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On Shifting Ground: Tensions High As Egypt Names New PM

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TRNN Cairo correspondent Jihan Hafiz describes tense mood in Egypt after massacre, excessive force by military leaves many in denial of army’s past human rights record.

Jessica Desvarieux, TRNN Producer: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
On Monday, deadly clashes between the army and pro-Morsi supporters left more than 50 people dead and 300 people wounded. Details of how the clashes began are still unclear, but The Real News had our correspondent Jihan Hafiz on the ground. Jihan is a reporter and producer for The Real News, and she joins us now from Cairo.

Thanks for being with us, Jihan.

Jihan Hafiz, TRNN Correspondent: Thanks for having me, Jessica.

Desvarieux: So, Jihan, give us an assessment of what the mood is like on the ground here a day after the clashes and what sort of details were you able to uncover?

Hafiz: Yes. Well, the mood on the streets yesterday when I woke up was very tense. You could feel it in the air when I went out to the street to try to get to the site of the massacre. It was a Monday, and a Monday in Egypt, in Cairo, two days before the holy month of Ramadan, usually it’s packed on the streets with women, children, people shopping for food, for gifts for the holy month. It’s usually sometimes the busiest time of the year for the marketplaces. And where I was, where I was staying, it was completely empty. And I was the first sign that the country was really bracing for something intense to take place. You know, people were really on edge. And you could see it in just basic conversations people were having with each other, people shopping. It would take something very small for someone to snap. And so the mood has been very tense on the streets. A lot of the stores—actually, it seemed as though it was already Ramadan. Everything was closed. It seemed as though it was Ramadan during the time of breaking the fast everyone goes into each. All the stores that used usually make the big sales were closed. And today the same thing. A lot of people didn’t are not going out, aren’t not, and you know, buying things for the holy month, because I think lots of people are scared. A lot of people are worried. And it doesn’t have to do with the fact that there are protests happening. There are no protests happening at the moment. There are two major citizens that are taking place in time for your square still closed. But this is proof that shows you the paranoia and the fear that this comment that the massacre yesterday has created for everyone in the country is the only thing on people’s minds. It’s the only thing anyone’s talking about. You can hear it on the streets in conversations on the metros. So I think people are really tense and they are waiting for the next political move this to happen. They’re waiting to see what the Brotherhood does and how they respond. I think people are scared because they understand that it’s not only violence coming from the irony or from the parties who are engaged in in demonstrations at the time, but there is also it seems to me now a culture of violence that’s being cultivated on the streets that people are becoming frustrated and they’re abusing this political situation to sort of retaliate in their own ways.

Desvarieux: So you were on the streets yesterday. You actually were by the barracks where the clashes took place and went to visit a morgue, and you shot a bunch of video. Can you just set up for us what we’re about to see?

Hafiz: Yes. Well, we went to the—we tried to access the—get to the site of the where the clashes took place, the Republican Guard, yesterday, about two hours after it happened. And we were stopped by the military, who were hostile toward us and accusing us of airing lies, calling us Al Jazeera, which we are not. So we have press IDs from the Egyptian government saying that we work for Real News. And they wouldn’t let us in. And they argue about how we’re going to cover this and that we are and time military and supporting the Brotherhood. So we were blocked from getting in, and our camera was taken away temporarily from entering the hospital. And then we tried again two hours later to get in, and we finally got in on the other side of the city and where the pro-Morsi supporters have been staging sit-ins for the past almost a week now. And, it was very—lots of anger, lots of frustration, lots of confusion at the sit-in. People were generally—at the sit-in they weren’t hostile toward us. They were nice. They welcomed us in. They seem to despise the Egyptian media. They were happy that we were foreign media, that we weren’t—’cause the Egyptian media now, it’s been—you know, it’s a media war here. It’s not just the clashes on the street or what’s going on back and forth politically. There is also a media war taking place with the independent media here sort of spewing hateful rhetoric at times about pro-Brotherhood supporters and as it’s been reported and as it happened, as it’s continuing to happen, a lot of the Islamist stations and newspapers have been shut down. So this is—some of the video that we’re about to watch now is reactions that I’m describing and what was being said at the rally. You had also a lot of English speakers at the main stage, you know, trying to hone in on the fact that there were foreign media there and get their message across. It was obviously a different contrast to what’s happening in. In your seeing this is not a coup, this is a revolution, it’s not a coup, whereas actually at the Morsi sit-in you’re seeing a lot of images where it says this is a military coup, they killed the revolution. So here’s some of that video right now.

