The battle of fictitious factshttp://www.economist.com/blogs/pomegranate/2013/08/egyptian-politics
TRUTH, so the saying goes, is the first casualty of war. At the hands of politicians, the truth can fare poorly in peacetime, too. Yet in Egypt, though the country is not at war, and normal politics is pretty much suspended since the army toppled an increasingly unpopular elected government last month, the truth is taking an unprecedented beating.
As massive sit-ins in the capital by supporters of the fallen president, Muhammad Morsi, enter their seventh week, polarisation between them and the non-Islamist factions now in power has produced starkly opposed narratives. To much of Egypt’s “liberal” press (read: media owned by the state or by pro-army tycoons), the protesters are a mix of terrorists, armed thugs and paid dupes of Mr Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood. The campers-out in two Cairo districts instead see themselves as heroes and martyrs in a modern-day Islamic epic, seeking to return Egypt to the rightful path. Their opponents are Zionist agents, Christian fanatics and fascist holdovers from the era of Hosni Mubarak, the tyrant toppled in the first phase of revolutionary turmoil, in February 2011.
But the divisions go much further than mere name-calling. Each side musters “facts” to support its cause. Mr Morsi’s supporters cite dubious polls to claim that some 69% of Egyptians back their campaign, despite abundant evidence that opinion is stacked in just about that proportion against them.
Brotherhood spokesmen loudly proclaim their adherence to democracy and universal human rights, even as their followers have attacked Coptic Christian villages and defaced churches with Islamist slogans. They seem to have forgotten, too, that the Brothers also ran roughshod over critics when they were in power.
Mr Morsi’s opponents point to footage showing Islamists wielding primitive firearms in clashes with the police to paint the protests as a dangerous and heavily-armed insurrection. Yet while security officials have denied that government forces also used guns, the sad truth is that some nine tenths of the 160 people killed since the July 3rd coup have been Islamists, often felled by high-velocity shots to the head and chest.
Amid the bitter disagreement, both sides concur in blaming outside forces for stirring up the trouble, and in particular America. A poster decorating the Brothers’ biggest encampment depicts Barack Obama as a wicked pharaoh, grasping dog leashes attached to the necks of General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, Egypt’s defence minister (who sports a Star of David kerchief) and of Mohamed ElBaradei, a prominent secular figure currently serving as vice-president. Countering pro-government images feature the American president lushly bearded in puritan Salafist style, reflecting America’s purported secret backing of the Brotherhood.
Just why the Americans should sponsor the Brothers is never made very clear. By one pro-army account, it is to foment Egypt’s division into weak mini-states, so as to further Israeli expansion. But Mr Obama is also accused of having a secret agenda to recreate a pan-Islamic caliphate under Brotherhood rule. In return, Mr Morsi is said to have offered to sell the Sinai peninsula to Israel or perhaps to Mr Obama, and to grant military bases to the Pentagon.
Egypt’s clouds of invective obscure even straight-forward news events, such as an air strike that killed four alleged jihadists in the Sinai on August 9th. Government spokesmen first said that an Israeli drone had carried out the strike, which occurred 5km (3 miles) inside Egypt’s border as the militants prepared to fire a missile at the Jewish state. But they later said they were checking the facts, before concluding that an Egyptian army helicopter had made the hit. Islamists gleefully condemned Egypt’s military for collaborating with the Zionist enemy, while pro-government commentary blasted the Islamists for encouraging jihadists to frolic on Egyptian soil in the first place.
Whichever narrative they choose to follow, many Egyptians agree on one likely truth: Egypt’s division will not end soon, or end well.