Experts criticize ‘irresponsible’ Al Jazeera investigation of anti-Morsi activists’ ties to U.S.
Al Jazeera published an investigative report on Wednesday that purportedly reveals how the United States bankrolled activists and “senior Egyptian opposition figures” who helped topple Mohamed Morsi.
The article used former police officer Omar Afifi Soliman as a prominent example, describing how he received tens of thousands of dollars as part of the millions the US spent on “democracy promotion” in Egypt.
Soliman officially used the money for “pro-bono legal advice,” but repeatedly incited the public against the government: in June, he told his followers on Facebook to attack Morsi supporters “by smashing their knee bones first,” Al Jazeera reported.
But Al Jazeera’s article, which was promoted by the Muslim Brotherhood itself and has received thousands of shares, was criticized on Twitter for skewing what some say is a radically different situation.
Bassem Sabry, an Egyptian blogger, was scathing:
Quality of journalism & analysis in this Aljazeera article comes second to when my pet used to wipe its paws on paper http://t.co/kyTYDyCPYk
— Bassem Sabry باسم (@Bassem_Sabry) July 10, 2013
Experts also told The Daily Caller that while some of Al Jazeera’s reporting was indeed correct, the overall framing was highly misleading.
Adel Iskandar, an Arab media scholar at Georgetown University, said the investigation used shaky examples to make its case: for instance, Omar Afifi Soliman, the former police officer featured in the article, “is hardly taken seriously by revolutionary groups in Egypt.”
“His somewhat megalomaniacal pronouncements taking credit for toppling Mubarak on Facebook, cited in this article as evidence, are a source of comedic relief and satire for television shows like Bassem Youssef’s Elbernameg (fashioned after the Daily Show),” said Iskandar.
Iskandar said that while Al Jazeera’s attempt to “follow the money trail” of U.S. democracy-promotion programs was worthwile, the report wrongly assumed that the “peanuts” spent on these had any noticeable effect on Egypt’s massive demonstrations on June 30.
Such an assumption, Iskandar said, would be like saying that “the US government is funding Superman in Egypt.”
Other experts also agreed that Al Jazeera’s coverage was disingenuous.
“U.S. money ends up in the hands of all sides (especially the military), so to depict the protests and overthrow of Morsi as some sort of U.S.-funded plot is inaccurate and irresponsible,” said Anand Gopal, a fellow at the New America Foundation.
Stephen McInerney, executive director at the Project on Middle East Democracy, said the article had a “conspiratorial bent,” since there is no evidence the U.S. funded the main anti-Morsi movement called “Tamaroud,” meaning “rebellion.” McInerney, who was cited in Al Jazeera’s article, also noted that both sides in Egypt have accused each other of being backed by the United States.
Embattled Egyptian NGOs are also worried the article will fuel accusations of conspiracy towards their organizations, which have already been harassed by courts. Hafsa Halawa, a member of the National Democratic Institute, tweeted:
Jazeera article is: viral on social media, already picked up by ikhwan. Likely tmw will see an Arabic translation in egypt. Very dangerous.
— Hafsa Halawa (@HafsaHalawa) July 10, 2013
Al Jazeera has been criticized for its allegedly pro-Brotherhood coverage before; in some circles it is known as Al Jazeera “Ikhwan,” the Arabic word for “Brotherhood.” On Monday, 22 employees of its Egyptian branch reportedly resigned due to the network’s “biased” coverage.
But Al Jazeera has also faced heavy repression after Egypt’s first democratically-elected president was ousted in a military coup. One of its Cairo stations was occupied by authorities, and several other pro-Morsi journalists have been detained and harassed.
Some are reporting that a “media war” is taking place in Egypt, with different stations duking it out as the country faces increasing violence after 51 Morsi supporters were killed by the military on Monday.