Desvarieux: Great. Let’s take a look.

So being that you are working for a foreign news agency, what is it like there on the ground? Are people receiving you with open arms?

Hafiz: It depends. There’s lots of xenophobia right now about foreigners being in the country and the foreign media in general. In Tahrir Square, for example, there’s lots of posters and lots of rhetoric anti-CNN, anti-Al Jazeera. On the streets, for example, when they know we foreign media, they accuse us immediately of being Al Jazeera and we get heckled at almost mobbed in some situations. And we tried to access the Republican Guard when we tried to get to the sit-in from the army side, we were actually stopped by the army and accused of being Al Jazeera, although we gave them our press IDs which are from the Maspero, the government’s information building, and it says we work for Real News. But they kept accusing us of being Al Jazeera and supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. And these are army soldiers. You know, these aren’t protesters. So, you know, the anti-Al Jazeera rhetoric that’s happening is very strong here in Egypt. And also anti-CNN, cause there’s lots of anger toward the US, the Obama administration right now for siding with the Muslim Brotherhood and for taking forever to come out in making a statement regarding what happened during Morsi’s ouster. So, you know, it depends on where you are here. You know, being foreign media at the anti-Marcy demonstrations has been—they’ve been welcoming and they’ve bought the foreign media there to cover them. They want the world—you know, I think they’re using the foreign media also to show, you know, the Democratic world outside is going to support us in a process that we engaged interest by their opinions Democratic as well, that we are in top rear it’s different. There’s a different vibe there. We were covering, you know, from the past two years from the revolution up until now recently but a couple of months back and, you know, as the months went on, it became more and more difficult as a foreign journalist to to cover the events that are taking place entire career within the revolution, mainly because of paranoia, sometimes there are, I believe, government-paid thugs that come in to harass the media. You know, a lot of foreign female journalists here face risks working with camera gear because people accuse them of being spies and whatnot. But I think, you know, over time the media has played a major role in what’s happened on the ground, actually. There’s a media war happening here. It’s not only the political—the clashes on the street or the political back-and-forth that’s happening. It’s also a media war within the country. And that’s not just because—not just in the realm of the foreign media, but in the Egyptian state media and independent media as well. There’s been lots of hatred spewing back-and-forth about both sides. You know, there’s not that many Islamic stations running now or pro-Morsi stations. A lot of them have been shut down immediately after Morsi was ousted. So, you know, there’s lots of accusations of them being al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda has penetrated Egypt, and they were at the sit-in, and the people who died, you know, it was either they died then or they blow themselves up. You know. So there’s lots of—and this is being repeated on the streets, you know. This is being repeated on the streets. The military does engage in excessive force in responding to demonstrators. You know, Real News covered the Maspero massacred during the military councils era where they murdered 30 people. They mowed some of them down with their takes, and they shot other ones to death. And like it was recently, they shot them in the back cause they were running. Abbassia last year, as the military was about to give power to the elections, they killed people. They shot at them. They violently dispersed squares. You know, the military’s been engaged in a number of different human rights violations which have not only been documented by journalists but by human rights organizations. So by—and not the—even in Tahrir Square, people are familiar with this. They know the military has engaged in excessive force. But, you know, they gave a press conference yesterday, and there wasn’t any mention of those who were killed and how they were killed and why. And there’s lots of videos online right now circulating of army officers shooting into the crowd. And some of the video you saw there, that’s obvious those are bullet holes that were shot into the walls. And you can see it going through poles. Those aren’t buckshot. That’s bullet holes. So—and also bullets that you saw in that video as well, they say the Republic of Egypt on them. So that also comes from the Egyptian army. There’s no, you know, way about that. But on the streets, you know, people are saying, that’s outrageous, the Egyptian military would never opened fire on their own people, they—you know, the Muslim Brotherhood, they Photoshop these images in. These are the exact same responses that happened during the Maspero massacre. There’s a video of the army mowing down people with their tanks. And when you ask people on the streets the next day, they would say, oh, no, no, the Coptic Christian voters shot the army in doing these things. So there’s lots of dilution. There’s lots of confusion. The rumors are fueling all this tension right now. You know, what happened on the street in what’s being said and the way things are developing. Politically, it has tremendous effect on how people are feeling right now, on how people are reacting on a daily basis, on how they view the Muslim Brotherhood. And so the media I think, has been tremendous factor in how things are developing here and how people are reacting as result of coverage.

