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EGYPT: Mubarak Switches On Smear Campaign

Emad Mekay

CAIRO, Feb 3 2011 (IPS) - The regime of embattled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has unleashed a media campaign to discredit pro-democracy protestors. That comes on the back of a violent crackdown by his supporters.

State-run television stations are airing reports that the young people who started the protests on Jan. 25 demanding his ouster have been handpicked by Israel, and given training in the U.S. and Qatar on destabilising Egypt.

Mubarak’s regime has launched the campaign as the embattled president himself appeared in an interview on ABC television to declare he is “fed up” with ruling, and that he wants only to save Egypt from the Muslim Brotherhood and chaos.

The pro-government Mehwar TV aired an interview ( with a woman who identified herself as Shaimaa. The woman was shown to claim that she was given classes by Jewish and Israeli instructors in using the Internet against the government.

The woman’s voice and image were scrambled to hide her identify. The interview was re-broadcast on several pro-Mubarak TV stations, some of them owned by Egyptian businessmen allied with him.

The Mubarak regime has used similar tactics in the past to discredit his main opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood. He has often said that the Sunni group was being funded by Shia Iran, allegations the group denies.

The smear campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood seems to be working with large numbers. Many Egyptians, whose only source of information is the state media, are convinced the Muslim Brotherhood, which espouses a religious ideology different from the Shia Islamic brand, is an agent for Iran.

The woman described as Shaimaa was seen on state television as saying also that she was trained to act against Egypt by Freedom House, a Washington- based organization. She said she was paid 50 dollars a day to attend classes on tactics to overturn the ruling government in Egypt.

The woman presented on television made allegations that leaders of some political groups were paid 50,000 dollars each. She said those given training included members of the Muslim Brotherhood, Internet activists, and members of the groups April 6 and Kefya, all opponents of the regime.

The attempt to portray young Internet activists as agents of the Israeli Mossad appear to be working too, to an extent at least.

Several people told IPS they believed the young woman’s story, and said they believed the pro-democracy protesters did indeed work for Israel, Qatar and the U.S.

“Those nations do not want any good for us,” said Mohammed, owner of a barber shop in Minya el-Kamah, a small town northeast of Cairo. “Look at all the chaos in the country since they started demonstrating. It’s the foreigners who are doing all this.”

Ahmed, 18, there for a haircut, agreed. “All those who work for foreigners deserve all that happens to them. Instead of going to work and making money, they are wasting time sitting in squares against the government.”

One youth who spoke to IPS challenged such views. “Do you really believe those lies? Mubarak made us suffer for so long, and he is lying again. We should use our minds and not believe everything we hear. He wants to confuse the people.”

If confusion is what the current regime wants, it appears to be succeeding. The people that IPS spoke to who believed state television far outnumbered those who did not.

The same TV channel, Al Mehwar, broadcast an interview Thursday with Mohammed Hassan, an independent religious scholar from the Salafi movement. Unlike the political Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafi movement believes that Muslims must not challenge a Muslim leader or try to take charge from him.

The propaganda campaign has presented many interviews with businessmen allied with Mubarak. They all warn that without Mubarak Egypt will collapse. “Without Mubarak, all the economic benefits and achievements for this country will be lost,” one businessman told state-run television.

The government is now sending text messages in Arabic through local mobile phone companies, warning people against sabotaging the country.

One message reads: “O, you young people of Egypt, listen to the voice of reason and be warned of rumours. Egypt is above all”. Mubarak has always portrayed himself as the “voice of reason”.

Even movie channels now display the slogan ‘Protect Your Country’ alongside their logos on screen.

The state-run daily newspapers are portraying the onslaught on pro- democracy activists in Tahrir Square – by paid thugs, plainclothes police and common criminals – as a moment when “the real Egyptian people broke their silence.” Al Ahram Al-Massai newspaper ran the headline ‘Egyptians Break Their Silence’ to describe the arrival of pro-Mubarak groups.

Leading figures in the protest have been called “American agents”. Prime among those so described is former director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Mohamed ElBaradei. Al-Massai newspaper said Elbaradei had sent Iraq into “a dark tunnel that he wants Egypt to go into too.”

The Al-Awkaf ministry, which oversees more than 50,000 mosques in Egypt, has joined the campaign. The ministry has directed imams, who will lead the Friday prayers, to stress the need for “unity” and to implore the faithful not to engage in violence or protests.

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