Veritas, the Egyptian embassy in London, and hasbara on acid - a quick primer (and email transcript) on #Egypt's growing propaganda wars.
A bit of background context: Since former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi was overthrown in June 2013 by the military following popular protests against the Brotherhood's rule, a full-scale propaganda war has been brewing between supporters and opponents of the coup. Amid many acts of violence - including insurgency-like attacks on state institutions, especially in Northern Sinai, incidents of sectarianism, and a series of exceptionally brutal massacres by government security forces that have killed hundreds of pro-Brotherhood protestors (and some journalists) - both sides have tried to promote their competing 'revolutionary' narratives to shape popular understanding of recent events in the international arena (I've put 'revolutionary' in inverted commas there for a reason; most of the revolutionaries that I know and politically sympathise with rightly reject both such disinformation efforts).
Pro-Brotherhood organisations, despite facing a concerted crackdown within Egypt's borders, have been particularly slick on this front - the MB now has a full media office in London, and affiliates like the @IACPDA have taken out full-page anti-junta adverts in major global newspapers (https://twitter.com/hackneylad/status/390138592040726528). For its part, Egypt's military government has employed the services of a top Washington lobbying outfit (http://www.dailynewsegypt.com/2013/10/27/foreign-ministry-reveals-anonymous-third-party-relationship-us-lobby-firm/) and stuck aggressively to a 'war on terror' tagline in an attempt to explain its periodic bloodbaths.
The latest salvo comes in the form of a conference organised in Cairo for next month by a mysterious organisation calling itself The Egyptian Council for Democracy Support (its website - http://egcods.org/ - doesn't work). The conference is called Veritas and unlike its organisers it does have a working website (http://veritasegypt.com/), one that showcases a wide array of speakers that, as @eldahshan points out, serves as a roll-call of both loyal Mubarakists and former revolutionaries. To anyone familiar with Egypt's twists and turns in the past three years, the information on the Veritas website all points to this being a distinctly pro-geish affair - from the buzzwords used on the homepage right down to the choice of accommodation for conference guests (Cairo's al-Masah hotel and spa, owned and run by... the armed forces).
So far, so predictable. But the only reason I bring all this up, apart from my seemingly insatiable passion for procrastination, is that it's fuelled yet another bout of bizarre behaviour from everyone's favourite contemporary court jesters, the Egyptian embassy in London. For those not subscribed to updates from these diplomatic delegates of mirth, have a look back at some of their past press releases, like this one (http://t.co/1PmymbgqwW) - which comically claims there have been no politically-motivated arrests in Egypt since June 30th. There are more humdingers here:
Today, four hours after receiving an email invite to the Veritas conference from Dr Anas Fawzy, Chair of EGCODS - an email on which Mrs Sohair Younis, Press Counsellor at Egypt's London embassy, was cc-ed - I received a follow up email from Mrs Younis herself, exhorting me to respond to the invitation and explaining that all expenses (flights, accommodation and food) were to be generously covered on my behalf. Presuming (not unreasonably?) that the Egyptian government and diplomatic service was therefore officially involved in this event, I asked Mrs Younis for further details. This is what followed:
From Mrs Younis to Jack Shenker, 11:51
Regarding the following invitation, kindly confirm your attendance to allow the organizers to send you the air ticket and confirm your accommodation. It is full board visit covered by one of the Egyptian NGO " Egyptian Council for Democracy Support" www.veritasegypt.com
For more details contact me
Sohair H. Younis
299 Oxford Street, W1C2DZ London
From Jack Shenker to Mrs Younis, 15:39
Dear Mrs Younis,
Many thanks for the message - unfortunately I won't be able to make the conference, and have already emailed my apologies to Dr Anas. Out of interest, what involvement does the Egyptian embassy in London have with this event?
Many thanks and all the best,
From Mrs Younis to Jack Shenker, 15:52
Thank you for your reply, In fact the Egyptian Embassy has no relation with this event . But some of the British Journalists called me to make sure that it is serious invitation and they were asking about more details and contacts in Cairo.I have called ECDS in Cairo to send me the details.
Sohair H. Younis
299 Oxford Street, W1C2DZ London
From Jack Shenker to Mrs Younis, 16:04
Many thanks Mrs Younis. Just to clarify - the Egyptian embassy has no relation to the event, and yet you sent out an email to London-based journalists earlier today asking them to confirm their attendance at the conference and also explaining the flight and accommodation arrangements? Despite the fact that you don't yet have the conference details? Is it normal practice for the embassy to do that regarding conferences in Cairo that have nothing to do with the embassy?
All the best, Jack
From Mrs Younis to Jack Shenker, 16:31
Its an event in my country, even if we are not the organizers it is part of our duty to forward the information if required and to reply to the pressmen regarding any events in Egypt,I think your embassy in Cairo do the same thing with NGO's.
From Jack Shenker to Mrs Younis, 16:38
Many thanks for the clarification.
Why the embassy - and the Egyptian government for that matter - puts itself through such tortuous and farcical verbal somersaults when the truth (that this is a pro-military, government-backed event) is neither surprising nor particularly shocking, remains a mystery. Perhaps it has something to do with the inherent absurdities of authoritarian rule, and the hoops through which those paid to defend such a system are forced to jump through in order to preserve a facade of impenetrable logic. Perhaps it's just a humourous scheme cooked up by bored bureaucrats who are all shaking with laughter right now at the rest of us and congratulating themselves on their somewhat abstract pranks. Either way the whole brouhaha has wasted a pleasant hour or two of my day and saved me from working on my very behind-deadline book, and for that I'm grateful. And for the record, although I sadly won't be there to enjoy it, I hear the (Egyptian/American taxpayer funded?) breakfast buffet at al-Masah hotel and spa is divine.