Creating new perspectives since 2009

Egypt’s media and the making of a dictator

May 7, 2016 at 11:32 am

In the battle for the balance of power between Saudi Arabia and Iran, Egypt has lost its political identity, and pretty much everything else that built and subsequently maintained its one-time significance in the Middle East. Today, two of the most important institutions that ensure freedom and justice in a country – the courts and the media – remain the most compromised in Egypt.

When General Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, ousted Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, in a 2013 coup, the Egyptian media was triumphant. Belittling everything that Morsi did, journalists, with some unbelievable ignorance, forgot their past experience with military dictators. Instantly, the image of a “national saviour” was built around Sisi, making him larger than life. An entirely prejudiced media campaign legitimised the power swoop by the military dictator; Egypt’s revolution was history.

Egyptians have a legacy of living an undignified life under brutal dictatorial regimes. In the anti-Muslim Brotherhood post-coup euphoria, Egypt’s media forgot the freedom enjoyed under the movement’s government. For Sisi, that was a blessing. He acknowledged the role of the media for the “betterment of society.” There certainly was betterment; not for society, though, but for Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi.

It did not last long, neither for Sisi nor for the media. The first dent in his carefully crafted image came during the presidential election. The revolutionary sentiments had died down and Egyptians realised that their president was already chosen and the election was merely a process to name the dictator as their leader. There wasn’t any real choice; those leaders with whom most members of society had shared political ideas were put behind bars. There wasn’t much option in the poll even for the liberals who vehemently opposed the Brotherhood’s politics. Moreover, aside from being for Egyptians, it was an election for Saudi Arabia’s “colonial extension” in an attempt to swing the balance of power within the region. The majority of Egyptians did not vote, so Sisi extended the election day into four days in a bid to make more people vote. Even after four days, an embarrassing number of just 30 per cent of all possible votes were cast. Instead of digging deep into the reasons that stopped people from casting their vote, the Egyptian media celebrated the victory of the military dictator.

Revolution is a symbol of hope; it is supposed to transform a country into a better place, where freedom and socio-economic security is ensured; why else would people spill their blood for a cause? When one looks at Egypt’s uprising – which some still call a revolution – the smokescreen of absolute hopelessness emerges. Egypt falls within the category of those countries in the world which have deteriorated, politically and economically, after a revolution. People were killed by the police before and during the uprising; indeed, the Egyptian police killed hundreds of peaceful demonstrators, mostly Brotherhood supporters, following the 2013 coup. Today, with Sisi at the helm, people are still being killed and protests are still being stifled.

Reports from El-Nadeem Centre for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence give details of 272 cases of “death outside legal norms”, 289 cases of torture, 119 cases of enforced disappearance, and countless injuries due to the ruthless use of force by police during the first year of Sisi’s rule. Dozens of students associated with the Brotherhood have been expelled from their universities and colleges; foreign nationals are feeling more insecure than ever, especially in the wake of the institutional killing of Italian student Giulio Regeni.

If one is to find something good that happened in Egypt during the Brotherhood’s year of presidency, one would probably say that, at the very least, police brutality was stopped. Officers’ ability to act with impunity was no more. Egyptians were free to express their political dissent against the Brotherhood; political prisoners were released unconditionally. The movement may not have been able to offer much economic prosperity to people, but, for the first time in its history, Egypt experienced something called dignity.

Another tragedy of Egypt’s uprising was the role of liberals who were an ardent part of the anti-Brotherhood campaign. They often claimed that the movement could not provide them with the freedom they aspired for. They mostly argued in anticipation of things which did not actually happen: “The Brotherhood has taken over Egypt and now there will be no freedom, women will be deprived of their rights, Egypt will become an Islamic dictatorship” was a common refrain. None of this happened. During Mohamed Morsi’s time as President, the secularists enjoyed the ultimate freedom to express dissent. Now that the military dictator is in charge, dozens of “secular liberal democrats”, human rights activists and civil society members are in jail.

Today Egypt is a more suffocating place than it could possibly ever be under a democratically-elected civil government. What happened to those secular, intellectual and liberal moralists? Where are the “freedom activists”? Why isn’t there a word of dissent spoken from anywhere against the regime’s repressive policies? When an innocent tea vendor was killed mercilessly by police last week, why wasn’t there any demonstration demanding justice for the victim? Demonstrations, of course, occur in places where dissent is allowed. In today’s Egypt, demonstrating against the police means inviting death or imprisonment; often both.

In a country like Egypt, the greatness of a regime ought to be understood by the amount of resilience it demonstrates, the space it allows for dissent. However, when the media fails to differentiate between the good and the bad of a leader – and when it desists from highlighting what hurts society – persistent humiliation tends to become the norm. The Egyptian media is guilty of this; it ignores the plight of those suffering in society. Egypt is back where it was during the Mubarak era. For things to change again, there needs to be a new uprising but, given the unpredictability of Egyptian society, the price will probably be too much to pay.


The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.