In a New Media Campaign, the Islamic State (IS) Targets Egypt's Presidential Elections and Democracy

Adam Hoffman analyzes the IS social media efforts against the backdrop of the Egyptian presidential campaign.

On March 23, Wilayat Sinai – the Egyptian branch of the Islamic State  – published a new video, titled "the Failed Confrontation." The relatively long video (26 minutes) was part of the group's new social media campaign directed against Egypt's presidential elections that started on March 26.

In line with the group's previous video that was discussed in Jihadiscope, this video focuses on the Egyptian military's counterterrorism campaign against Wilayat Sinai launched in early February, “Comprehensive Operation Sinai 2018,” which is presented as yet another failed effort to defeat jihadism in Egypt. The video highlights the fact that this campaign isn't President Sisi's first effort to eradicate terrorism and extremism in Sinai and mentions the attempts of past Egyptian presidents Mubarak and Sadat to eradicate terrorism in the country. Despite their effort, according to the video, all of these attempts failed, and Sisi's operation is no different. According to Wilayat Sinai, the "apostate" Egyptian military will fail once again in its efforts to defeat jihadism in Sinai.

The video featured Wilayat Sinai's attacks on Egyptian army forces, including the use of IEDs, mines, sniper fire, and scenes reminiscent of first-person-shooter video games that show the shooting of Egyptian soldiers from up close and from driving cars. These are all familiar scenes from other IS videos from Iraq and Syria, but are also recurrent themes in Wilayat Sinai's videos. Such scenes aim to show the strength and tactical capabilities of the jihadists on one hand and the vulnerability and incompetence of the Egyptian security forces on the other.

But in addition to the regular scenes of militant attacks on Egyptian security forces and promises of additional such operations, the video also attacked Egypt's presidential elections, in which President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is almost certain to be re-elected. In the days and weeks before the elections, Sisi encouraged Egyptians to vote, hoping for a high turnout. Some figures affiliated with the old guard of the Muslim Brotherhood called for boycotting the elections, but Wilayat Sinai initiated an entire media campaign against voting in the elections.

In the video, the IS defines the elections as "polytheism" (shirk) – one of the strongest derogatory terms in salafi-jihadi discourse. According to Wilayat Sinai, the elections are polytheism and all those who vote in them are polytheists, which permits salafi-jihadis to attack them. To ensure the widest pushback against the elections, Wilayat Sinai also initiated a social media campaign based on the hashtags #Presidential_Elections and #Elections2018.

Furthermore, one of the stories in the latest issue of al-Naba, the IS's Arabic-language weekly, presented the vices of "the religion of democracy," which according to jihadists usurps God's exclusive authority with man-made laws. This is another familiar theme in salafi-jihadi discourse, but the timing of Egypt's presidential elections provided an opportunity for Wilayat Sinai to present this "lesson" against participating in elections and justify violent attacks against them yet again.

With only one candidate running against Sisi, Egypt's ruler since July 2013 is virtually certain to win re-election. Well aware of this, Wilayat Sinai's media campaign is intended to intimate both potential voters and the Egyptian army by claiming that all military efforts to eradicate the group (and jihadism in Sinai more broadly) had failed and that the group is not going anywhere anytime soon. Such threats highlight the scourge of terrorism in Egypt yet again, undermining any promises of security and stability made by Sisi's regime.