\ˌprō-pə-ˈgan-də, ˌpr-\: ideas or statements that are often false or exaggerated […] spread in order to help a cause, a political leader, a government, etc. [Merriam-Webster].
Regardless of the nobility of its aim, propaganda is pernicious since, by its very nature, it attempts to suppress all viewpoints other than the one advanced, reducing the matter of contention to a uni-dimensional falsehood.
Flashback. As soon as the National Socialist German Workers Party rose to power, Joseph Goebbels was appointed Minister of Public Enlightenment & Propaganda. He started to roll out a simple two-fold plan. On the one hand, the Führerprinzip, - Leadership Principle – aimed to picture Hitler as the face, voice, pride and conscience of the nation. He was pictured in posters as a bearer of peace, a messiah. The Party’s artists went so far as to coin Christian symbolism in their drawings, everything was fair game. A 1936 poster held the following quote from the Führer: “I ask the German People to […] lend me its strength so that I will always and everywhere have the strength to fight for its honour and freedom”.
Present. In his address to the nation, on July 24, El Sisi declared: “I ask all honourable and faithful Egyptians to take to the streets […] to mandate me to confront terrorism and violence.” Campaigns, in support of Egypt’s military and the man at its helm, haven’t stopped sprouting since Morsi’s ouster: “Strike, El Sisi, with an iron fist”, “Hit the bull’s eye!” are the phase’s taglines. A nationwide movement is calling for the Commander-in-Chief to “make whole the favour he has done us” and run for president. Just last week, another group went so far as to call for El Sisi’s induction into office for 5 years, without elections. The novelty lies in the fact propaganda is – or, at least, appears to be – instigated by the People, not the State. Yes, it seems Egypt’s future and fate has but one name: El Sisi.
Not only does the “cult of the leader” create a serious imbalance in power between the executive, on the one hand, and legislative and judicial on the other; but it also does so between the military and the civil. It also paves the way towards re-establishing the toxic patriarchal dynamic between president and nation.
Flashback. It is easier for people to come together against a person or idea than to do so in support of it. The second campaign consisted of creating a common enemy, both within and beyond Germany’s borders. The enemy was a race: the Jews; an ideology: Bolshevism; and states: signatories of the WWI Versailles Treaty. The German People rallied behind the Nazi Party’s leaders. The hate movement began on 1 April 1933, with a boycott of Jewish businesses within the country, and escalated into an all-out war against the allies, which has forever changed the face of the world.
Present. The publicized witch hunt of Muslim Brotherhood senior members began as soon as Morsi was forcefully relieved of his presidential duties. Egyptian media have not stopped treating their audiences to a series of scoops and photos highlighting the capture of another MB leading figure; or documents implicating the “International” MB, pointing to the organization’s efforts to execute a regional plan where Egypt’s national security and sovereignty mattered little. The Brotherhood has been rendered illegal by court order, arms stashes are being seized on a regular basis, assets frozen and terrorist activities – esp. in the Sinai Peninsula – are being linked back to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, its supposed Palestinian counterpart. We are at diplomatic war with Turkey, a showdown that has seen the dismissal of the Turkish ambassador and recall of Egypt’s envoy to Turkey. The Cairo-Doha relations are probably at an all-time low and the Cairo-Washington hotline, is not so hot. In fact, Hamas has probably taken Al Qaeda’s place, and the US Israel’s, in Egyptians’ hearts.
Creating a common enemy of nebulous scale and viciousness pushes the People to de-prioritize other issues affecting their livelihood. After all, their very lives seem to be at stake. And when the enemy is from within, when a faction of the population is deemed "terrorist" because it adheres to an organization whose leaders preach violence at times, what that does is to tear at the fabric of society, just like post-1956 with Egypt’s Jews. Both sad and ironic that the same Brotherhood that had taken an active part in Jews’ persecution in support of the military regime, back then, is the one being tyrannized today. But the victimization goes beyond MB affiliates. All proponents of “political Islam” feel personally targeted. Almost overnight, Egypt’s red, white and black flag seems to have shrunk and does not cloak them, any more. And whenever feelings of oppression and injustice mount, the menace of civil unrest looms.
In drawing the comparison above, my purpose is not to associate – or to not associate – today’s self-anointed rulers to the likes of Goebbels and Hitler. I only aim to highlight the similarities in the workings of the propaganda machine between the WWII Reich and twenty-first century Egypt. The similarities are striking. Let me also add that propaganda has gone rampant not only at the hands of those in power. Pictures of Morsi in shining armour astride a white horse, Saladdin-style, have made the rounds of online social networks. If it weren’t for the fact it is haram, Islamists would have probably photo shopped themselves onto crosses, too.
Egyptians are not an uneducated and gullible herd. Neither were Germans in the 1930s-40s. But the masses can be short-sighted. They see what is going on as a war for their own survival. But all it is, in reality, is a war waged by the leadership, on both sides, for their own benefit. Either side is very aware that the existence and continued strength of its own group hinges on the continued existence, yet relative subservience, of the other party. Both sides shout and gesticulate. The sad fact is that when one and the other’s howls grow loud, little space is left for those voices favouring neither, for the people trying to pull us out of the binary political model the country has been stuck in for decades.