The commonly perceived role of a country’s intelligence service is to provide timely and relevant information in order to assist its army commanders in warfare, but for Egypt’s Mukhabarat Askariya (Military Intelligence) there’s a different set of priorities.
Leaked recordings of phone calls made by Captain Ashraf el-Kholi, a mid-ranking officer in the much-feared Military Intelligence (MI) emerged earlier this week.
In them, el-Kholi is heard instructing a number of talk-show hosts and TV personalities on what they must say in the wake of President Donald Trump’s controversial Jerusalem decision.
Let the viewers know that “concessions must be made” he instructs them, “if we reach an agreement where Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, and Ramallah is the capital of Palestine… then so be it”.
In a second series of recordings, el-Kholi is heard telling a well-known talk-show host what he must tell his viewers about former prime minister and potential presidential candidate, Ahmed Shafik.
“Don’t attack him now….but if he (Shafik) doesn’t follow our orders, then we will curse his forefathers,” el-Kholi said.
Aside from supporting the illegal occupation of Jerusalem and attempting to rig the elections, these tapes give us an insight into the workings of those currently in power in Egypt.
The fact that a mid-ranking officer is tasked with essentially spoon-feeding TV personalities on what to say and how to say it shows just how tightly Egypt’s military rulers control the media.
In Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s Egypt, it’s not enough to simply support his policies, or ignore his crimes; public figures are expected to regurgitate his government’s propaganda.
The language used by Captain el-Kholi when instructing those on the other end of the line further enforces this.
The recipients all appear to be subservient; they do not question nor discuss what he asks of them, while el-Kholi’s words are those of a commander, demanding from his subordinates tasks to be carried out knowing that they will not answer back.
In the second set of leaks, el-Kholi criticises Shafik for thinking for himself. “As you know Shafik is acting based on his own thinking,” he says, something that is criminal in 2018 military-run Egypt – especially because the country is gearing up for presidential elections.
These tapes are an admission that the upcoming poll is nothing more than a farce. No one is allowed to challenge el-Sisi for the top job, not even a fellow anti-revolution army general such as Shafik.
The language used by el-Kholi is revealing; ignoring any respect for superiority and rank, he refers to Shafik in an extremely disrespectful way that would at any other time or place result in him being court-martialled.
But this isn’t any other time or place. In today’s Egypt it is the MI who rule supreme, the security apparatus that el-Sisi headed before he took power answers to no one but him, and he, in turn, trusts no one but them.
For those who oppose el-Sisi’s rule, they believe he not only stole power but also robbed them of their freedom gained as a result of the 2011 revolution that did away with Hosni Mubarak.
During Mubarak’s time, there was an unspoken but commonly understood division of Egypt’s power, wealth and resources. At the top of the pyramid sat the president with his army generals; but Mubarak made sure the police, judiciary, intelligence, businessmen and even the Muslim Brotherhood were given a share of the country, whether through construction deals, pay rises, or the token parliamentary seats dedicated to his opponents.
This isn’t however how el-Sisi does business, staying true to the old saying of no honour among thieves, several state institutions and security apparatus who have for decades embezzled the country’s wealth have seen their share of the spoils reduced since el-Sisi took power. Shafik and his allies are among them.
The rift between Shafik and el-Sisi is not a political one; both men believe the military should rule, both have worked tirelessly to suppress pro-democracy activists, and both vehemently despise the Muslim Brotherhood.
Their disagreement is centred on their greed and the megalomaniac personality of el-Sisi, who believes that just as God promised Jerusalem to the Jews – it’s his God-given right to be and remain president.
And while el-Sisi has consolidated his power firmly since 2013, there are elements within the state that are not loyal to him.
According to the leaks, el-Kholi articulately informs us that “there’s a lot of f**king around” by officers in the Mukhabarat ‘Aama (General Intelligence) who support Shafik. Something he says is being dealt with by “us”, i.e. the MI.
A few weeks after the 2013 military coup lead by el-Sisi overthrew Egypt’s first ever democratically elected president, then-US Secretary of State Jon Kerry claimed the army “was furthering democracy”. Since then more than 40,000 political prisoners have been rounded up, dozens of journalists remain behind bars, and not a single free or fair election has taken place.
For millions of Egyptians, the polls that have happened have all been staged, all part of the bigger play orchestrated by those who want the world to think there are democracy and freedom in Egypt.
What these leaked tapes give us is a brief insight into how the puppetmasters go about making this production.