by Max Blumenthal
Uncorroborated turnout estimates of the June 30 protests have used to justify the actions of the military.
The debate over the legitimacy of Egypt's new, military-installed government has become a popularity battle, with some of the most vocal supporters of the coup claiming that the June 30 protests against President Mohammed Morsi represented the largest demonstrations in human history, a real-life Cecil B. DeMille production, with crowd sizes ranging anywhere between 14 to 33 million people - over one-third of the entire population of Egypt.
The importance of head counts to the military-installed government's international legitimacy was on display at a July 11press conference at the US State Department. Pressed by Matt Lee of the Associated Press on whether the Obama administration considered Morsi's ouster a coup, and if it would respond by canceling aid including a planned shipment of four F-16's to Egypt, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki countered by citing Tamarod's figures, declaring that the US could not reverse the will of the "22 million people who spoke out and had their voices heard."
Baseless claims born in an echo chamber
Among the first major Egyptian public figures to marvel at the historic size of the June 30 demonstrations was the billionaire tycoon Naguib Sawiris. On June 30, Sawiris informed his nearly one million Twitter followers that the BBC had just reported, "The number of people protesting today is the largest number in a political event in the history of mankind." Sawiris exhorted the protesters: "Keep impressing…Egypt."
Sawiris was not exactly a disinterested party. He had boasted of his support for Tamarod, lavishing the group with funding and providing them with office space. He also happened to be a stalwart of the old regime who had thrown his full weight behind the secular opposition to Morsi.
Two days after Sawiris' remarkable statement, BBC Arabic's lead anchor, Nour-Eddine Zorgui, respondedto a query about it on Twitter by stating, "seen nothing to this effect, beware, only report on this from Egypt itself." Sawiris seemed to have fabricated the riveting BBC dispatch from whole cloth.
Some Egyptian opponents to Morsi appear to have fabricated Western media reports to validate the crowd estimates. Jihan Mansour, a presenter for Dream TV, a private Egyptian network owned by the longtime Mubarak business associate Ahmad Bahgat, announced, "CNN says 33 million people were in the streets today. BBC says the biggest gathering in history."
There is no record of CNN or BBC reporting any such figure. But that did not stop a former Egyptian army general, Sameh Seif Elyazal, from declaring during a live CNN broadcast on July 3, just as the military seized power from Morsi, "This is not a military coup at all. It is the will of the Egyptians who are supported by the army. We haven't seen in the last -- even in modern history, any country in the world driving 33 million people in the street for four days asking the president for an early presidential election." CNN hosts Jake Tapper and Christian Amanpour did not question Elyazal's claim, or demand supporting evidence.
Three days later, Quartet's Middle East special envoy Tony Blair hyped a drastically different, but equally curious, crowd estimate. In an editorial for the Observer (reprinted by the Guardian), Blair stated, "Seventeen million people on the street is not the same as an election. But it is an awesome manifestation of people power." The former UK Prime Minister concluded that if a protest of a proportionate size occurred in his country, "the government wouldn't survive either."
From what source did the claim of 17 million demonstrators originate? Apparently, it was a single anonymous military official. One of the first Egyptian outlets to cite the number was the newspaperShorouk, which headlined its June 30 report, "Military source: The number of demonstrators is 17 million and increasing."