North Africa, West Asia

The Egyptian media’s non-campaigning campaign for Sisi

It seems obvious that Abdel Fattah El Sisi is going to be Egypt's next president, but he has yet to announce his intention to run. Are people just going to take it as a given that he is going to be the next president? Do they not want to know what his programme is?

Mohamed Elmeshad
20 February 2014
Demotix/Adham Khorshed. All rights reserved.

Egyptians celebrating the 3rd anniversary of the January 25 revolution. Demotix/Adham Khorshed. All rights reserved.

It's the oldest tactic in Egyptian politics, nay politics in general. When you really have no precedent or direct evidence that what you want to do is needed or wanted, throw out some all too obvious feelers and poorly veiled hints to the public to set the stage for an inevitable scenario. On some level it's a variant of the "Nudge theory," a behavioural science concept used in public policy, where the ruling power uses positive reinforcement and indirect suggestions in order to achieve "non-forced compliance".

In the case of ensuring Egyptian compliance and acceptance of a presidential run/rule by "Field Marshal" Abdel Fattah El Sisi, the case has not been a nudge, so much as it has been a consistent, violent shove. Since his address to the nation in the run-up to June 30, and his portrayal as capable statesman, disciplined soldier, dear leader, saviour and doting father of the nation it is all too evident that he will be Egypt's next ruler; all the while the country's media dancing around his unannounced, yet inevitable run for presidency.

To get things moving, opposition and supporters: just announce it already so everyone can start planning accordingly. Instead of waiting on news to leak from some Kuwaiti newspapers, we can all call things what they are. For example, when Sisi is not in military clothes, respectable journalists will not have to waste any of their time stipulating why. Coffee shops and dinner tables will be spared the frivolous musings why. It is not for want of a Sisi presidency, by any means, that I say this (quite the contrary, actually), but this is written in the stipulation of the near-certain possibility that a Sisi presidency will come to pass. 

Everything about the Sisi "non-campaign" up until this point looks like a carefully orchestrated "checklist" in the space of a few months to make sure he has all of the credentials to be the perfect presidential candidate. The sycophantic public and private media-scape has been leading the way in this charade pretending not to know that they are the main tools for this entire "nudging." It would not be in the least bit surprising if TV presenter, Lamees El-Hadidi goes over this checklist soon with conviction just as a reminder that God has bestowed upon Egypt the gift of the perfect would-be President:

Chummy with world leaders, a statesman... check!

Can give tender patronizing fatherly speeches... check!

Wears a suit...check!

Security... check!

First lady looking First Lady-like… check!

Prayer mark, existent so as to portray piousness, not over imposing so as to suggest fanaticism...check!

Masses asking him (delegating to him) to run for presidency i.e. public supra-electoral mandate...check!

The result the media is so obviously building towards, is that the image of Sisi will continue to be inflated until it is so big, it dominates the horizon of anyone looking to the future for political signs. Former MP and (political yo-yo) Mohamed Abu-Hamid took this to another level by writing to a declared candidate, Hamdeen Sabbahy, that his candidacy is an "affront to the will of the people." Somehow it has been acceptable to scoff (or attack) just the mere expression of a thought regarding the presidency that is not predicated on the formula that Sisi = leader. At the same time - as any follower of Bassem Youssef’s show knows - the same media outlets put a lot of effort in the “who will be Egypt’s next president” performance.

During his trip to Moscow for a weapons deal, El-Sisi and Russian President Vladimir Putin found time for an intimate photo-op, where Putin expressed support for Sisi's potential bid for presidency. It was just the latest in the surrealist landscape that is Egyptian "politics." Sisi wears a Soviet style winter coat, emblazoned with a large Red Star, receiving the blessings of one of the two most powerful men in the world, after negotiating an arms deal, which even though it is not with the Americans, is still funded by America's most important ally in the region, Saudi Arabia.

It is the second time in recent memory that a presidential candidate from one country took his campaign outside the country’s borders. The first, being Mitt Romney's trip to Israel. But unlike Romney's trip, this felt like the first of many projected visits as head of state. Putin could just as well have said, "I'll just keep this seat warm for you." It's not even really feeling like a nudge or a shove anymore, so much as a bludgeon to the head. Any Egyptian following the media is being put through a Sisi vortex, where the only possible outcome for that person, is to come out of it believing that Sisi will -and must!- be president.

On top of the hints and the association games being played by the pro-Sisi media camp, we are also treated to their lab rat experiments where the media throws the bait, and sees how people respond. For one, the rumour mill is working over-time providing constant “leaks” that Sisi will definitely run for presidency”... “Sisi, hours away from announcing candidacy”...”Sisi to respond to the will of the people and announce presidency.” Sometimes, the media takes it yet a step further by giving their own obvious bait mixed with nudges. “Sisi will only run for president if the Egyptian people go out in the streets and demand it,” said TV presenter Mostafa Bakry, who always seems to speak with confidence when speaking of anything to do with the military.

Mass media has even treated us to metaphysical baiting vis-à-vis the leaked tapes of a Sisi-like voice discussing multiple dreams that foreshadow his role as a leader of the people. Through “unintentional leaks” the media tested the penchant of Egyptian people to believe in the ecclesiastic apparitions of a man some have gone public to equate with the prophets and saints.

The more this process drags out, the more the run-up to the presidential elections will seem like a coronation at the end of a red carpet, rather than a swearing-in at the end of a campaign, complete with a platform, debates and actual competition. 

As it stands, Sabbahi will be making the media rounds as a presidential candidate, finding no one to debate but himself. Even he will have no option but to praise everything Sisi does as the untouchable Minister of Defense and Commander of the Armed Forces. We are living in an environment where any direct criticism of either is unacceptable, and so any infringement by either is swept under the rug. Even if Sisi announces his candidacy tonight, I do not expect there to be a real contest. But perhaps a chance to begin "the discourse" that Egyptians need to see happen and participate in: picking up the pieces and moving forward.

The question is more to Sisi: is he as oblivious (or complicit, as some say) to the grand scale of human rights abuses, torture, judicial vacuum and infringement on all rights, occurring now? Does he believe that a security crackdown on every imaginable right is actually the only way to achieve stability? Is he believing all of the hype surrounding him or is he a willing participant in the non-campaigning campaign going on for him in the media and in some public circles. As a country that seems to have succumbed to the military patriarchy: will we ever know any of the pressing answers we need to know to have any glimmer of hope for the coming period? Or will we wait and endure (some more than others) until for some it becomes unbearable, and then another revolutionary eruption happens? 

Most importantly, does he believe that the current struggle against terrorism is the only issue facing the country now? Many of the pro-security, pro-Sisi advocates, seem to think that he is needed to keep the country together. What they all have so horribly miscalculated, is that while Mubarak held the skeleton of the country up, it has been eating up and dissolving inside to the fragmented (but still savable) situation we are in now. Does Sisi know this? If so, what will he do so it doesn’t continue to dissolve inside, while he holds up the skeleton? Up until now, there are no indications that he has any plan. Perhaps if he campaigned, he can start thinking about it. 

People need to know his plan now. At least then before his anointment, rather than being nudged to merely comply, everyone will be nudged into mental preparedness for what's coming.

Of course, one must not rule out the miniscule possibility that Sisi does not “run” for presidency. If that happens, this writer will be left red-faced… but I’ll take my chances.

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