On October 14, I was invited to a conference called “Egypt´s first popular congress”, which was later renamed as the Cairo Media Forum. Behind the organization, there was a consulting company called Bureau Veritas, linked to the Egyptian Marine and operating in the country since 1971.
The fact that the invitation mentioned the need “to show international media the truth about Egypt” raised some immediate flags. Anyone claiming to show “the truth”, a mantra repeated by repressive regimes and their information arms, raises immediate flags. Reading the rest of the conference contents and the following emails it became quite clear that this was a pro-military, government-backed event to try to gain legitimacy for the current government of Egypt. Referring to the 2013 events as a second wave of the Egyptian revolution, highlighting “its peaceful means”, and mentioning the government´s needs to fight terror, made it all the more obvious. To make it even more appealing, the site opened to a huge banner of the 2011 uprising and the 2013 protests, together with beautiful photos of the Nile and the hotel where attendants would be staying.
However, I still thought it could be worth attending. Listening to the reasoning behind the military coup and trying to understand the arguments that have become quite popular among large segments of the Egyptian society seemed worth knowing more about. My views on the coup, which I have repeatedly described as the kidnapping of the revolution, just as many of my Egyptians friends and colleagues have as well, are no secret, so I found it amusing that they would invite me. My colleague from Eldiario.es and renown Spanish war correspondent Olga Rodríguez, who has also been very critical of the coup, was also invited.
The conference was postponed several times, as the organizers seemed to be struggling with the dates and logistics. When I finally received an email with a plane ticket, only three days before the beginning of the conference, it was already too late for me to attend. In addition to that, the ticket was for a different date than I had requested, so I informed the organization that I would not be attending.
The following morning – today -, Olga called me to tell me that I was highlighted as a speaker on the event´s website, next to the Egyptian Military´s General Staff Colonel and Spokesman Ahmed Mohammad Ali, Egyptian intellectuals known for supporting the coup such as writer Alaa al-Aswani, international political figures such as Bernard Kouchner, and a list of international journalists and political analysts. Evidently, I had never accepted to be a speaker at this event, and I have serious doubts that most of the people whose names have been posted on the website and used as a means to promote the conference, have either. Attending, listening, and reporting is one thing, very different from participating as a speaker, which I consider endorsing. And I am very cautious about the events that I endorse.
I was never offered to be a speaker to begin with, and neither had Olga, who had also had her profile highlighted on the conference ´s website days before. I never gave my consent for the organization to include my name, bio and photo – which I don´t know where they got from – either.
I am not sure what the conference organizers aim to achieve with this flimsy “marketing strategies”. If the purpose is to give the Egyptian government some much craved international legitimacy, is making international journalists and analysts aware of their clumsy manipulations the best way to do it? Making them angry by using them as bait in such an obvious way does not seem like a very good idea, even for blatant propaganda purposes.
If this event is a reflection of the current Egyptian government´s values and modus operandi, I have had my fair share of its manipulation efforts, without even having to set foot at the conference. I admit that now I am even more amused and intrigued about the content of the event and how it will be sold to international attendants, so if you are there, please share.
Also, do not miss Jack Shenker´s note on the conference and his experience with the Egyptian embassy in London.