Reuters served as a channel for the UK Foreign Office to covertly fund an Egyptian outlet that clamored for the overthrow of the country’s first democratically elected leader, leaked documents show.
This July 3 marks the 10th anniversary of Egyptian army chief General Abdel Fattah Sisi’s violent seizure of power in Cairo. The first democratically elected leader in 5000 years of Egyptian history, Mohamed Morsi, was swept from office, his supporters were massacred by the hundreds, and he ultimately died in prison. With US and UK support, Sisi quickly reversed any tentative democratic gains made during the country’s brief, difficult transition from the rule of longtime Western-backed autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
In the decade since Sisi’s coup, his government has systematically crushed opposition to his rule. Political parties and critical media have been banned en masse, activists, journalists, and civil society actors harassed, disappeared, tortured and jailed, and prisons transformed into hotbeds of systemic sexual violence, and other horrific abuse. It is estimated that half of Egypt’s 120,00 inmate population are currently incarcerated for political reasons, one of the highest rates in the world.
The circumstances of Morsi’s forced ejection from office, and of Egypt’s regression to one of the most repressive countries on Earth under Sisi’s rule, have been well-documented, despite many NGOs and news outlets fleeing the country over the years. Yet, there is a crucial component of the historical record that has not been revealed until now.
Leaked documents reviewed by The Grayzone reveal that the media giant Reuters worked closely with the British Foreign Office to drive the fateful events of July 3 2013. What follows is the story of how Cairo’s first democratically elected government in history was undermined, Sisi’s blood-spattered coup whitewashed, and the military entrenched in power, through covert propaganda funded in secret by London.
British spies strike secret deal with Reuters
In the wake of Egypt’s revolution in February 2011, chaos reigned untrammeled. What path the country should take, whether and when free elections would be at last held, and if so who would be entrusted by the public with governing Cairo moving forward, was far from clear.
Large-scale protests against the interim military administration following Mubarak’s departure were an almost daily occurrence, as were violent and sometimes fatal clashes between demonstrators and security forces. Along the way, protesters ransacked and occasionally occupied the offices of local police forces and intelligence services, attacked foreign embassies, and torched government buildings.
Against this tumultuous backdrop, Egypt prepared for its first free parliamentary vote in October 2011. Though many citizens welcomed the elections, officials across the West openly angsted about the popular Muslim Brotherhood emerging victorious and pursuing an independent path. Such fears were particularly pronounced in Britain, Cairo’s former imperial master, and its largest investor today.
As if on cue, Thomson Reuters Foundation (TRF), the “charitable” arm of the Thomson Reuters global news conglomerate, established Aswat Masriya, an ostensibly independent media outlet, to cover Egyptian affairs. Unbeknownst to the Egyptian public, the effort was wholly funded by the British Foreign Office. By the time Aswat Masriya closed, a staggering £2 million had been pumped into the initiative by London.
“[Aswat Masriya] became Egypt’s leading independent local media organisation until its closure…Its content was offered for free syndication across the region,” a leaked TRF document boasts. “In 2016, [it] became one of the top 500 most visited websites in Egypt.”
Reuters’ Cairo offices “provided payroll, human resources, and security support” to Aswat Masriya, and the outlet was based there for its duration. A since-deleted online profile states 300 Egyptians were trained via the project, a veritable army of journalists generating over 300 stories each and every week in English and Arabic. These were then recycled by over 50 media outlets worldwide, including Reuters.
London’s rationale for kickstarting Aswat Masriya was clear. Establishing a local news platform granted the Foreign Office an unparalleled degree of on-the-ground narrative control as events unfolded in Egypt, both domestically and internationally. British intelligence has established a long record of funding news outlets overseas for this precise purpose – including Reuters….