Al-Sisi On-Line: Egypt’s President On Social Media
In Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak notoriously was anything but sophisticated in his understanding of social media. Seeing it as a toy available only to an educated and relatively affluent few, and failing to recognize the cross-platform capacities of social media with cell phones–which are ubiquitous in Egypt– he failed to engage with social media at all. Aside from the official government web sites, which were handled by technicians and clerks far removed from the president in the hierarchy, the president had no substantive social media presence.
President al-Sisi has certainly learned from the Arab Spring protesters the importance of a wide and robust social media presence. During the presidential campaign he established not only an official web site [www.sisi2014.com], but a Facebook page, a Twitter account, and accounts on Google+, and Instagram as well as a channel on YouTube. All but the campaign web site still exist, and all of these sites contain links to each other, forming a tight web economy.
While the YouTube account is almost certainly maintained by a professional staff, there is considerable evidence that the Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts are at least partly maintained by Al-Sisi himself, not the least because of the rarity of posts. Days often go by without posts, followed by a brief flurry of activity, then another gap of days or even a week.
The posts themselves are brief, usually accompanied by official photos, and express patriotic messages, and messages emphasizing that the president is working to improve Egypt’s situation.
The sites do not seem to be used much for dissemination of information–that still seems to be handled through official channels. Rather, social media seem to serve primarily serve as providing opportunities for Al-Sisi’s legions of supporters to continue to express their admiration and support for the president.
For example, on Jan. 17, 2015, Al-Sisi became the first Egyptian president in the entire Egyptian history to attend the Christmas Mass. He subsequently gave a short speech at the Coptic Orthodox Christmas service in Cairo calling for unity and wishing Copts a Merry Christmas.
Cairo Post reported that:
An Arabic hashtag that translates to “you are a leader, Sisi” has been tweeted 14,486 times, and the hashtag “Sisi in the Cathedral” has been tweeted 3,609 times.
The two hashtags were accompanied with pictures of a cross and a crescent, a 19th century symbol of Egypt’s national solidarity against the British imperialism, and has since been used to assert unity between Egypt’s two religions.
There are relatively few dissenting comments posted, in part perhaps because of fear of reprisals. Insulting the president remains a crime in Egypt.
Opponents of the president–or even supporters who sometimes disagree with his actions–do comment on the posts, but seem to prefer to take screenshots and post their comments on their own blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and so forth.
For example, according to Cairo Post:
activist Sherif Azer wrote on Facebook “I understood from tweets and statuses now that apparently Sisi scored against Inter Milan.”
He also wrote “Christians are really so kind and naïve, and the religious teaching make them that compromising and nice and were over the moon with Sisi’s visit. You won’t ever take your rights in this damn country.”
One consequence of this is that supporters and critics of the regime rarely engage dialogically through social media.