself to Youssef el-Husseiny, "you have an Arab-Israeli connection." 

For those of you who don't know, Youssef el-Husseiny is a macho host who still fancies himself a revolutionary, despite siding with the military on July 3, 2013, and cheering on the Raba'a and Nahda sit-in dispersal. This is why he now feels the need to pick such fights and spray insecticide on air to symbolically insult more consistent propagandists like Moussa, presumably to prove revolutionary fervor.

But now that el-Sisi's staunchest TV host supporter (and purveyor of fabricated leaks meant to tarnish the image of activists), Abdelrahim Ali (above), has come around, it is safe to expect an end to this debate.

"I can't call it a revolution, but it is the beginning of one," the Al Kahera Wal Nas TV host conceded. In Ali's world, a revolution requires two things to earn the title: first a gathering of the angry masses (check for Jan 25), and second political leadership like that Gamal Abdel Nasser provided in the 1952 coup that everyone still calls a revolution. On this, he argues, spies like Mohamed ElBaradei and the MB sullied it with all their conspiracies. The bottom line is that he will stop aggravating el-Husseiny and his likes by calling it the "Jan 25 conspiracy."

Speaking of the revolution, Mubarak's acquittal on the charges of killing have been the talk of the year. The reactions to it ranged from the expected glee of consistent pro-regime propagandists like Ahmed Moussa to less-than-credible fury from the wannabe "independent" propagandists like Amr Adeeb.

The most sincere one thus far was Mahmoud Saad's (below), who seemed genuinely at loss for words that made sense and would neither make him look like a sellout or get him in trouble with the authorities.

"Is it really important that we get into the details? I think not," he told himself, before listing the many types of people living in Egypt: apparently, some are having a hard time; others are socializing online; some lead good life but seek truth and accountability; some love Egypt and some don't. "Why were we born?" Saad began to wonder having strayed as far as logically possible from the trial without having to give us cooking advice.

The funniest reaction was from el-Faraeen’s Tawfik Okasha (first up above), who felt it was appropriate to use a cattle metaphor to encourage the families of those killed in 2011 uprising to move on with their lives. After all, do you sit and cry next to some buffalo you bought that ate a nail and died? For those not related to the victims, Okasha would like you to  remember that these are not your children, so easy on the sympathy and outrage. Same goes for those who are happy for Mubarak. He, too, is not your father or your stepfather. Chill.

The most annoying reactions came from the detesters-of-youth, Lamis Gaber and Ibrahim Eissa. The former compared people who dislike Mubarak to people who dislike a particular fuul cart without trying it out first: ignorant. (Not sure how 30 years of rule is not enough "trying" for her.) And the latter essentially came to dumb down the hundreds of pages long verdict to his viewers, impatiently, because he thinks some of them are not buying fast enough into the "protesters were killed by the Muslim Brothers and some rogue police officers who disobeyed orders" narrative. It should be noted that no one has made noise about even attempting to identify, yet alone prosecute, these officers.

Eissa then argues that if the police really did open fire on the protesters, then hundreds would have died (which they did), but only 239 died, according to the court (although the health ministry said 360) and five of them don't count as martyrs because they failed to get killed in the period between the 25th and 31th of January, 2011. This is period to which the revolution is limited as far as the court is concerned.

The reason behind this, Eissa explains, is the fact that the police had withdrawn its forces on the 31st (it was actually the 28th, but hey!) and so any protester that was killed afterwards couldn't have been killed by the police, who have already demonstrated an aversion to mutiny and lack the necessary civilian clothing to blend in crowds, of course.

Back to the total: 103 of the dead were found near the attacked police stations and so the court decided, and Eissa agreed, that they must all be thugs deserving of their deaths. That leaves us with 131 dead, 95 of which could not be identified and so will be excluded as well, leaving us with only 36 proper protesters dead, whose deaths can be split between narcissistic police officers, the Brothers and the crossfire between them. So if you really think about it, hardly anyone died and there is no reason to be mad at the police at all.

