An Egyptian TV commercial warning of false reporting on the country’s mass protests has drawn criticism by political experts as being an “anti-Tahrir Square” propaganda tool of the country’s intelligence services.
The advert, recently broadcast on state television, shows an Egyptian man telling someone on the phone about the then current state of protests in Tahrir Square, the iconic birthplace of the uprising that ultimately led to the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak last year.
“It’s only slightly busy,” the man says in the advert. But the person at the other end of the line is seen to immediately pick up a phone he has in his other hand and pass on the message, in an exaggerating tone: “the Square is full to the brim.”
Then, seemingly in “Chinese Whispers” fashion, the call is received by a third man who is seen sitting at his computer in a dark, ominous room. He types a few sentences, which appear to be posted on a social networking site: “Help us! The country is engulfed!”
Part of the ‘undeclared coup?’
While many online commentators have ridiculed the advert for its lack of depth and implications about how Egyptian anti-regime activists enjoy spreading rumors, analysts have said that it is part of an anti-Tahrir smear campaign on a wider political level.
“It is consistent with an anti-Tahrir, anti-change campaign launched recently,” says Dr. Omar Ashour, Director of Middle East Studies at the University of Exeter, adding that it is the Egyptian military intelligence, general intelligence and state security (now renamed national security apparatus) that have instigated this propaganda and are most likely behind the ad.
Ashour says that this “smear campaign” also featured an Egyptian government decree last week that empower the military intelligence forces and police personnel, attracting mass condemnation of the ruling military council.
On Wednesday, the military was granted the power to “arrest civilians on charges as minor as traffic disruption and insulting the head of state,” Ashour noted.
“[The government has also] dissolved the [Islamist-majority] parliament, preventing MPs from entering it, formed a constitutional declaration making the military a state within a state,” he said adding that this has empowered the military to form the constitutional assembly and veto any article they do not like and retain the legislative power of the parliament.
“It looks like an undeclared coup, lacking communiqué no. 1 and with legal framing from constitutional court judges,” he added.
Meanwhile, the advertisement, which is part of a series of commercials highlighting the risk of both foreign and local political intervention during the uprising have shown that the intelligence and security services continue to “promote and rely on xenophobia to maintain the status-quo,” he said.
Another advert, which was pulled earlier this month due to its controversial nature, warned a talkative Egyptian public to be wary of foreigners who could be spies in disguise.
A Cairene blogger, who writes as Zeinobia, said the advert appeared to evoke the case of Ilan Grapel, an Israeli-American who was detained by Egyptian authorities last year after appearing in Tahrir Square and accused of spying for Israel by “inciting sedition, spreading rumors and urging protesters toward friction with the armed forces and to commit acts of violence.”
Meanwhile, another advertisement, which uses the same sinister narration to warn Egyptians not to share information online, on the chance it is used by foreign spies against Egypt, has led to some speculation that Egypt’s still-powerful intelligence service might have been behind the adverts, supporting Ashour’s view.
In this case, The New York Times’ Robert Mackey referred to the “depiction of disgruntled young people and Internet activists as unwitting dupes of a foreign power” which would ultimately angry a post-revolutionary Egyptian audience.