CAIRO — President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi used a July 22 speech at a joint graduation ceremony for several military institutions to announce that thousands of false rumors have spread in Egypt over the past three months aimed at spreading chaos, instability and frustration among the Egyptian people.
“The real danger is blowing up countries from within," he said. "Rumors, acts of terrorism, loss of hope and feelings of frustration, all these work in a grand network aimed at one objective — only one objective — and that is to move people to destroy their country.”
A government source told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that Egyptian Prime Minister Mustafa Medbouli has instructed all ministries and other official bodies to monitor rumors circulated daily via traditional and social media, to respond quickly and clarify them to the public as part of the government’s fight against misinformation.
The source noted that Medbouli had met with ministry spokespeople July 16 to emphasize that immediately addressing rumors was the best way to eliminate them. He called on them to put more effort into publicizing each ministry’s activities and new projects and explain how they are providing services to citizens.
On July 26, the government-affiliated National Media Authority announced a plan to form a working group to communicate with the premiership’s Information and Decision Support Center, the State Information Service and other bodies to combat misinformation.
The media authority is preparing a program called “Facts and Lies” to be broadcast on Egypt's official Channel 1. It will be a platform for officials and experts to respond to rumors and educate the public.
The government-affiliated National Press Authority asked press organizations July 23 to address rumors and clarify them for the public. The press authority directed media organizations to investigate and verify rumors that circulate and deal professionally with instances of false and inaccurate news.
In a July 25 interview with DMC television station, the head of the Higher Media Council, Makram Mohamed Ahmed, accused the Muslim Brotherhood of spreading rumors in the community. “The group's supporters take advantage of any opportunity to promote rumors, especially with regard to the money market and the price of the dollar in Egypt,” he said.
Laila Abdel Majeed, the former dean of the Cairo University Media College, told Al-Monitor over the phone, “The rumors are part of the war against Egypt and they aim to spread frustration and despair among citizens.”
Abdel Majeed explained, “Social media helps spread such rumors, especially since the Egyptian public lacks in knowledge. State services should make correct and accurate information available to the public through media.” She noted, “The state needs to put in a lot of effort to address this ridiculous number of rumors. However, ministries should not only react to what is being said on social media, but regularly provide information and data.”
Parliament member Mortada al-Arabi told Al-Monitor over the phone, “Parliament will start adding amendments to the Egyptian Penal Code to intensify the punishments for spreading rumors and false news.”
Article 188 of the Egyptian Penal Code calls for “detention for a period not exceeding one year and a fine of not less than 5,000 Egyptian pounds [$279] and not exceeding 20,000 Egyptian pounds [$1,118] on whoever publishes with ill will false news, data or rumors.”
On July 16, the Egyptian parliament approved a press and media law giving the state the right to block social media accounts if they publish false news. Under the law, the state will treat blogs and social networking accounts with more than 5,000 followers the same way it treats media outlets, leaving them subject to prosecution for publishing false news or inciting law-breaking. However, Sisi has yet to approve the law.
Arabi said, “Rumors are now the most dangerous tools that could destroy society as they are easily spread in light of illiteracy and lack of awareness among Egyptians.” He called on the government to “raise awareness and culture among citizens so they can be the first to put an end to rumors.”
A number of parliament members proposed establishing a new entity for experts and specialists to coordinate on monitoring rumors. “This entity will be specialized in responding to rumors and countering any lies against the state,” Nader Mustafa, secretary of the parliament’s Information Committee, told Youm7 July 22.
The Information and Decision Support Center (IDSC) publishes a weekly report to respond to rumors in Egypt, such as news that plastic eggs from China had been found in the Egyptian market. The IDSC denied the rumor in a statement on July 17, stressing Egypt's self-sufficiency in eggs.
In a televised statement on July 22, the director of the IDSC’s rumor monitoring department, Naayim Zaghloul, noted that his department “monitors thousands of rumors to which the Cabinet responds in coordination with state institutions.” She added, “We measure the impact of each rumor on the public and we coordinate with relevant authorities to take action. Our work mainly focuses on social media as a fertile ground for rumors to spread, and we have personnel in the field to monitor rumors and address them immediately.”
Zaghloul explained that rumors about education, health and food supplies affect the lives of citizens the most.
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