A video entitled "MB tortures kids and throws them off buildings" has gripped the attention of Egyptians and others following the unfolding events in Egypt. It has been widely shared on social networks and shown on Egyptian and international TV channels. We look more closely at the 5-minute video to analyse it and draw conclusions about its authenticity and implications.
Description of video scenes:
After a brief shot of the entrance to the building, the camera shifts to the top of the building where a number of individuals are present. In the next 50 seconds, not much happens as the camera zooms in and out, not focusing much on the individuals present who seem to be just moving casually, getting ready.
For the next 1.5 minutes, the camera shifts again to the entrance of the building where a number of people (10-20) are gathered. Not all however go into the building. A few people are allowed to go through.
2.29 Note the man in the light green shirt who appears from behind the reservoir – we will come back to him later.
2.34 Note the man in the sleeveless white vest with a big beard and a black & white flag generally associated with "Islamic" protests. He moves to the edge of the balcony to encourage people below to cheer and we hear chants of "Allahu akbar". He then moves back towards the back of the reservoir, touching his beard a couple of times.
2.58 Note the 4 individuals on top of the reservoir; they are dressed in white, pink, black and dark grey respectively. They do not seem disturbed as they sit towards the edge of the reservoir initially before some stand up. There is no shouting, no hand-waving, no jumping up and down, no begging for help or mercy – just casual movements.
3.18 An individual in a red shirt stands near the edge of balcony waving a V-signs towards the people below, encouraging them to cheer.
3.20 Main part of the action starts, announced by commentator: "See those 4 guys on the reservoir; they have come up after them. Let's now see what they are going to do with them".
3.45 Note the 3 individuals in bottom left corner of screen acting casually, not involved in the action in the main scene, just looking down guarding and throwing a few stones below.
3.50 The action speeds up little, individuals on the right side throw a few stones at those on top of the reservoir then after a few seconds, move away leaving an empty space in front of the reservoir.
4.05 Note how those on top of the reservoir stand casually, looking at the scene behind reservoir, simply waiting for the next part of the action.
4.08 we are directed to look at the scene behind the reservoir where 3-4 individuals are involved in a scene of someone apparently being hit, but again there is no sufficient focus to show details, just casual commentary with badly feigned alarm "oh no, they have killed him, they have killed him!". The camera does not focus so much on the "torturing and killing scene- indeed it shifts sharply away at 4.18 (did someone's beard drop?). They only do so casually for a few seconds before turning their attention to those stationed on top of the reservoir, to shift our attention to the next scene
We see those below putting away their "tools" and ending their part while our attention shifts to the top of the reservoir, where the alleged victims are casually waiting.
From minute 4.28 individuals on the right hand side clearly move away to leave an empty spot ready.
4.39 The first person is pushed off. The commentator screams; his fellow commentator who had been watching everything prompts him: "What? What's the matter?" He says "No, he's dead!" with badly-feigned horror. Note the individual thrown off the reservoir is the one seen earlier in the light green shirt – i.e. NOT one of the 4 guys originally on top of the reservoir as our commentator leads us to think.
4.49 One man picks up an object and hits the first fallen man on his head, once, lightly.
4.55 The second person falls off. We do not see the action of pushing, just the falling.
The individuals on the right-hand side of the screen then move to show little concern (not commensurate with someone being killed). Film just ends abruptly, without trying to focus on the alleged dead victims.
Analysis & Questions:
- The filming and camera movements are intriguing: the focus is shifted sharply and repeatedly to direct viewers' attention to where the action is happening, but often also to where action is expected to happen. The initial camera focus at the beginning of the video indicates the ability to zoom in further, but that is not attempted at any point in the filming. Viewers are directed towards where they should look and where they should not.
