Analysis: BBC did not know Zubeida is married, not ‘behind the sun’
Sitting with her husband on a cream-colored couch, with their newborn cradled on his father’s lap, Zubeida looked out of place. Docile, fatigued even; yet her demeanor betrayed very little emotions. One difference was intelligible though, she looked a little different than her infamous photo which was broadcasted by the BBC. Dark circles framed her eyes and her face seemed darker in tone. She even dressed differently; no lipstick this time. She wore a long blue veil and what seemed like a long blue abaya as well.
But Zubeida also explained that she had her son, Hamza, 15 days ago. Which can explain the fatigue visible on her face. As for the change in appearance, that can be attributed to her marriage and her religious and political views. Both Zubeida and her husband, Saeed Abdel Azim, appeared extremely indifferent to Adib. Indifferent to his prompting, prying questions.
Their nonchalance and silence prompted Adib to ask further questions. “Were you ever tortured?” Both replied negatively and non-hesitantly. Yet, when Zubeida smiled after Adib directed one of his questions to her husband, Adib remarked: “You’re smiling… you wouldn’t be smiling with us if you had been tortured, right? People who were subjected to torture undergo difficult psychological phases after.”
“I wasn’t tortured,” Zubeida replied quietly.
No stress ticks were visible on either one of Adib’s guests. They were both relaxed, both quiet. They weren’t sweating, shaking, or exhibiting any other signs of distress.
Her husband openly admitted that he was in the Freedom and Justice Party, which was operated by the Muslim Brotherhood. Similarly, Zubeida verified a fact her mother had told to the BBC; they were indeed arrested in a protest in 2014, when they went down to Abdel Moneim Riad street. They were sympathizing with the Muslim Brotherhood, not simply passing by as her mother had claimed; they had gone specifically to participate in the protests.
They were imprisoned for four months, but Zubeida denied any torture claims. When Adib asked her whether her mother had been tortured during her prison sentence, she replied: “I honestly don’t know. I wasn’t with her.”
Even though not explicitly acknowledged, Zubeida made it very clear that she has had no contact with her mother since March 2016. She wasn’t aware that her face and an alleged story of her life were broadcasted worldwide, but she was aware that her mother appeared on one of the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated channels a year ago, claiming that her daughter was lost.
“So the whole world is looking for you simply because you have a dispute with your mother?” Adib asked incredulously. Zubeida smiled and nodded.
Her husband in particular seemed even less interested in the whole conversation. Trying to wiggle himself out of some questions asking about his political views and whether or not he is a Brotherhood sympathizer, he was nevertheless at ease. He did not break eye contact with Adib, and his posture made it seem as though he felt secure; at home.
So what had the BBC done? What is true and what isn’t?
Had Orla Guerin failed to verify her sources? Did she take the mother’s testament for granted and failed to fact-check it? Did Guerin notice that Zubeida’s eyes were green, not “striking hazel-colored”? It’s a difficult detail to miss; you always look at the eyes first.
23-year-old Zubeida is one of 1,500 Egyptians who vanished from the streets in what human rights campaigners call enforced disappearances. Zubeida’s mother spoke to @OrlaGuerin about the torture her daughter was subjected to at the hands of the police https://t.co/SDLKgb2m5L pic.twitter.com/xv83RJOKT5— BBC Newsnight (@BBCNewsnight) February 22, 2018
Ironically enough, the marriage contract which Adib held up during the interview bore the photo that the BBC had rendered infamous.
What kind of familial dispute could get so out of hand? If there was indeed a dispute, why would her mother claim that she was taken, make up the whole story of the phone call through which her relative heard an officer insult her and subsequently end the call? Yet that point on its own is dubious: how could you tell it was an officer just from listening to his voice? There seems to be many factors that simply don’t add up. Had Guerin known of this dispute? Because if Guerin had known of the dispute and omitted it from her feature, then Guerin committed malpractice. She would have omitted information intentionally to render a specific version of the story; the version she wanted everyone to see, rather than what there was.
But going back to the issue of the dispute, Zubeida’s husband, Abdel Azim, let slip an important detail. When Adib asked him whether Zubeida’s mother was welcome to visit, the man agreed immediately. “Of course, but she has to mind her manners.” A clear threat. This dispute wasn’t a small matter at all, and the chances of Guerin not having known about it are pretty slim. The details indicate that either Guerin manipulated the mother or the mother manipulated Guerin, but someone definitely had a different interest than pure journalism.
What kind of dispute has led to all of this? In a way, Zubeida’s case is dwindling international relations further. The accusations which were directed toward Egypt and its regime are not to be taken lightly, especially in light of the agreements that the UK and Egypt have signed together.
Diaa Rashwan, head of the SIS, stated to Egypt Today that Guerin had called Rashwan (after failing to take his call twice previously) and that their phone call lasted for 35 minutes.
“I asked her [Guerin]; what were your intentions? Were you trying to save Zubeida or trying to defame Egypt?” Rashwan stated. “She said my role is journalistic.”
Rashwan stated that he had promised Guerin to present a formal complaint to the authorities as head of the SIS to find Zubeida if Guerin would give him her personal information. “After hesitating for a little bit, she agreed and said that she would ask Zubeida’s mother for the information.”
The head of the SIS also emphasized that his concern was not particularly for the political consequences that entailed the BBC’s report; they were concerns regarding professional integrity.
Once again though, this incident wasn’t a solitary one. Egypt had previously been accused of sending some individuals ‘behind the sun’ only to find that they actually joined the Islamic State’s ranks in Syria and Sinai.
From a statement issued by the SIS some two weeks ago, they affirmed that Omar Ibrahim El Deeb who was one of the ‘forced disappearances’ cases, was actually killed during a terroristic operation in Sinai.
“The footage (which was released by IS) lamented the death of one of Daesh’s elements: Omar Ibrahim El Deeb, son of the MB Ibrahim El Deeb (fugitive),” the statement read.
The same happened back in August 2017 when a student, Mohamed Magdy el-Dalaay, went missing, was thought to have been abducted by security forces but had actually joined IS according to a video of him that circulated on social media at the time.