‘Laugh to Keep From Crying’: Egyptians Use Memes to Cope with Sisi-owned Elections

Published January 28th, 2018 - 10:25 GMT
Iraqi journalist Steven Nabil shared the following commentary on "Egyptian presidential candidates" (Steven Nabil/Facebook)
Iraqi journalist Steven Nabil shared the following commentary on "Egyptian presidential candidates" (Steven Nabil/Facebook)

With half-a-dozen candidates having dropped out of the running, it seems Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has given up any pretence of holding democratic presidential elections.

Amnesty International has condemned Sisi’s regime for its “blatant disregard for the rights to freedom of expression and association and the right to public participation.”

“It is clear that the Egyptian authorities are hell-bent on arresting and harassing anyone who stands against President Sisi,” the rights group said earlier this month.

Amid an atmosphere of intimidation, however, many Egyptians have kept light-hearted about what has been branded their presidential “selection.”

Social media has been inundated with hilarious memes and tweets laden with sarcasm commenting on ongoing events leading up to the March vote.

The main focus for Egyptian satire has inevitably been the fact that, at the present time, the incumbent is the only person standing.

@Mega_Lies provided this joke “list of candidates for the Egyptian presidency.”

It mockingly labels images of the current president with the names of candidates who have withdrawn. “Si-Shafik,” “Si-Khaled,” “Si-Sami,” “Si-Assam,” and so on.

“Potential candidates for the presidential elections,” tweeted @SH0mS, listing seven synonyms for “dates.” Sisi’s critics have unfavorably nicknamed him the “date” in reference to a deranged movie character of that name.

Others have made reference to the fact that all of those who had put their names forward for president have apparently been forced to backtrack.

“This is the door to candidacy for the presidency,” wrote @ElwanZidan alongside this image.

At least four potential candidates have been prosecuted or arrested, with others having reportedly been coerced into withdrawing from the race.

The situation is so extreme that this meme quipped “you have been nominated for the presidential election, go straight to jail,” referencing popular board game Monopoly.

Sami Anan was latest candidate to be arrested last week, just days after he put himself forward as a rival for Sisi. The former Armed Forces Chief of Staff was accused of announcing his nomination “without obtaining the permission of the Armed Forces.”

His detention follows the imprisonment of Armed Forces Colonel Ahmed Konsowa for six years in December, over “disobeying military orders by expressing his political views.”

Human rights lawyer Khaled Ali, meanwhile, dropped out on Wednesday amid doubts he would be eligible to stand following his conviction last September for “violating public decency.”

On that note, this cartoon mockingly features a wife threatening to tell the authorities her husband is planning to stand if he does not behave.

Those presidential hopefuls who have not come up against the law have also allegedly faced intimidation.

Former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik, who had launched his presidential campaign in late November, was apparently deported to Egypt soon afterwards from the U.A.E. and held by authorities in a Cairo hotel. He later withdrew amid reports he had faced threats from “people close to [...] Sisi.”

Absolutely nobody will be nominated here.

Away from the silliness, some of the satire hit very close to the bone.

“The thing I hate most in my life is treason by enemies of the state,” says the man on the right in this cartoon. “I can’t remember what it’s called, Muhamed…?”

“[Political] pluralism, sir?”

“Yes, that’s the rubbish.”

Egyptians are under no illusion that their upcoming elections will be anything other than shoe-in for Sisi. In fact, the blatancy of his intolerance for any opposition has gained international comment.

“The puzzling thing is why the regime did not want to put on even a show of a contest,” wrote Ben Lynfield in the Jerusalem Post. “To say nothing of a real competition that could have enhanced Sisi’s legitimacy.”

Another withdrawn candidate, Mohamed Anwar Sadat, told The Telegraph that "logic says the regime should allow two or three or four people to run against Sisi to make it look legitimate.

But it seems like they don’t even care about how it looks anymore."

The date [Sisi] in the upcoming presidential race.

Sisi, who overthrew democratically elected Mohamed Morsi in 2013, won 97 percent of the vote in 2014 elections. With little reason to hope for the emergence of a more tolerant political climate over the next two months, his anticipated victory this time will likely be by a similar margin.


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