Posted by on June 12, 2014 in Blog

By Myles Teasley
Summer Intern, 2014

Polisario territory in the Western Sahara

As one man takes his throne, another exits his own. The man officially taking a seat is one who in reality has been running things for months. In a national election held a few weeks ago that Egyptian media and officials have hailed as “historic,” former General and Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi won with 96.9% of the vote, placing him in the company of Arab leaders like Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and Hafez al-Assad, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, and Tunisia’s Zine el Abidine Ben Ali in trouncing their opponents.

Although an election ostensibly to legitimize Sisi’s government, the results were far murkier. It featured only two candidates (in 2012 there were more than 10), a suffocating media narrative unanimously portraying Sisi as the national savior, and extraordinary methods of boosting voter turnout, including threats to fine non-voters, the arbitrary declaration of a national holiday on the second day of voting, and an unprecedented third day of voting (because of a ‘heat wave’). Despite these efforts, just 47% of eligible voters turned out as youth groups and the Islamists boycotted; this is less than two-thirds of what Sisi called for and a claim already disputed by the other candidate. Egyptians have now had the opportunity (or burden) of voting in 7 elections in the past 37 months. Turmoil continues to remain the rule, not the exception, which Sisi has pledged to quickly bring stability and order to.

But is the price of his pledge so high that it threatens the goals of the revolution in the first place? In a powerful indictment from a founder of the April 6 Youth movement that helped initiate the Tahrir Square protests that brought down Mubarak, Ahmed Maher wrote, “Egypt is ruled by a military regime that does not tolerate criticism or even advice.” With over 4,500 people killed or injured in military raids against Muslim Brotherhood supporters, as many as 16,000 people arrested in the past 10 months since Morsi’s ouster including hundreds of journalists, and a recently proposed invasive social media monitoring law that Amnesty International has said will deal a “devastating blow” to the right to privacy and freedom of expression, it seems Maher is vindicated.

Even perceived regime supporters have not been exempt from the crackdown on expression.  Following brief suspension under the pretext that the show would “unduly influence Egyptian voters,” Bassem Youssef’s popular satire program El-Bernameg [The Program] was suddenly canceled. It is believed that his program’s swelling criticism of the military-backed Sisi government’s poor record on human rights and expression led to significant pressure on his show and its backers. Refusing to water down his content, Youssef, whose throne atop post-revolutionary Arab media seemed untouchable just months ago, cancelled his Jon Stewart-like show in protest.

If we’re meeting the new boss in Egypt and he’s the same as the old boss, has anything changed? In light of the Arab world’s recent past, perhaps Youssef’s sign off during the final episode is prophetic: “This show is not dead. It’s sleeping, because little children don’t want to hear it.”

comments powered by Disqus