The most telling reaction, however, was Amany al-Khayat's (above). The OnTV host interviewed a Christian victim's relative ("to be sure he is not MB") and all but demanded that he repeats after her – he doesn't think the verdict warrants he joins forces with the MB, no? He will not take to the street with other families since that will simply result in more deaths, right? This begs the question: why does Amany al-Khayat seem to think protesting such a sure way of getting killed in Egypt?

Also lacking the self-awareness to realize he has said something that defeats rather than serves his purpose was former ruling party parliamentarian, diplomat and Mubarak advisor Mostafa al-Feky (above). In an attempt to paint an objective (and nicer) portrait of Mubarak, el-Feky revealed that he once received a phone call from him wondering what is all this talk about passing down the presidency to his son was about – something Mubarak said he would never do because he wants a normal life for his Gamal. "Why, then, do you let him steer the National Democratic Party's ship?" el-Feky asked. Mubarak answered saying that it was because he feared Gamal would emigrate and leave him behind in his old age if he doesn’t. Not only does al-Feky miss  the obvious nepotism and despotism here, but he also couldn't see anything beyond nostalgic amusement when he remembered the time he was banned from writing because he had written some "indirectly" critical column about Gamal.

That being said, al-Khayat's and al-Feky's lack of self-awareness combined doesn't come close to that of Gaber al-Karmouti and Amr Adeeb (above, left and right respectively). The two hosts were annoyed that Sisi said he would step down should the people ask him to because that is not how democracies work and he has a term to finish!  (In case you are wondering, yes, these two screamed the exact opposite argument during and after June 30.)

Embarrassingly though, what arguably sparked the most controversy this year was Reham Saeed's djinn special (above). The episode was about five young women, who were allegedly running around Tanta at night and convulsing (or pretending to convulse) uncontrollably, until Saeed arrived to tilt her big head at them and stand next to a former MP-turned-exorcist who read some Quran to them (in some special way that the 22 sheikhs their parents got before couldn't do) and freed them from demonic possession.

Interestingly, no public figure called in to ask Saeed to stop this charade, quite unlike when Wael al-Ibrashy attacked pro-MB sheikh Mahmoud Shaaban, who sounded surprisingly reasonable. Shaaban challenged people to produce the footage of him inciting violence rather than just call him a terrorist (here he is saying it was religiously acceptable to kill Morsi’s opposition because they were trying to topple him) and wondered why the police shot to kill rather than injure clearly unarmed protesters who were running away during the dispersals of the Rabaa and Nahda square sit-ins.

Having received one too many phone calls from public figures like the minister of endowments and Tamarod's Mahmoud Badr asking al-Ibrashy to kick him off the studio set due to his harmful effect on their blood pressure, Shaaban stalked off, while al-Ibrashy struggled to hide his smile – a smile so wide it rivaled Amr Adeeb's when he announced that the pro-MB Al Jazeera Mubasher Masr has been shut down.

Another interesting development is the mounting criticism of the formerly-unquestioned political thinker, veteran journalist, and all-around oracle Mohamed Hassanein Heikal. He was recently attacked by Mubarak's attorney, Farid el-Deeb, who accused him of fabricating history and suggested he retires like the senile old man that he is. The reason this is interesting is because el-Deeb wouldn't launch such an attacked without Mubarak's nod of approval, which is odd given that both Heikal and his groupie interviewer, Lamis el-Hadidi, are pro-regime.

One can only speculate that the sudden resentment towards Heikal is related to the corruption case against his son, which also includes his former business partners Gamal and Alaa Mubarak. Apparently, Heikal denied that his son had any connection to the Mubaraks or the charges – claims that el-Deeb found laughable, but that Sisi's chief aide and office manager summarized and sympathetically repeated to the attorney general in one of the recently leaked phone calls.

The new leaks also included generals discussing the forgery of documents necessary to legalize the detention of deposed president Mohamed Morsi, which prompted Amr Adeeb to scream that those who think Morsi should have been sent to a regular prison should go mouth off to Obama about Guantanamo Bay instead – as if Obama got away with it criticism-free. Because, you see, since Adeeb and his colleagues think that the military and Sisi's critics are all US government decision-makers or people who support them, only throwing back US policy at them will shut them up.