This is the conclusion to this report, dealing with coverage of the issue by other media sources. For Part One, which outlines the story in its broad strokes, please click here. For Part Two, which covers contextual information, please click here.
At Arab West Report, we have had the benefit of time in order to research this issue and gather and compare multiple sources. This is done in commitment to nonpartisanship and objectivity, and the reader is invited to judge our analysis for any bias. Many news agencies, however, must rely on their immediate sources and produce reports as quickly as possible. Other agencies are organized in defense of worldwide Christian interests, often legitimately so, but can display a bias in their reporting that misconstrues the issues for their readership. In light of this and the above descriptions, this report will conclude in critique of two recent articles produced on this topic. Issuing organizations are the Assyrian International News Agency and Compass Direct.
The Assyrian International News Agency
Under the headline ‘Egyptian Armed Forces Fire At Christian Monasteries, 19 Injured’, the AINA uses language which does not accurately reflect events as they transpired. The opening sentence reads, ‘Egyptian armed force stormed the 5th century old St. Bishoy monastery,’ but the word ‘stormed’ paints a picture of a violent incursion into guarded territory. Rather, as video depicts, the military gathered at the point of the newly constructed wall, which was on government territory, not monastery land, and then proceeded no further.
Monk Fr. Ava Bishoy is then quoted, ‘When we tried to address them, the army fired live bullets, wounding Father Feltaows in the leg and Father Barnabas in the abdomen,’ but here the action is presented as immediately sequential, whereas several rounds were fired into the air before anyone was wounded. Then another monk, Fr. Hemanot Ava Bishoy is quoted, ‘The army was shocked to see the monks standing there praying ‘Lord have mercy’ without running away. This is what really upset them. As the soldiers were demolishing the gate and the fence they were chanting ‘Allahu Akbar’ and ‘Victory, Victory’.’ Yet other testimony denies these chants take place, and they cannot be heard on the monastery recorded YouTube video. While this may represent the word of one man against another, or simply conflicting but not necessarily contradicting statements, the tenor of the article in highlighting the Islamic ‘Allahu Akbar’ cry goes beyond the events in question.
Later in the article AINA references the statement of the military. ‘The Egyptian Armed Forces issued a statement on their Facebook page denying that any attack took place on St. Bishoy Monastery.’ Yet the word ‘denying’ paints a picture that the statement is untrue. Yet as described above, the military used force to demolish a newly constructed wall, and took no action against the monastery itself. Then Fr. Hedra Ava Bishoy is highlighted in the collection of bullet casing, with which the number of wounded, used ‘to prove otherwise’ against the military denial.
The Compass Direct article begins with the headline ‘Monk, Workers Shot in Monastery Attack in Egypt’, and the opening sentence reads, ‘One monk and six church workers were shot and wounded last week when the Egyptian Army attacked a Coptic Orthodox monastery.’ Yet as above, the word ‘attacked’ is an inaccurate description, as the army never attacked the monastery. The paragraph goes on to report, ‘After a brief argument with monks and workers outside the monastery wall, soldiers opened fire on the crowd, sending them running for cover.’ Yet again, the opening of fire was directed initially into the air. While several did run for cover, others stood safely a short distance away. No mention is made that the crowd acted as a human shield.
Later in the article the context of the demonstrations, withdrawal of police forces, and escaping of prisoners is highlighted, but then a wrong context is established in providing reasons for the wall construction. The article states the monastery ‘had come under increasing attacks from raiders and criminals set free from prisons’. This, however, was described above as criminals who benefited from (albeit uninvited) monastery hospitality, which later morphed into the rumors of ‘thousands’ of criminals raiding the grounds.
Further, the interaction between the army and the monastery is described, along with the deadline issued to remove the wall. ‘The army later claimed the monastery had not acquired the proper permits’, but here the word ‘claimed’ is deceptive, since it implies the claim is not true. Yet the wall at the very least was partially on government property, and no permits had been issued for the wall to be built, let alone the land to be obtained. No one argues otherwise.
