Egypt's army spokesman Colonel Ahmed Ali

Egypt’s army spokesman Colonel Ahmed Ali


Originally published in The Independent, 11 July 2013

As an army sniper crouched on the roof and trained his rifle on the demonstrators down below, every movement was being tracked on camera.

Not just by the dozens of amateur videographers standing among the Muslim Brotherhood supporters in the street. This time the military had its own cameraman – and he was standing just behind the soldier as he repeatedly fired his rifle into the crowd.

The scene, captured in footage taken during Monday’s massacre of at least 51 civilians in Cairo, encapsulates the army’s growing attempt to add its own spin to events. During the military rule which followed the toppling of Hosni Mubarak in 2011, it never appeared too concerned about burnishing its public image. That all changed after the arrival of General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the current army chief who was promoted by Mohamed Morsi last year.

Perhaps the most striking example of El-Sisi’s new approach was when, in an effort to persuade Mr Morsi to see sense during his final days in power, officials hired an Egyptian film director to record the mass protests from military helicopters. The videos were later shown to the embattled President – but were also leaked to opposition media to pile more pressure on the Egyptian leader.

In addition, El-Sisi appointed an official army spokesman. “I sense they are much more on top of the PR requirements,” said a Cairo-based British official.”

At press conferences this week, army officials have gone to great lengths to win over Western journalists critical of Monday’s massacre. Colonel Ahmed Ali, the army spokesman, told reporters his troops had been forced to kill protesters after being provoked.

“This is not what we were trained to do,” he said. “We were trained to fight and kill the enemy. But this is new. This is the first time in history that we find Egyptian people have guns and rifles and they are aiming them at the military.”