Kazeboon fights state media lies in Egypt with grassroots screenings
A woman is being dragged along the street, kicked by military officers. Her head has fallen back and her abaya ripped open, exposing an electric blue bra. It is an image that has been seen around the world - a potent symbol for the turmoil Egypt faces post-revolution, and evidence that the transition government was sanctioning violence.
After Egypt's military, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), took control of the country in February 2011, violence against civilian demonstrators escalated. Protesters and journalists were attacked and killed, and the offices of civil society organisations raided. The Egyptian state media was merely acting as a mouthpiece for the SCAF, unfailingly portraying them as great state protectors, and the demonstrators as trouble-seekers wanting to spread unrest.
Most Egyptians got their news from free state television. Ramy Shaath, a member of political party; the Revolutionary Forces Alliance (RFA) told the Daily News Egypt: “Polls show that the majority of Egyptians do not know the truth and another majority believes in the ‘third party phenomenon’ [the idea that the violence stems from an unknown foreign-funded third party] and the smear campaigns against activists or peaceful demonstrators who are calling for their rights.”
So, what can be done at grassroots level to spread alternative information and break the state's monopoly on how events are reported?
Historically, in situations where the press is heavily censored, activists often become resourceful guerilla media-makers. In the post-Stalin Soviet Union, for example, 'samizdat' – the covert copying and person-to-person distribution of censored literature – was a vehicle for spreading ideas and inspiring dissident thinking. In Apartheid-era South Africa, similar underground activity took place. In the lead-up to the 1979 Iranian revolution, sermons by exiled religious leader and politician Ruhollah Khomeini denouncing the corruption and injustice of the Shah's regime were smuggled into the country on cassette tapes.
In Egypt, the RFA used a bed sheet and video projector to publicly screen, all over the country, videos showing police and military brutality. Their campaign, '3askar Kazeboon' (Military Liars), takes its name from a headline in the independent newspaper Tahrir. The piece in question featured the now-iconic photograph of the woman in the blue bra alongside the word 'liars', after the military claimed that officers had been exercising self-restraint with regard to protesters.
“Every time we see people’s reaction, it motivates us," said Shaath. "These people have long been denied the truth and they are curious to know.”
Often it takes only one image to communicate the truth. We all remember the photograph of young Khaled Said's mangled face because it told a hard-to-ignore story about the Mubarak regime. The 'woman with the blue bra' gave us the equally-disturbing truth about Egypt's armed forces.
Using visual evidence, the Kazeboon campaign was able to present a counter-story, and mobilise support from those who might have been lulled into thinking that the revolution had finished.
The most powerful weapon of egypt's ruling generals: state TV, Time World, 2012.
The battle for public space: squares and streets of the Egyptian Revolution, Ahram Online, 2012.
A year in the life of Egypt's media: a timeline, Jadaliyya, 2012.
The Mosireen Collective document human rights violations and testimonies from human rights defenders in Egypt.