On Monday General Adel Emara, a member of Egypt’s ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, held a nationally televised press conference to address accusations of army misconduct in the most recent series of clashes between security forces and street protestors camped outside of the Parliament building near Tahrir Square.
Emara’s performance, and that of his carefully selected audience, spoke volumes. Foreign correspondents were told that the conference was for local media only. One journalist who was in attendance told me that the room was stocked with people she recognised as employees of the State Information Service.
Emara’s goal was to fend off what amounts to dozens of Rodney King videos. On Friday and Saturday, uniformed army troops staged a series of assaults on civilian protestors that produced a veritable mountain of photographic and video evidence. Soldiers were filmed firing handguns into the crowd (something government officials repeatedly claimed never happened), launching extended group beatings on helpless civilians and throwing rocks from rooftops onto the crowd. The most iconic image — one that fronted newspapers around the world — was of the limp body of a female protestor being dragged down the street. The woman’s black abeya gown gets pulled over her head, exposing a blue bra, as a soldier stomps hard on her chest.
Regardless of the evidence, Emara remained defiant. He repeatedly blamed the protestors for inciting the violence by attacking soldiers Thursday night and threatening to destroy the Parliament building. The true villains, he claimed, were the usual cocktail of shadowy conspirators and complicit media provocateurs.
“There is a methodical and premeditated plot to topple the state, but Egypt will not fall,” said Emara. “The media is helping sabotage the state. This is certain.”
Several times, he actually praised the “self-restraint” shown by Egyptian soldiers in the course of their duties.
“The armed forces does not use violence systematically,” Emara said. “We exercise a level of self-restraint that others envy. We do not do that out of weakness but out of concern for national interests.”
It was, to put it bluntly, either completely shameless or completely delusional. At best it was evidence was what Cairo-based political analyst and blogger Issandr El Amrani likes to call, “The Egyptian Reality Distortion Field.”
According to Amrani, “The ERDF gives Egyptians, notably public officials, an uncanny ability to disregard what is plain for all to see and, with the utmost confidence, assure all comers of its opposite.”
Emara did acknowledge the aforementioned attack on the partially disrobed young woman, but said that observers “don’t know the full circumstances”. He never explained just what circumstances could justify a grown man stomping on a seemingly unconscious woman.
The Q&A session that followed was equally revealing. Most of the questions were either softballs or long-winded speeches — a common failing among Arab journalists. The only two difficult questions about the behaviour of Egypt’s army were generally shrugged off by Emara, who said all incidents were under investigation and the public would be informed of the results in due time.
In the end, Emara called for sympathy and support for the beleaguered Egyptian soldiers.
“These heroes from the army have our appreciation for what they are doing for the sake of the nation. They will be remembered by history,” he said. “They are the pride of this nation, the best soldiers on earth. May God protect Egypt and its people from strife and keep Egypt’s flag flying high.”
Incredibly, half the room erupted in applause at Emara’s closing statement, while the journalists in the front row visibly swiveled in the seats to see who was clapping.
Ashraf Khalil is a journalist and author of the forthcoming Liberation Square: Inside the Egyptian Revolution and the Rebirth of a Nation.