Desvarieux: Let’s talk about the most recent political development. They have named a new interim president. His name is Hazem Al Beblawi. Jihan, he’s being looked at as a compromise. Jihan, would you label him as that, a compromise for Egyptian society?

Hafiz: I would have to see. Hazem Al Beblawi, he was the finance minister during Essam Sharaf’s regime, which lasted, I think, four or five months during the military council’s transitional period. He resigned, actually, during the Maspero massacre when the army was accused of killing 30 Coptic Christians, you know, in an hour. So when he resigned, that was seen—a lot of revolutionaries in Tahrir Square supported that. They saw that as a sign of being on their side. And he supports the free markets. He has been—he was part of the UN for a while. And the reason I think that they compromised with him as opposed to someone else—’cause actually there was another—this is what I mean. Things change so quickly in Egypt. Literally an hour before Beblawi was announced as finance minister—excuse me, the prime minister, an hour before, there was someone named Samir Radwan, who was also a former finance minister, who was going to be announced prime minister. And then 24 hours before that it was Mohamed ElBaradei, the liberal—one of the liberal heads of the opposition, one of the most well-known, actually. And the reason that didn’t happen was because the Nour Salafist party was not having it. You know, Mohamed ElBaradei he’s been a major figure in the opposition for the past couple of years, actually, even prior to the revolution. But I think he made—because he made comments afterwards, after Morsi was ousted, about the Muslim Brotherhood, supporting the arrests of their heads, justifying it in many ways, and saying and sort of accusing the Islamist parties of fueling unrest in the country, that really didn’t sit well with the Salafist party. So they refused him to be the Prime Minister. And I think also having him—putting Beblawi in as prime minister, because he was the finance minister, this is going—and he also worked in the UN. I’m not sure of his post right now, but I know he had a high post in the UN. This is seen as a positive thing, because Egypt’s [incompr.] crisis also as the economy, you know, the pound drops constantly. There’s—these are bread-and-butter issues. So having someone who was a finance minister was reassuring, I think, for a lot of Egyptians who are struggling right now as a result of the—you know, the faltering economy, but also for the international community, the international markets that are looking at Egypt to see how they formulate this new government and what comes from that. They also [incompr.] constitutional decree where there will be elections in the next six months. The amendments are up for change. I believe right now the—actually, as we speak, the National Salvation Front is working with the rebel campaign to decipher which amendments and make that happen. So things are fluid here in Egypt. They’re literally changing by the hour. I can have this conversation with you now, and then within the next couple of hours or half-hour something completely changes. And that’s sort of the situation and the environment that we’re in right now. It’s very fluid. It’s happening fast. And people are—I think they don’t have enough time to process what’s happening. And that’s why tensions are also very high.

Desvarieux: Okay. Well, we look forward to getting your updates. Thank you so much for your coverage, Jihan.

Hafiz: Thank you for having me.

Desvarieux: And please be safe.

And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

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