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Al-Sisi and the black box

Egyptian President Abdel Fattal Al-Sisi in Sochi, Russia, 24 October 2019 [Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images]
Egyptian President Abdel Fattal Al-Sisi in Sochi, Russia on 24 October 2019 [Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images]

The new mantra of Egypt's ruling military regime when anyone attempts to express an opinion that differs from the official narrative is that "leaks are our duty". This, in short, is a summary of what happened last week to the host of the "Black Box" TV show, Abdel-Rahim Ali.

The regime apparently decided to open the black box of Abdel-Rahim Ali, one of its most important media arms. Ali, who has aired audio leaks of many political figures in his programme, was handed such recordings by a party believed to be either the General Intelligence Service, as usual, or Military Intelligence.

Ali has now insulted the Egyptian state after promoting himself as one of its protectors and defenders. He questioned the patriotism of every opposition figure and described them as enemies of Egypt. Now we know that those who insist on defending the country's prestige and sovereignty in public, insult the state in private and make fun of the law during personal phone conversations.

The real problem is that Abdel-Rahim Ali not only insulted the Egyptian state and made fun of the rule of law, but he also crossed all the red lines in that leaked phone conversation. He mocked Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi personally. The issue is no longer about who leaked that conversation between Ali and his son-in-law, the attorney general, but rather Ali's belittling of Al-Sisi.

READ: Al-Sisi's Egypt is a land without justice

A few days earlier, an audio recording was leaked of Amr Al-Ganaini, head of the normalisation committee appointed for the Egyptian Football Association, making fun of Al-Sisi and saying that the president does not even know the shape of the ball. Hours after the leak, Al-Ganaini was dismissed from the Board of Directors of the Commercial International Bank after being accused of corruption. This is how the charges suddenly appeared and the dismissal decision was taken.

The common factor between Al-Ganaini and Abdel-Rahim Ali is that some parties decided to publish audio leaks that contain a direct insult to the head of the military regime in Egypt.

Journalists normally protect their sources of sensitive information, but asking about the source of the recordings this time might be more important than debunking what was leaked. Hence, if we leave aside the source of the leak, be it an activist, media outlet, a TV channel, or even an unheard-of social media page, and focus instead on finding the person who recorded the insults against Al-Sisi, then we may have a lead.

Someone inside the regime has decided now to issue endless leaks, which are not bound by journalistic ethics or political etiquette. Egypt's ruling class feeds off espionage and phone surveillance, followed by extortion and leaking audio and visual materials in order to assassinate a person's character or blackmail them. There have been many incidents like this. Safwat Al-Sherif, the Minister of Information in the Mubarak era and Salah Nasr in Abdel Nasser's time did the same thing.

READ: Egypt: Nearly 2,000 arrested since September's protests

Leaks will not stop in Egypt, and we can expect to see many more from a number of sources. The stories will vary and the protagonists will differ, but there will be a common factor in all of them: they will all contain insults against Al-Sisi in one way or another.

This will not lead to the departure of Egypt's president, but it clearly means that insulting and belittling the head of state through such leaks may be a new way to annoy him. Under military rule, which is hostile to everyone including military personnel and civilians, repression has reached all levels of Egyptian society. Some of the people have united to hit back by opening Al-Sisi's black box in the hope of overthrowing him.

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

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