Debate over authenticity of assault on Egyptian woman intensifies


The story of the Egyptian female protestor stripped and dragged by army officers in Tahrir Square has stirred public opinion for the past few days, not only owing to the shock the video that depicts the incident elicited, but also because of debates about the authenticity of its content.

A still image from the video, which shows the woman being dragged and kicked by army officers, drew angry reaction worldwide and was published in several Western newspapers, which commented on the “shameful” acts of the Egyptian army and described the girl as the bravest in the Middle East. The U.S. secretary of State, Hillary Clinton also condemned the violent way with which the army is treating female protestors.

A large number of Egyptian women marched to Tahrir Square on Tuesday to protest against the repression of the army and stress that “the women of Egypt are a red line.”

In response, the Supreme Council for the Armed Forces (SCAF) issued a statement on its Facebook page regretting the violations committed against Egyptian women, whom it described as “honorable.”

Despite the fact that the video was not captured by an amateur using a cell phone camera but by a Reuters photographer, debates about the authenticity of the video began arising and the feelings of indignation that echoed in local and international media turned out to have not been shared by all Egyptians.

While Egyptian activists called for putting army leaderships on trial for the abuse to which the woman was subjected, a sizable portion of Egyptians are not that sympathetic towards her and argue that she, to a great extent, should be held accountable for what happened to her if the video is real. Meanwhile, experts have a lot to question about the video.

Videos are likely to be fabricated when those who circulate them are trying to promote certain ideas or instigate people to do something, said Adel Abdul Sadek, an expert at al-Ahram Center for Strategic Studies and head of the Arab Center for Cyberspace Research (ACCR).

“Even if we assume that the video is real, whoever took it focused on specific things and ignored others,” he told Al Arabiya.

Sadek explained that the video focused on the scene in which the girl was stripped and did not show the soldier who protected and covered her up.

“This shows an obvious bias and reflects the personal point of view of the photographer. By doing so, he is turning people against the military council.”

He pointed out that if the video had not been fabricated through technology, it could have been staged.

“The girl was wearing nothing under her cloak so that the moment it is pulled she would be almost naked. This cloak was also the type you button, not the fully sewn one you slide over your head.”

Sadek explained that what arouses suspicions is the fact that the man kicking the girl was wearing a pair of running shoes, while army officers wear combat boots.

“The man’s uniform was also of a different color than other officers surrounding him.”

However, Sadek said, SCAF spokesman admitted that the incident took place and that investigations are under way to find out how it happened.

“If we assume the video is not fabricated, then at least it was filmed in an unprofessional way in order to garner support for a cause to which people would not have paid attention otherwise and to turn it into a public opinion issue.”

Sadek explained that people who take it upon themselves to make such videos are very experienced when it comes to the angel from which they are taken, the sequence of shots, and even the date of filming.

“They also know how to circulate these videos fast, especially through social networking websites and satellite channels so the content becomes in no time a trusted news story.”

This argument, Sadek clarified, does not mean he is questioning the authenticity of all videos and pictures taken during the protests of the January 25 Revolution.

“We can differentiate between videos and pictures taken in a professional way to show what really happened and ones that are presented in a way that serves ulterior motives and hidden agendas.”

When asked about methods of manipulating the content of videos and photos, Sadek cited the example of a video that came out three days ago and which featured an army officer forcing a girl to take off her clothes.

“This video turned out to have been filmed back in 2007,” he said.

According to Sadek, there are several other technical ways to manipulate the content of a specific video or picture through making people wear different clothes, bringing shots from several videos together in one video, turning a still picture to a video, and so on.

“This manipulation turns peaceful protests to a violent behavior and official media is to be blamed for not countering this.”

Sayed Maghrabi, a graphic designer who works for several Egyptian newspapers, said that pictures are frequently manipulated in several newspapers and in social networking websites.

“For example, there was a picture that showed an officer beating up an elderly woman. In this picture, the beating is on the left side while the woman is standing on the right side. Another picture of another beating incident was fabricated and that was obvious when you see that the original picture had shadow and the new one did not,” he told Al Arabiya.

When asked about ways of discovering unauthentic pictures, Maghrabi said that it is small details that an expert can detect.

“For example, the running shoes in the stripped girl’s picture would make it very possible that it is fabricated. Army officers don’t wear running shoes.”

Apart from technical feedback about the video, many Egyptian women did not find the video credible.

It is not logical that the girl would wear a cloak without anything underneath it, said Manar Mustafa Bayoumi, a housewife.

“How come she is not wearing something under the cloak to protect herself, especially these days when girls are subjected to harassment and violence?” she told Al Arabiya.

Bayoumi added that wearing only the cloak did not sound logical in winter.

“She is also expected to wear a shirt or a flannel top at this time of the year to stay warm.”

(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)