1095 Days of al-Sisi’s Presidency: The Upcoming Egyptian Presidential Elections on SNS

Michael Barak surveys the positions of Egyptian users of SNS regarding the accomplishments of President ‘Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi after three years in office, and the general consensus surrounding al-Sisi's poor economic performance.
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Egyptian squash champion Nour al-Sherbini
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Egyptian squash champion Nour al-Sherbini praises the momentum and the achievements of Egyptian sports during al-Sisi’s presidency as part of the “Egypt 1095”campaign on SNS.



Against the backdrop of preparations for the Egyptian presidential elections scheduled for April 2018, social networking sites (SNS) in Egypt have been, for several months, engaged in a frantic discussion. This discussion has examined the achievements of the regime of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and has debated whether he should be elected for another term. Many Egyptian citizens thank al-Sisi for his efforts to defend the Egyptian homeland against ISIS terrorism and against the Muslim Brotherhood’s attempt to take control of the state institutions during the period of Morsi’s presidency. At the same time, there is an evident sense of disappointment over al-Sisi’s perceived failure to improve the welfare of residents, particularly in the economic realm. While his supporters want to focus on the efforts he has made to advance the Egyptian economy, the Muslim Brotherhood opposition has called on him to resign immediately. In the background, left-wing activists are encouraging people to boycott the elections or, alternatively, to vote for other candidates, even those with no chance of being elected, as a protest against al-Sisi’s policies. The discourse on SNS thus reflects the ambivalent feelings of Egyptian users towards al-Sisi.

To enhance his image prior to the elections, young people launched a state-supported SNS campaign last June, called “Egypt 1095.” The campaign is intended to highlight the achievements of the regime during its’ three-year tenure, and includes the new Suez Canal initiative. Many users described al-Sisi as an admired leader fighting corruption and terrorism, acting for greater transparency in state institutions and the welfare of individuals. One wrote that al-Sisi managed to give hope to his people, and unite them around the homeland despite the difficult period. Others wrote that he had managed to turn the Egyptian army into one of the strongest, and thus has restored Egypt’s status as leader of the region.[1] On his Facebook page, al-Sisi expressed gratitude for the initiative: “We thank the people working on this excellent effort. It proves that the young people of Egypt are the hope of this nation, and they will lead it.”[2]

Among the supporters of al-Sisi, there were those who nevertheless criticized his performance on the economic level. “We are furious at the unjustified cost of living, the lack of government supervision of markets, and the failure to take punitive measures against unscrupulous [i.e., corrupt] people.” Another user from the capital expressed joy at the fact that “We are rid of the Brothers’ rule, but failed economic planning has plunged us into the abyss.” Yet another, from the city Banha, noted that Egypt bears a heavy economic burden because the inauguration of the new Suez Canal has not proven itself, has only deepened the country’s budget deficit.  The user continued by stating that it “would have been better to settle for the old [Suez] canal.” Another user urged al-Sisi to focus on rehabilitating tourism, which was severely damaged by the bombing by ISIS of a Russian plane over the Sinai Peninsula.

Other criticism, mainly by anti-Islamist Egyptian students without a specific party affiliation, dealt with the suppression of individual freedoms. The discourse on the subject was renewed following the mid-September decision of the Egyptian Minister of Education to compel university students to sing the national anthem facing the Egyptian flag.  This decision was framed as an effort to strengthen the connection of students to the homeland, but many students ridiculed the measure as a joke, stressing that there are other ways to strengthen national feelings. They said it would have been better for the regime to allow elections for the Students Union to be held on campuses without external intervention, to grant freedom of expression, and to release from prison the students who were convicted for nothing more than daring to criticize the regime.[3]

The Muslim Brotherhood also held a wide-ranging discussion describing the al-Sisi regime as a failure that is leading Egypt to national disaster. At the end of August, the Brotherhood’s supporters launched an online campaign, which won Qatari support, called “Remove Your President.” It listed reasons for al-Sisi to resign. These included, inter alia, his alleged inability to protect the security of the Coptic population against terrorism, and the deterioration of the economic situation in Egypt.[4] In early September, their rhetoric was heightened following publication of a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) accusing Egypt of torturing prisoners, which it described as a “crime against humanity.” The report was exploited for propaganda purposes using varied hashtags, including “Torture” and “Al-Sisi’s Crimes Against Humanity.”[5] al-Sisi’s supporters, on the other hand, claimed that the report was false, and called HRW a “fifth column” operating in the service of Qatar, the Muslim Brotherhood and even ISIS.

Among left-wing users, opinions are divided between the desire to boycott the elections as a protest against al-Sisi, who failed to keep his promises to care for the welfare of the people and the absence of a suitable alternative candidate, and between those who view this as a fundamentally mistaken idea, preferring instead to prevent al-Sisi from winning a landslide victory. The reasons for their opposition to al-Sisi include his decision to transfer the Tiran and Sanafir islands to Saudi Arabia, which they regard as treasonous and a historical error.[6]

In an opinion poll conducted by an Egyptian Twitter user, in which more than 20,000 respondents were asked about their desired next president, 61% supported al-Sisi, 13% supported another candidate, and 26% expressed their desire to boycott the elections entirely.[7] The survey reflects the mood of the current discourse, in which al-Sisi’s supporters, including those who are disappointed with his economic performance, seek to re-elect him. Meanwhile, his opponents from the Muslim Brotherhood and the left are divided between their desire to boycott the elections and their desire to minimize the margin of al-Sisi’s victory. In their view, the economic crisis, the narrowing of freedom of expression, and the exploitation of SNS as propaganda tools for the regime’s needs, such as “Egypt 1095,” are evidence of the regime’s moral impoverishment.

 


[1] Facebook, 30 June 2017. 

[2] Facebook, 30 June 2017.  For more on the process of establishing the group and producing the video on the regime’s accomplishments, see al-Masry  al-Youm on 30.6.2017.‎

[3] RassdNewsN, Facebook, 15 September 2017; Youm7, Facebook, 17 September 2017.

[4] al-Jazeera Mubasher on Youtube, 25 August 2017;  @no.sisi.2018, Facebook, 27 September 2017.

[5] #كفاية_تعذيب; #السيسي_راعي_التعذيب; #لن_تسقط_جرائمكم; #ضد_الاعدام_السياسي; #جرائم_السيسي_ضد_الانسانية           

[6] Twitter, 17 September 2017. For more details on this issue see, Michael Barak, “The Tiran and Sanafir Islands at the Heart of an Online Protest,” Beehive, Vol. 4, issue 4 (April 2016) .

[7] Twitter, 14 September 2017; Twitter, 20 September 2017.