- The running commentary is also intriguing and sounds as if it is the direction of a production, or the reading of a script. We are told: these are the guys wanted by the pro-Morsy guys, for whom they have come up from the bottom, let us see what they will do to them. The tone of the commentator's voice does not express the expected surprise, shock and sincere sympathy that would be expected of an onlooker. Where high emotion is expressed, it is clearly feigned, and often unrelated to the actual scene. We are told, look, they are killing them, where nothing can be seen. We are told: he's dead, whereas few people would be so certain that falling off a 4-5 metre height (it is easy in many scenes to compare the height of a person standing next to the reservoir to the full height: it is less than 3 times the height of an average person) would kill a person.
- The individuals on the balcony all move around casually: no great danger appears to be felt by anyone, either on top of the reservoir or below.
- Speed of action suddenly starts on one side of the screen only, and only those involved in that scene are affected while the rest continue with their casual attitude until the camera focuses on them.
- No one tries to leave the scene by any route; no one tries to escape, no one tries to call for help.
- The whole film is rather short and each scene seems to be rushed – the "beating and killing behind the reservoir" is for 20 seconds; the throwing off another 20 and so on.
- The "throwing off the reservoir" is clearly the "ultimate scene" as everyone else leaves everything they are doing and simply waits for it, clearly leaving an empty space for its consequences.
- The end of the video shows the individuals present behaving as if the guys "fall" is the end of the filming: then that's it, they just move on- no great alarm shown.
- The video is context-less: there is no clear action happening below; the filming starts suddenly with the shot of the "kids" and ends abruptly with the fall and alleged "death"- and curiously does not try to focus more on the dead bodies for some time as would be expected or on consequent people's reaction as would be expected.
- Again on context: One is intrigued by the gun shots heard throughout the video, while they do not hit a single person, nor does anyone seem worried about being shot.
On closer inspection, the film looks more like an amateur production which, without the commentator's helpful guiding comments, would look like a children's play where only they know what is happening – viewers would not understand a thing. Without the comments and the title "MB tortures kids and kills them by throwing them off buildings", one would not naturally conclude that any torture or killing was taking place.
A manufactured "context" is created by the pervasive sound of gun shots. The purpose seems to be either to give the impression that there is indeed "some context", "some confrontation" of which this scene is a part, and/or to distract the viewers from focusing too much on either the scenes or sounds of the scene – which does work (the only clever part of a poor production).
The inevitable conclusion is that this is a paid-for mounted play, to incite public opinion against coup-resistors, urge support for the coup and justify persecution of Islamists as part of an orchestrated propaganda campaign.
The speed with which this poor production has spread, not only on social networks, but on several Egyptian channels, and shockingly on major channels such as Alarabiya and MBC [which have been staunchly supportive of the coup] has given the video and its serious allegations huge reach in less than 24 hours.
In an additional scene, MBC Egypt has just aired a live interview with a man alleging to be the father of one of the victims. The man provides a context to the incident which does not completely fit the video and focuses repeatedly on the alleged attackers being "multaheen" – "bearded people". He is initially calm; he focuses on praising the "30 June revolution" and how all Egyptians are happy, except these "bearded people" who wanted to ruin everyone's happiness. He shows some emotion, to which the presenter tries to also feign the same – badly – and then he returns to praising the army, the interior minister, General Al-Sisi and praying for their success and wishing everyone good luck. The video does initially succeed to manipulate the viewer into a state of shock, which explains how many Islamist online pages have also been dismayed by it and have been trying to question certain parts of the video to distance themselves from it. However, it is only after spending time watching the video repeatedly and focusing on various scenes and clues, that one can escape the manipulation to which the viewer is initially subjected successfully. Such clear inspection in our view provides a more rational, logical and convincing version of events than the one we are initially pushed to believe.
Finally, the video, and its wide use by Egyptian media and other international media, gives us a more dangerous warning: it suggests that some feel the need to fabricate such productions in order to support their allegations of "Islamist terrorism"; a necessary step to demonise them further and possibly ban them, as well as rally public support for the military coup and silence any dissent of consequent persecution which are to be seen as "precautionary measures". The complicity of the media in this operation is obvious and shocking, and in the absence of neutral credible media, poses serious questions for the future.