The article continues, ‘The army denied conducting the attack, despite a video widely circulated on the Internet in which Egyptian soldiers can be seen firing AK-47 assault rifles.’ Again, ‘denied’ needs to be highlighted, and if ‘attack’ is used it must be written the army attacked the wall, not the monastery. Furthermore, ‘despite’ in reference to video proof suggests to readership that the military has been caught red handed in its denial. The video, however, shows quite the opposite; military action was limited to the demolition of the wall, and had nothing to do with the monastery itself.
Further on the article describes the incident at the Monastery of St. Macarius the Alexandrian. ‘The army claimed the wall was built on land set aside for a nature preserve.’ Again, the word ‘claimed’ places the army statement on trial with the burden of proof upon them. Yet it is a given fact that this monastery was illegally constructed on land belonging to the National Park Authority. Casting doubt upon this gives the reader the wrong impression.
It is difficult in journalism to produce reports that are timely, comprehensive, and contextual. The above examples may reflect work that aimed to be fast, relied on sources which were misinformed or biased, and did not have access to background information which would cast doubt upon the main line of the story. Journalism, however, often suffers from a temptation to sensationalism, and the word choice implied in the above examples suggests this story – an important news item in its own right – was transformed into a sectarian incident through the pen of the authors. It may also suggest bias or deliberate distortion, but this can only be known in the heart of the writer. The possibility, however, deserves to be raised. At the very least, what may have been a rush to judgment in the bustle of meeting deadlines must be reevaluated in light of further information, such as is brought out in this report.
This text began with the assertion that all parties were at fault, though the actions of all were understandable. It is reasonable that the monasteries would fear following the withdrawal of police forces. It is reasonable they would build additional walls for their protection. Yet, is it reasonable they would fail to abide by military directives to demolish their temporarily necessary structures? May they have been concerned also that having built a wall, they might later lay claim to the land? Were the monks and monastery workers provocative in making a human shield, placing the army in a very difficult position?
From the other side, it is reasonable that the military would seek to demolish illegally constructed walls on government territory. It is reasonable they would fire into the air to disperse a crowd gathered to prevent the execution of their orders. Yet, is it reasonable that live ammunition be used at all, some of which would strike unarmed civilians? Might some of the soldiers been caught up in the struggle, and acted with impropriety? Could some have born a particular grudge against ‘Christians’, even without an extremist agenda? Certainly this side deserves condemnation and rebuke for any casualties suffered at all. The military is used to being obeyed, and is inexperienced at government, politics, and public relations. Yet, if only due to their difficult position of running a country, restraint would have been the better policy.
Therefore, this report counsels all to exercise patience in discovering facts, humility in asserting unknown intentions, and charity in dealing with an oppositional party. Egypt faces a very tense situation in which security is lax, the stakes are high, and the future unknown. These types of incidents at the monasteries are likely to be repeated often in the coming days, in which misunderstandings or conflicting agendas could threaten to lead to deep conflict and venomous accusations. This statement is independent of any sectarian emphasis, though along religious lines the consequences can be even more severe. Where facts point to injustice, condemnation must be issued. Yet a more important value in these days is mercy, especially where confusion reigns and reality is disputed. Some will seek to take advantage of this situation for their personal benefit. Yet the majority must treat each other with kindness, sympathy, understanding, and a desire for the greater good. Otherwise, the gains won during the Egyptian revolution may descend into petty partisanship. Egypt is widely acknowledged as a highly religious society; may the grace and virtue of each religion prevail, especially in the inevitable disputes to come.
Note: This report was written through information gained by Cornelis Hulsman, editor-in-chief of Arab West Report, and Hani Labib, managing director of the Center for Intercultural Dialogue and Translation. At the website of AWR the report is listed accurately as having been co-authored with Hulsman.