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Egypt: character assassination as a weapon

The Egyptian regime has been resorting to defamation campaigns to target its opponents as a tactic to silence and discredit any critical voices. العربية

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Picture by Kremlin Pool/Zuma Press/PA Images. All rights reserved. The current Egyptian regime has mobilized all its media institutions to distort the image of its opponents and incite hatred against them. It does not distinguish between a revolutionary, someone who belonged to the previous regime, or someone from within the military establishment: if that person criticizes, disagrees, or competes with it, then it will be a target.

Not only has this regime imprisoned, dissapeared, imposed travel bans and asset freezes on its critics, but it has also launched unethical defamation campaigns against them. It has employed a unique phenomenon of "leaking" and broadcasting personal phone calls that are then picked up by its allies in the media to distort and incite hatred against those targeted.

Why is this regime resorting to such attacks against its opponents and what are its criteria in selecting its targets? There are different answers to this crucial question.

First of all, there are some critics that the regime may not want to imprison because they are too important or influential on the international level, and their arrest will generate too much international attention. The noise generated as a result of their imprisonment by international media, would create too much of a headache.

Character assassination is a very effective weapon against human rights defenders and the Egyptian opposition

Second, the regime may have no other means to punish its critics than through such immoral tactics. Perhaps it has no evidence to justify their imprisonment, however many believe that the regime is easily able to fabricate any charges against anyone it wishes to imprison.   

Third, character assassination is a very effective weapon against human rights defenders and the Egyptian opposition, especially women. It affects and reduces their credibility in a conservative society, even if the exposed behavior is conducted in their personal life. Imprisoning or detaining these types of activists may turn them into heroes or martyrs, whereas questioning their reputation destroys their legitimacy as well as that of the January revolution.  

The regime does not want to leave any space for symbols or public personalities from the January revolution that can engage and mobilize members of society. This is a key lesson it learned from the January revolution and Mubarak’s tolerance of such voices and it will not allow these personalities to create an atmosphere that can support the emergence or rise of new symbols. Only hypocritical voices are disseminated on the various media channels to falsify information and brainwash public opinion in support of the regime.

Whatever the reasons, this weapon of character assassination and image distortion is used by this regime in an unprecedented way. It will remain a black mark on its history and it is not an indication of its strength but its weakness. Spying on critics and recording and broadcasting private calls and images is a cheap weapon.

The final question is whether society will one day see through these tactics and realize that such regimes that suppress their opponents by espionage and intrusion into their personal lives are despicable systems that are unable to confront their opponents through honorable means, logic and reason. Rather, the confrontation should take the form of developing and responding to the policies rejected by the opposition in a decent, polite and clear manner without deceit and distortion.

About the author

Esraa Abdel Fattah is an advisor for civil society and emerging democracies. She is a social media manager at Tahrir newspaper. She co-founded the April 6 General Strike Egypt in 2008. After being dubbed the social-networking phenom, “Facebook Girl,” she was detained by Egyptian security and spent two weeks in prison. She is a political activist who played a leading role in the mass protests in Tahrir square during the 25th January Revolution. She was named as “woman of the year 2011” by Glamour Magazine for her leadership in organizing the historic Tahrir square movement in Egypt and named one of Arabian Business Magazine's 100 most powerful Arab women in 2011 & 2012. She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011. 

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