Whatever illusions General Abdul Fattah Al-Sisi had that Google Earth would endorse his political project have now been buried. On the same day that he delivered his controversial speech calling upon the Egyptian people to support his coup, Google’s regional director, Wael Fakharani, issued a statement affirming that “all statistics attributed to Google, either regarding June 30th rallies or the protesters who support the removed president Mohamed Morsi, are not true.”
In the immediate aftermath of the June 30th protests, anti-Morsi newspapers and TV stations displayed a catalogue of video recordings and satellite photos, purportedly from Google. The ultimate aim was to pave the way for the military coup which followed on 3rd July.
Responding to the claims that it recorded 33 million protesters in Tahrir Square, Google confirmed that its engines do not have the ability to estimate numbers of rallies or protests on the ground. Furthermore, it insisted that it does not publish live imaging of protests or any other events on planet earth.
Since June 30, researchers and analysts have conducted a number of studies on the disputed 33 million claims that Al-Sisi and his supporters, local and foreign, have used to legitimise his coup. One of the most compelling analyses done thus far compared Egypt with the October 1995 “Million Man March” led by Louis Farrakhan on the National Mall in Washington. While the area of the National Mall is estimated at 146 acres, that of Egypt’s Tahrir Square is only 12.3 acres. Amjad Almonzer, a Google Earth expert observed that even if all the side streets to Tahrir Square were included, the area would not exceed 25 acres. Accordingly, fitting just one million people into that space would require squeezing at least 10 people into every square metre, a feat which is practically impossible to achieve.
Now that the inflated crowd claims have been discredited the general-turned-politician will not be able to refer to Google Earth to prove his case. He must, therefore, do one of two things: either bring out millions onto the streets today, Friday 26 July, or prevent, by force no doubt, the pro-legitimacy movement from maintaining the moral high ground by filling Egypt’s public squares with its own supporters.
From the very beginning the plotters and perpetrators of the military coup have been hard pressed to prove their case for military intervention in Egypt’s infant democratic system. In the ensuing three weeks opposition to the military has grown beyond expectation. Al-Sisi’s apologists had hoped that the Ramadan fasting period and high temperatures would deter the pro-legitimacy camp. That has not happened. When organisers called for an unprecedented show of strength on 17th Ramadan, Al Sisi felt obliged to intervene, not for the first time, to rescue his allies and, indeed, his burgeoning political ambitions.
Every Muslim understands the significance of 17th Ramadan, the anniversary of the decisive Battle of Badr, when the nascent Islamic state in Madinah triumphed over a larger and better-equipped force. The Qur’an extols it as the Day of Distinction between the forces of faith and the forces of disbelief; between justice and tyranny. Today, the pro-legitimacy forces will draw courage and inspiration from the clear parallels between their own situation and that of the early Muslims, even though there is no moral equivalence between the two forces in Egypt.
While the anti-coup camp gains strength from history as well as their successive victories in the polls, Al-Sisi and his allies can only rely on the discredited and slanderous accusation of “terrorism” against their opponents, a term used by western powers to demonise and disenfranchise Muslims. If anything, it is the anti-coup protesters in Egypt who have been the victims of terrorism, resulting in hundreds of deaths, many of them students, professionals and women.
Clearly, Wednesday’s address by Al Sisi has failed to deter or intimidate the Egyptian people. Toppling the civilian president was bad enough, but assaulting hard won rights and freedoms was, for many Egyptians, a step too far. Having paid a heavy price in blood and lives, they will make every sacrifice to defend their freedom and dignity.
At the end of the day it is not only Google that will bring Al-Sisi’s enterprise to a grinding halt. Statements of support for his efforts from Israel’s political and military leadership will have the same effect and throw a dark cloud over Egypt’s independence and its role in the region. The unprecedented attacks on Palestinians and detention of Mohamed Morsi on charges of espionage for Hamas have Israeli fingerprints all over them and its intelligence agencies boasted that contacts with their Egyptian counterparts never ceased after the overthrow of the Mubarak regime. Observers pointed out that Morsi was courting disaster when he appointed General Al-Sisi, the head of military intelligence, as his Minister of Defence.
The struggle in Egypt today is one between the past and the future. Yesterday’s men represented by elements in the army are determined to preserve their privileges and special relationships. The people who started the January 25 Revolution are equally determined to chart a new future that will preserve their independence and freedom. Neither Google nor anyone else will allow anything else to happen.