SCAF generals stick to the script in rare TV interview


Egyptian soldiers square off against demonstrators in Cairo, July 2011.


Gigi Ibrahim

CAIRO – As the army faces mounting criticism for excessive force that killed 27 people in violent demonstrations last week, two members of Egypt’s military ruling council went on live television to defend themselves Wednesday.

In a program that riveted Egypt, two prominent journalists asked valid questions of the generals, as did members of the public invited to submit them by email. The problem was, for the most part the generals failed to answer.

The popular talk show “The 10 P.M. Show” which broadcasts live on the independent Egyptian network, Dream TV, immediately lit up Egypt’s active Twitter community with comments.

The two generals, Mohammed Al Assar and Mahmoud Hegazi, seemed at times to literally be reading from a script, referring to “enemies of the revolution” and “infiltrators” and “conspirators” as the ones responsible for the violence.

At one point, an exasperated television host, Mona El Shazly, asked, “Who are these people? This phrase ‘conspirators’ and ‘invisible hands’ are used all the time. But who are they?”

It was a question that went unanswered.

Hegazi said there would be an independent fact finding commission and if that commission concluded that the army is to be blamed “that the military will admit it and take responsibility.”

The other journalist, Ibrahim Issa, asked of the commission, “What do you mean by independent?

Al Assar said it is comprised of judges, lawyers and other specialists, but failed to point out that they are all appointed by the military.

Many of the deaths of the civilians during the rioting that took place on October 9 in front of the Ministry of Information, commonly known as “Maspiro,” were caused by the driver of an armored personnel carrier (APC).

“The soldier driving the APC watched his fellow soldiers being dragged out of their APCs and attacked and other APCs being set ablaze. He thought he would face the same fate. He panicked and tried to get away,” General Al Assar said.

Mona Makram Ebeid, who is running for the Upper House of Parliament in the largely Coptic neighborhood of Shoubra, was asked what she thought of the television event and whether she felt it answered the questions of Copts. Twenty-six of the 27 victims were Copts who were demonstrating against the police inaction in a case in which a Christian center in Upper Egypt was burned.

“I don’t represent Copts, I represent Egyptians,” she said, adding that she felt the generals did not answer the questions of Egypt.

She said, “People are hurt. You have to answer them differently. You have to answer their pain, their grief.”