On Monday, the Egyptian army is set to release a new high-tech tool to its arsenal. Except it’s not actually high-tech, and it won’t work. In February 2014, the army first released details on its new detector, which it says can not only detect Hepatitis C and Aids from 500m away, but can cure them.
Major General Ibrahim Atti explained how it works: “I take Aids from the patient, and feed the patient on Aids. I give it to him as a kofta skewer for him to eat. I take the disease, and I give it to him as food, and this is the pinnacle of scientific miracles.”
When this was met with ridicule, the army made a second attempt at a more scientific explanation, involving the use of electro-magnetic waves. Commentators have since noted that the device, described by the Guardian as “an antenna affixed to the handle of a blender”, closely resembles the bogus bomb detection devices sold by James McCormick to governments throughout the Middle East. Last May, McCormick was sentenced to ten years in jail for fraud – an astonishingly lenient sentence considering that he knowingly sold over £38m worth of the completely useless kit to Iraq alone, giving security forces the false assurance that they would be able to avert bomb attacks. Pictures have since emerged of the Egyptian security forces using a device indistinguishable from their anti-Aids zapper to detect car bombs.
Unsurprisingly, prominent scientists have tried to expose the army’s new device as quack science, but this hasn’t stopped 40,000 Egyptians from requesting the treatment from the government when it's made available early next week. Egypt has one of the highest rates of Hepatitis C in the world, and many ordinary Egyptians struggle to access treatment. If the government finds a way to quietly back out of its commitment to roll out treatment on 30 June, this will shatter the hopes of the tens of thousands who believe the army’s propaganda. But if it does go ahead and introduce what it calls its “complete cure device” this will be much, much worse.
The whole episode – as well as other recent mad government claims such as that Vodafone was transmitting coded bomb plot information in its adverts starring mobile-phone wielding puppets – reveals how little value the new, military-backed Egyptian government places on the truth. It is this same instinct that led to the tragic jailing of four Al Jazeera journalists earlier this week. And it is very worrying indeed.