As EU envoy meets, Egypt wages war for public opinion

The battle for Egypt's future is being waged on multiple fronts, not the least of which is a struggle to control public opinion.

That fight played out again Tuesday, the day after European Union envoy Catherine Ashton met with deposed President Mohamed Morsi as part of a diplomatic effort to end weeks of bloodshed. After meeting with Morsi at a secret military location, Ashton said she had an "open and very frank discussion" with the former leader, whom she described as "well."

But the meeting was reported by Ahram Online, the website for Egypt’s largest state-owned newspaper, this way: “Informed sources [said] that Ashton's message to Morsi and his fellow Muslim Brothers would be one of 'concession.' "

Egypt has a long history of media manipulation by whoever is in power -- at the moment, the military, led by Gen. Abdel Fattah Sisi. Neither the army nor its opponents, Morsi’s Islamist loyalists, have felt the need to court the media. But in recent days, the military has invited reporters for helicopter rides to view massive pro-army rallies; and Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood movement -- its newspaper and television stations shuttered -- has resorted to tweets, social media and foreign news organizations to get its message out.

Morsi supporters pilloried Sisi in a Facebook graphic that depicted him knee-deep in a pool of blood and carrying a gun. The pro-military camp responded by challenging the Islamists’ piousness in posts showing bottles of whiskey purportedly found at the monthlong Brotherhood sit-in at Cairo’s Rabaa al Adawiya mosque.

One post sought to further vilify Islamists as agents of Israel -- the height of insult in the Arab world’s most populous country -- for allegedly permitting Jewish reporters to cover the mosque demonstration: “Israeli television salutes you straight from Rabaa Al Adawiya, with Jewish correspondents from the heart of the sit-in.”


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