Our old friend ex-Field Marshal and current Egyptian presidential candidate Abdelfatah Al-Sisi just recently gave a very revealing television interview to leading Egyptian journalists. I found out via a mention on German radio, but it was hard then to find some corresponding printed article about it, whether in the German press or elsewhere. Ultimately it was the Neue Zürcher Zeitung that came through (where few others did), and my admiration for them extends to their revealing headline, Sisi warns about freedom of expression..
The piece states that the interview was in fact for a “private TV broadcaster” (what – closed-circuit TV or something?), and of course it was conducted in Arabic, so that helps explain why it almost slipped by European attention. No doubt the good ex-Field Marshal wishes that it had: I usually don’t like to include extensive quotations, but the two first paragraphs just state things so clearly.
The Egyptian presidential candidate Abdelfatah al-Sisi warned of the dangers of too much democratic freedom. In a talk with news-editors he called upon them not to insist too much on freedom of expression or other rights, for national security could thereby be put in danger. Egypt cannot be compared with stable Western lands, and a full democracy is an “idealistic” goal that possibly can be attained in 25 years, the former military chief said . . .
Sisi demanded that the approximately 20 editors of Egypt’s biggest newspapers not “scare” people or supply “skepticism.” The press should contribute to people getting behind the “strategic” aim of “protecting the Egyptian State,” he stipulated. According to his assertion, there should be “a balance between practice and freedom and national security.”
Well, there you have it! More dictatorial dumbing-down of discourse here, straight from before World War II, if not earlier. Don’t scare the people with your freedom of expression! Full democracy is still 25 years away!
Does that latter mean – something that has been cited before in an Arab electoral context – “one man, one vote, one time”? The article does acknowledge Sisi’s promise during the interview to step down if Egyptians ever rose up against him – oh sure, but the over 1,200 death sentences recently imposed on regime opponents would seem to argue against this. (Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammed Morsi apparently made the same “I’ll step down” pledge when he was elected president.)
In light of that interview, it is refreshing to see the following from Al-Arabiya’s English twitter-feed:
The linked article is of course also in English, and raises the question as to whether Egypt’s media landscape (or its population) is really as immature and in need of protection as the general asserts. It seems two Twitter parody accounts – one for Al-Sisi, the other purporting to represent his only rival in the presidential election, Hamdeen Sabahi – are going at each other with wild comic abandon. I’d love to give you a flavor of the repartee, but unfortunately they are in Arabic.
It is also interesting from the Al-Arabiya piece that the two parody accounts initially were @Alsisiiofficial and @HamdeenSabahi – too close to reality for someone, for they both quickly switched to the more truth-in-advertising handles @AlsisiParody and @HamdeenParody. Was that official pressure already? Whether it was or not, you know that Al-Sisi would shut them down – or at least the Al-Sisi parody account – immediately if he wasn’t in the middle of trying to fool all of the people all of the time in a presidential election campaign. You can be sure that, once he is elected, he’ll be in contact with the right officials at Twitter to do so.
The Al-Arabiya piece at least reports one recent tweet from the @AlsisiParody account in English (everything here is [sic]):
Those who will elect @HamdeenParody re-tweet this tweet…so I can jail you all once I become a president
Ain’t that the truth though?
UPDATE: The English site of Al-Arabiya has come through with an excellent piece about the interview(s) entitled Sisi’s electoral interviews: Was he a man or a marshal? The consensus among the interviewers – but not 100% – was “Yes, here we have someone just waiting to be a dictator.”
And let me give you the final paragraph:
This interview, and others to follow, will be the means by which Sisi’s program is made public, Mughazi [his campaign spokesman] added. “Sisi’s electoral program won’t be printed, but will reach the people through a series of interviews since interaction is always more effective,” he said. [Former president from the Muslim Brotherhood] Mursi “had a printed program that contained big dreams, none of which came true. Sisi, on the other hand, is a man of action.”