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Pro-coup media may well be hindering not helping Sisi

The confused election coverage by pro-Sisi media may have eroded his legitimacy even further

The unexpectedly low turnout at the Egyptian presidential elections, which deprived the presidential candidate Abdel Fattah Sisi of the legitimacy he needed, has sent parts of the Egyptian and pan-Arab press into a hysterical frenzy.

Television anchors from privately-owned Egyptian channels and pan-Arab channels from the Gulf countries that finance the Egyptian regime, desperately wanted to see a high turnout which they believed would help justify the military-led coup on 3 July last year, but this was not to be.

Out of desperation, some anchors threatened to kill themselves or strip naked on air if people did not turn out to vote in large numbers. Others insulted and accused those who stayed home of being “traitors” and warned that the former president Mohamed Morsi, who has been imprisoned since the coup, would come back. (The Muslim Brotherhood, from which Morsi hails, is Egypt’s largest and oldest organised opposition group. It has been labelled it a terrorist organisation by authorities but the organisation insists it remains peaceful.)

Anchor Lamees al-Hadidi of the Egyptian CBC channel even had a religious message to Christian Copts, reminding them of their churches which were burnt after the coup.

These media personalities played a big role in vilifying and demonising Morsi and paving the way for his ouster.

They celebrated the killing and detention of thousands of Muslim Brotherhood members and those who joined them in demonstrations or sit-ins. 

However, while most television stations were panicked by the low turnout in the first two days of voting, the state and privately-owned print media were painting a contradictory picture.

"Egypt impresses the world: Millions turned out to choose the president," read the headline of the state owned al-Akhbar on Tuesday about the first day of voting.

"Egyptians are shaping the future: Popular carnival in the first day of voting," boasted the oldest state owned daily al-Ahram on Tuesday.

Others also chimed in.

"Egypt is in joy,” read the headline of the privately-owned Egyptian daily al-Tahrir, while privately-owned newspaper al-Masry al-Youm hailed that the "Egyptians are choosing their president and announc[ing] the end of the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Just a day later though al-Masry al-Youm was telling a different tale and leading with the headline, "The state is looking for a vote”!

Another privately-owned daily al-Shorouk fell into a similar trap. Its headline on Tuesday read, "Egypt heeds the call and queues champion the revolution". This was followed on Wednesday by the headline, "The ballot boxes are looking for voters". 

So far, the contradiction between TV stations lamenting the lack of voters and then announcing the 47 percent claimed turnout has escaped attention. So too has the contradiction between the bleak image portrayed by those TV stations and the joyful upbeat image in most of print media.

While TV channels urged and scolded the audience to go and vote, especially after failing to show long lines of voters like those seen back in 2012, print media tried to publish positive, albeit delusional, images of millions casting their ballots in what they called a "democratic festival." 

Egyptian media has never been completely free, independent or professional. But after playing a big role in ousting Morsi and glorifying Sisi, they seem to have thought that they still enjoyed some credibility with and influence on the viewers and readers.

Almost 11 months after the coup, however, most of Egypt’s pro-coup media, has lost much of its credibility among a growing number of Egyptians. Despite their efforts, this media has failed to convince many Egyptians to vote for Sisi, whom they have been presenting as almost a god, a saviour and the only person capable of ruling Egypt.

By losing their credibility the pro-coup media has unintentionally succeeded in hurting Sisi during last month’s elections. They not only failed to mobilise the masses to vote for him - like they did when they mobilised the masses to protest against Morsi last June in order to give the military an excuse and cover to intervene and topple Morsi – but they also became liability on Sisi election campaign. Almost all of them have faces, voices and pens associated with and known for defending former President Hosni Mubarak and opposing the 25 January revolution which deposed him in 2011.

This was evident during Sisi’s few select pre-election TV interviews with some of these anchors. These appearances contributed to Sisi’s loss of popularity, not because the anchors asked the wrong or tough questions, but because Sisi appeared short tempered and authoritarian. He emerged as a man who has no political, or economic platform, but was solely intent on eliminating the Muslim Brotherhood.

The low turnout, which at most reached 47 percent but which opposition groups insist is significantly lower than the official tally, is likely due to boycott calls from the Muslim Brotherhood and anger on the part of former revolutionaries, youth and ordinary Egyptians. Many of these groups feel that they were betrayed by the coup and the mass killings and opposition crackdowns - not to mention the deterioration of the economic situation - that followed. They also resent Sisi’s presidential run, which he embarked upon despite promising to keep civilian and military rule separate.

Now that the elections are over and Sisi is about to move into the presidential palace, it will be interesting to monitor the relationship between Sisi and his hysterical media. How they will handle the next phase of Egypt’s transition could well determine whether Sisi will follow in the footsteps of his two predecessors. 

- Nadia Abou El-Magd is a political analyst and former journalist. She has covered Egypt and the Middle East for 25 years, mainly working with AP. She has also worked for New York Newsday, al-Jazeera English, alongside various other English and Arabic publications. Since 2013, she has worked as a political and media analyst with al-Jazeera Egypt. 

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

Photo credit: Images from Sisi's pre-election television interview (AFP)