Nine months ago, last July, when the army backed the people who took to the streets on 30 June and Al Sisi came out in all his glory reading the armed forces statement which included almost everything protesting Egyptians demanded at the time. A specific roadmap was announced and a temporary civilian president was instated. Al Sisi’s speech promised early presidential elections, amending the constitution, freedom of the media, and empowerment of the youth…among other things. And to curb our fears, the statement emphasised the armed forces’ desire to remain “aloof from politics”.
What am I going to tell my reporters?
Thursday ,03 April 2014
On that glorious day, several respected figures stood behind Al Sisi during his announcement, among which were the Al-Azhar Grand Imam, the Coptic Pope, Salafi leaders, youth representatives, and the then-democracy icon, Mohamed ElBaradei. Regardless of whether we agree with their direction or not, their appearance with Al-Sisi gave the statement credibility and a sense of calm to Egyptians.
Media outlets, especially foreign ones, called it a military coup. Other media outlets called it a revolution backed by the armed forces in the same manner that happened in the 25 January Revolution against Mubarak. And this begged the question in the Daily News Egypt’s newsroom: what would DNE call it?
A long heated debate went on. Regardless of their opposition to Morsi, many of DNE’s reporters saw it as a coup, their argument was that Morsi was an elected president removed by the power of the military… and that was that! Others compared the situation to the January revolution, when the interference of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces was not called a coup. The team went on arguing the details of the process that led to Morsi’s winning the presidency, with many pointing out that democracy is not just a ballot box, while others reminded them of the horrors Egyptians saw during the 2011 SCAF rule.
It fell on me to take a decision: We will not call it a coup, nor will we call it a revolution! We will avoid such terminologies. Why? Simply because of the millions who took to the streets demanding Morsi’s ousting, and because of the promises that came with Al Sisi’s statement along with those who stood behind him while he read it. A civilian president, who is also a judge (a much needed expertise at times like these) and early presidential elections, with media freedoms promised.
World governments and political experts were undecided on what to name it!
It was a tough call, especially since I was not 100% sure that SCAF was telling the truth of their intentions, given our history with them. The SCAF’s members, at the end of the day, are the same ones who ruled in 2011. With the exception of former Defence Minister Tantawi and the Chief of Staff Sami Anan (who were both sacked by Morsi), the rest are the same people who are responsible for the killing of hundreds and the detainment and torture of thousands in a year of turmoil following Mubarak’s ouster. They are also responsible for the scam elections (parliamentary and presidential) that brought Islamists to power in the first place. Even Al-Sisi himself was promoted by Morsi!
But again, the protests, roadmap, the promises, those figures that stood behind them gave the needed reassurance that the SCAF had learned from 2011 and would not get involved in the political process. So I took the decision: we will not call it a coup (nor a revolution). While objections flew in the newsroom, my argument was sound enough, in the end, to convince my team that this was the right call.
What made it even more convincing was the “clarification” we had to run after an interview with the armed forces spokesman, Colonel Ahmed Ali, that contained one question regarding the potential for Al-Sisi to run for president. That interview was translated to run in almost every Egyptian newspaper, with the headline of “Al Sisi will run for president”, although the spokesman hadn’t said anything to this effect. After some discussions with the colonel, we had to run a clarification assuring the public that this would not happen!
A few weeks later, and for the following months, Al Sisi and the armed forces and their media machines kept repeating over and over that Al Sisi (and the military) would not present or back any presidential candidate. So even when the Rabaa and Nahda sit-ins were violently dispersed followed by mass arrests, we were all hoping for an end to all the violence through the would-be civilian president who would soon be elected.
We waited and waited, shocked by the change in the roadmap: no “early” presidential elections. Shocked by the killings and the “war on terror” that somehow justified breaking all laws known to man; shocked at the silence of the judge who ruled the country; shocked at the media machine that kept brainwashing the public into believing that “all this is necessary” and that those who oppose it are traitors!
A couple of days ago, one of my reporters sadly asked me: Remember when you stood in the newsroom and insisted that it is not a coup?
For the first time, in a long time, I did not have a logical response nor any words to say.
I look around me and see students getting shot on their campus, journalists getting killed and detained, young women and men being tortured for distributing flyers, tens of thousands in detention facilities getting the worst treatment ever for daring to go out to protest.
And the military chief is running for president!
I remain speechless… what do I tell my reporters?