Egypt has just spent three days playing out the constitutional amendment referendum, complete with clichéd dancing in the streets to horrendous songs that we first heard after the military coup in 2013, such as “May these hands be safe” and “Boshret Khair” (“Good omen”) by Hussain Al-Jasmi. We also saw reports of farcical sights, such as the woman who gave birth in the polling station; the bride and groom who came to the polling station in their wedding dress and tuxedo, to celebrate their wedding; a man dressed in his Umrah robes; a doctor who found no other means of transportation, so came on a donkey; and a woman who came in an ambulance to cast her vote. She was cured miraculously when she heard Al-Jasmi’s song and leapt up from the stretcher to dance with the others.
Such were some of the scenes witnessed across the Egyptian media on referendum day. They demonstrated that the government is treating the people as if they are naive and stupid, and might actually be duped by these old and tired tricks. It is living in the 1950s and the Ministry of Culture, which pushes the people towards one school of thought, is living in the deceitful time of Abdel Nasser and Ahmed Saeed’s lying media; a delusionary period in which we still appear to be stuck.
The current government of Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi does not appear to have realised that we are in the third millennium and in the middle of a communications revolution, which has turned the world into a village. We are no longer able to hide any information or knowledge, access to which lies at everyone’s fingertips. The government does not, it seems, understand that it is facing a completely different generation to that of the 1950s, and that the internet generation will not accept what their parents and grandparents did. This is why the younger generation recognised this government farce and launched an online campaign to boycott the referendum, while political forces called upon the people to vote “no”.
Isn’t it strange, though, that the same people who called on Egyptians to vote “no” also called on them to boycott the referendum in 2014 altogether because it was void and proposed by the coup authorities? They said that Egypt’s constitution is the January Revolution constitution drafted in 2012, which Al-Sisi suspended after the coup. How could they demand that the people participate, even by rejecting a nullified constitution? This supports Al-Sisi and his regime and makes him appear democratic to the world. This is what he wants and what the world sees, and so they have done him a favour, either unintentionally or, perhaps, knowingly.
The most important scene in the referendum play was when boxes of basic foodstuffs — cooking oil, sugar, rice, tea, etc. — were distributed to voters, after it was confirmed that they voted by checking that they had red ink on their fingers. This was a shameful and embarrassing moment that offended many Egyptians and was caught by the lenses of the Western media. It showed the Egyptians giving in and going to the polls in order to get these boxes; the poll has been labelled “the battle of the boxes”.
In my opinion, the government planned such imagery in advance in order to send a message within and beyond Egypt that the people are barbarians and that Al-Sisi should not be blamed for not caring about human rights. He wanted to suggest that the Egyptians do not care about democracy and their only concern is to get cheap necessities; that they are a hungry and ignorant nation that is not yet ready for real democracy. The images also suggested that if the Egyptians were ever given complete freedom, they would cause chaos.
Al-Sisi had told French President Emmanuel Macron during a press conference during his last visit, when the issues of human rights and freedom were brought up, “When it comes to human rights, we’re not evading an answer but I hope that we understand it in its true context of a country in Egypt’s situation. We are not in Europe, with its intellectual, cultural, civilisational and human advancement. We’re in a different region.”
He was basically telling the West not to bet on the masses, as he has destroyed them, even if they are walking on their own two feet, grabbing cheap food and dancing to even cheaper songs. Al-Sisi wants to defeat the Egyptian people on the inside by summoning marginalised groups of Egyptians who are suffering economically, and put them in the spotlight as they dance hysterically before scrambling and fighting to grab a box of food. It was an attempt to force the Egyptians to surrender to him and accept whatever humiliation he had prepared for them.
However, this is not an accurate representation of Egypt and these are not the real people of Egypt. The real Egypt has been hijacked, and what we are being force fed today is a distorted image of the nation.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.