Brittany Somerset/Demotix. All rights reserved.
Cognitive dissonance is defined as a state of contradiction or inconsistency between one's beliefs and actions. Recently, this term has aptly described the state of Egypt's officials - if we assume that they believe what they say - and President Sisi's recent visit to the US is the clearest manifestation of it.
President Sisi was in New York last week to address the United Nations General Assembly. The numbers of supporters welcoming him were remarkably low compared to the previous year. He addressed numerous issues during his speech, including extremism, regional conflicts, and Egypt's latest economic projects such as the expansion of the Suez Canal.
A number of American media outlets also interviewed Sisi, such as CNN. This is when he expressed his views on Syria and his preference for keeping Assad in power, asserting the importance of countering terrorism and extremist ideas. He also emphasised that Egypt is not a repressive state.
A closer look at what is taking place in Egypt indicates otherwise, however. While Sisi presents himself as a custodian of moderation, claiming his regime fights "extremism", his security forces have been reluctant to protect Copts from attacks by extremists in the neighborhood of Amreya in Alexandria. The latest incident took place the very same week he was addressing the UN in New York. The homes of the Coptic community were attacked with stones and the church was besieged. According to the church pastor, he called the police but they failed to come to the rescue.
Those who had a little faith have now lost it.
This is not the first time Sisi presents the world with a picture that is the complete opposite of reality. Last year during his visit to the 2014 UNGA, while he discussed "countering extremism", Egyptian security forces broke into the houses of Copts in the village of Deir Gabal al-Tayr in Minya, Upper Egypt. Hundreds of men were rounded up, and according to victims, women and children were beaten and called “infidels”. This is another clear example of the conflict between what the Egyptian regime wants people to believe and what it does.
This year, when asked about freedom of expression by CNN, Sisi replied: “We have unprecedented freedom of expression in Egypt. No one in Egypt can bar anyone working in media or journalism or on TV from expressing their views". This came a few days after the Aljazeera journalists were pardoned after having been sentenced to three years in prison on flimsy, absurd evidence.
The Egyptian media is now effectively a choir of supporters who spread lies without question as if they were ‘real’ news. TV anchors like Yosri Fouda and Dina Abdel Rahman have been barred from presenting their shows, and even political satire is no longer accepted—Bassem Youssef was pressured not to continue his work.
Egyptian rights groups were quick to respond to Sisi's claims by stating that there are currently 60 journalists behind bars. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) counts at least 18 journalists imprisoned in Egypt. The Egyptian Press syndicate said the number of detained journalists has in fact jumped from 22 at the beginning of this year to 35 last August.
Some journalists were also detained for months without trail or charges being brought forward. Photojournalist Mahmoud Shawkan was arrested while covering the forcible dispersal of the Muslim Brotherhood's Rabaa sit-in summer of 2013. His trial was only recently set for December 2015. Shawkan has been unjustly detained for over two years without charges.
During this UNGA speech, Sisi announced a new youth initiative called "Hope and Action for a New Direction" that is aimed "to employ youth's capabilities in building the future that will soon be their own”. I personally have not heard anything about this initiative nor do I know anyone who has, which is quite typical of government initiatives—just talk, no action, public involvement, or follow up.
On the other hand, at the beginning of his rule, Sisi met a group of young techies and entrepreneurs, including some friends and work colleagues. They expressed ideas and projects that could benefit the country in fields such as education, e-commerce, etc. The meeting was widely touted by Egyptian media as the beginning of a new era between the regime and the country’s youth and the attendees were told that the government would support their ambitions. My friends were never contacted again and their projects were either put on hold or carried out of their own accord. One can safely assume that it was a publicity stunt.
As time has passed one thing seems certain, the relation between this regime and the youth is one of aversion. The youth have been greatly marginalised, prosecuted and many are languishing in jail for just protesting. Those who had a little faith have now lost it.
While the Egyptian regime tries to show the world an image of respect for freedoms and rights, it widely violates them. And while it uses media outlets to secure support from the Egyptian public, it does the least to ensure their welfare.