Once bitten, twice shy

Azza Sedky, Tuesday 8 Oct 2019

The recent cyberwar against Egypt, alleging all manner of falsehoods, should best be treated by Egyptians simply ignoring it, writes Azza Sedky

Egyptians have proven that their ultimate goal is stability, security and a better tomorrow. They listened to the hollers that came from beyond their borders calling for turbulence and confusion, and they ignored them, going about their daily business as though the calls were non-existent. Egyptians knew that had they listened to the cyber kerfuffle, nothing but pain and suffering would have ensued. They also knew that the goal behind this war was to pull Egypt down to a bottomless pit the country is slowly but surely inching out of. No, Egyptians proved to be wise and steadfast. As the saying goes, once bitten, twice shy.

The person who called for Egyptians to go to the streets is not our concern today; in the larger scheme of things, he doesn’t matter much. Our concern today is the war that was instigated on social media and pushed by Western media so as to instigate disruption and add fuel to a fizzling fire. 

The lies and deceit that enveloped social media about Egypt’s protests have no precedent. This was a moral catastrophe involving fraud, deception and culpability presented by media outlets that many may consider reliable, all while aiming to descend Egypt into chaos. Egyptians, though, uncovered the ploy. They went about matching photos with fake ones and comparing original videos to ones padded with shrieks and cries so to come across as though they were of protesters being harmed when they were footage of football match celebrations.

Aljazeera was forced to apologise, confirming that the footage of the Egyptian “revolution” broadcast dates to 2011, during the January Revolution. Even when it apologises, Aljazeera is set on its intent and calls the handful of protesters on the street a “revolution”.

Today, I’m more concerned with Western media, which followed suit. Publications did not verify or check the facts. They merely copied and pasted bias from Aljazeera, the Turkish Anadolu Press Agency, or uninformed sources, and continued the attack on Egypt. 

Even three weeks after the protests proved to be a flop, an article in a Western publication twists its presumptuous facts. Its headline reads, “Sisi’s great fear: The children of Egypt.” It then mentions that 111 children were arrested by security forces during the protests. 

Now, as a foreign reader, unaware of the facts, this seems like a horrendous matter. Arresting children? How horrifying! Funny though, it doesn’t say why111 children were among the protesters. Did the children have a clue what they were protesting against; were they out to play and have fun, or were they paid to add to the numbers? And why doesn’t the article continue the story? Shouldn’t the detention of these children be considered a means to protect them from harm? And are these children still in custody, or have their parents been called in and told to keep their children off the streets? 

Then it goes on to say that, “reports have also been circulating claiming that Egyptian security forces have been carrying out cyberattacks against activists.” What activists, Mr journalist? Activists don’t create thousands of fake accounts, all initiated in September 2019, so as to trend a vindictive hashtag.

A cyber war it was, with a premeditated objective: the devastation of Egypt. I personally had to report and block over 20 new followers, all having joined in September 2019. According to Facebook, it had to remove multiple accounts in what it termed “coordinated unauthentic behaviour” in Egypt.

Maybe media do not consider a cyber war a real war, but it is real if it intentionally calls for violence, threatens Egypt’s stability, and tries to deceive followers into reacting against a country. This cyber war had to be stopped. 

Other articles discuss how Egypt deported several foreigners who were found amidst the protesters: a Mauritanian student, two Jordanian “tourists”, a Sudanese, and others. The same went for the man from Amsterdam, Pieter Bas Habes, who was found recording videos of Tahrir Square with a drone from his hotel in Cairo. He was released but ordered to leave Egypt. Had these foreigners been arrested and charged, and then tried, the same media would have fended for them and lamented how Egypt is guilty of arresting innocent foreigners. You see, according to Western media, hardly ever does a westerner err.

This was the best approach: let their countries deal with them; they will never be allowed into Egypt again. In fact, Sufian Qudah, spokesman for Jordan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates, said that Egyptian authorities released the two Jordanians due to “intensive talks” and “fraternal relations” between Egypt and Jordan. 

Another article headline reads, “The Egyptian government is spying on journalists, politicians, activists and lawyers through smartphone apps in a coordinated cyberattack.”

I have never heard of apps that “spy” on users, but if there were ones, shouldn’t the user download the app first? 

These attacks that permeated cyberspace, had Egyptians not been shrewd about them, aimed at causing violence and mayhem. So, Egypt has to protect itself in every shape and form. It must identify assailants. As always, only half the picture is presented while the other side vanishes into thin air. 

After 25 January 2011, it took us months — maybe years — to realise Aljazeera’s, or later the Anadolu Agency’s, intent. We have come a long way since then, and distinguishing between friend and foe is child’s play today. Once bitten, twice shy. 

The cyberspace war will fizzle out as its manipulators come to realise it lost its appeal, and that Egyptians have become quite bored by the repetitive malicious tone. However, I doubt that mainstream media will ever get bored of finding fault with Egypt and its regime — which in itself is a truly sobering fact.

To retaliate, the best thing Egyptians can do right now is ignore both social and Western mainstream media. To spite these adversaries, Egyptians shouldn’t give them the time of day.

The writer is a political analyst. 

*A version of this article appears in print in the 10 October, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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