Campaign posters belie Egypt’s one-sided election

Egyptian supporters of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi attend a rally in a neighborhood in Cairo last Friday. (AFP)
Updated 16 March 2018
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Campaign posters belie Egypt’s one-sided election

CAIRO: Even with victory for the incumbent Abdel Fattah El-Sisi almost certain, the streets of Egypt are adorned with posters urging residents to participate in this month’s presidential election.
El-Sisi will contest the March 26-28 poll against just one rival, Musa Mustafa Musa — a political unknown whose candidacy is viewed with cynicism among voters here.
Amid pressure on the president’s critics in the media, and the arrest of several of El-Sisi’s opponents, the posters and billboards looking out over Cairo’s ramshackle neighborhoods appear to be a rare sign of democracy in action.
But despite their catchy slogans, colorful pictures and stylish graphics, the advertisements are struggling to capture the imaginations of Egyptians, most of whom are accustomed to one-sided elections and already see the result of this month’s poll as a foregone conclusion.
In two typical instances from the campaigns, a smiling El-Sisi gazes out from a picture featuring the rallying cry, “We are all behind you for the sake of Egypt.” In contrast, Musa frowns from one of his posters alongside the rather more bland catchphrase, “We will continue … we will develop … Egypt will be better.”
As far as people in Cairo are concerned, adverts like these are yet more evidence that the country is going through the motions in the build-up to the vote.
One local journalist, Hazem Ghorab, summed up the feelings of many Egyptians when he told Arab News the campaign posters were a “show.” The idea that the election is genuinely competitive “is simply a joke,” he said.
The billboards and banners have, however, benefited local printing firms, with money pouring in to businesses that usually struggle for trade.
Mohammed Mokhtar, a printshop owner in downtown Cairo, told Arab News he had taken on several new staff since the election campaign began. “This is the time where we really get to work,” he said.
While El-Sisi does enjoy strong support among a significant share of the population, he has also moved to diminish the opposition. The president has warned that anyone who insults the armed forces and police is guilty of “high treason.” Several prospective election candidates, including a former chief of staff, Sami Anan, have been arrested.
El-Sisi was minister of defense before coming to power in 2013, when the military toppled the elected Muslim Brotherhood government on the back of vast public protests sparked by declining living standards and unpopular political reforms. He was subsequently elected in 2014 with almost 97 percent of the vote and a similar landslide is expected this time.
Many in the Arab world’s most populous county see his leadership as essential to battling an extremist insurgency in Sinai and rebuilding an economy battered by the Arab Spring and its aftermath.
Even some of the president’s most passionate supporters therefore see his re-election as a formality, with Egyptians abroad due to vote this Friday.
Spending for the month-long campaign is officially capped at $1.1 million but businessmen and members of Parliament have taken it upon themselves to pay for their own adverts backing El-Sisi. Few of them are as enthusiastic about Musa, his one remaining challenger.
As leader of the small Ghad, or “Tomorrow,” party, Musa was a relatively obscure figure on Egypt’s political scene until this election.
Prior to announcing his intention to run in late January, he was an ardent admirer of El-Sisi, proclaiming his allegiance to the incumbent with a Facebook post saying, “We support you for another presidential term.”
This image has since been gleefully shared among voters happy to mock the nature of the election, even if they are unwilling to directly criticize the government for undermining the democratic process.
In the latest crackdown on the media before the vote, on Monday Egypt’s chief prosecutor published a list of telephone numbers that citizens can contact if they want to complain about news reports they deem to be undermining national security or “hurting national interests.”


‘A dumb thing to do’: Trudeau apologizes for brownface

Updated 19 September 2019

‘A dumb thing to do’: Trudeau apologizes for brownface

  • Time magazine posted the photo
  • Trudeausaid he should have known better

TORONTO: Canadian leader Justin Trudeau’s campaign was hit Wednesday by the publication of a yearbook photo showing him in brownface makeup at a 2001 costume party. The prime minister apologized and said “it was a dumb thing to do.”
Time magazine posted the photo, which it says was published in the yearbook from the West Point Grey Academy, a private school in British Columbia where Trudeau worked as a teacher before entering politics. It depicts the then 29-year-old Trudeau wearing a turban and robe, with dark makeup on his hands, face and neck.
Trudeau, who launched his reelection campaign exactly one week ago, said he should have known better.
“I’m pissed off at myself, I’m disappointed in myself,” Trudeau told reporters traveling with him on his campaign plane.
The Canadian prime minister is but the latest politician to face scrutiny over racially insensitive photos and actions from their younger days. Earlier this year, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam faced intense pressure to resign after a racist picture surfaced from his 1984 medical school yearbook page. He denied being in the picture but admitted wearing blackface as a young man while portraying Michael Jackson at a dance party in the 1980s. Since then, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring has acknowledged wearing blackface in college, and Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has publicly apologized for donning blackface during a college skit more than 50 years ago. None has resigned.
The photo of Trudeau was taken at the school’s annual dinner, which had an “Arabian Nights” theme that year, Trudeau said, adding that he was dressed as a character from “Aladdin.” The prime minister said it was not the first time he has painted his face; once, he said, he performed a version of Harry Belafonte’s “Banana Boat Song (Day-O)” during a talent show.
“I should have known better then but I didn’t, and I am deeply sorry for it,” Trudeau said. “I’m going to ask Canadians to forgive me for what I did. I shouldn’t have done that. I take responsibility for it. It was a dumb thing to do.”
He said he has always been more enthusiastic about costumes than is “sometimes appropriate.”
“These are the situations I regret deeply,” Trudeau added.
The prime minister, who champions diversity and multiculturalism, said he didn’t consider it racist at the time but said society knows better now.
The photo’s publication could spell more trouble for Trudeau, who polls say is facing a serious challenge from Conservative leader Andrew Scheer.
Trudeau has been admired by liberals around the world for his progressive policies in the Trump era, with Canada accepting more refugees than the United States. His Liberal government has also strongly advocated free trade and legalized cannabis nationwide.
But the 47-year-old son of late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was already vulnerable following one of the biggest scandals in Canadian political history, which arose when Trudeau’s former attorney general said he improperly pressured her to halt the criminal prosecution of a company in Quebec. Trudeau has said he was standing up for jobs, but the scandal rocked the government and led to multiple resignations earlier this year, causing a drop in the leader’s poll ratings.
Following the release of the brownface photo, Trudeau said he would talk to his kids in the morning about taking responsibility.
His quick apology did not stem the criticism from political opponents, who took the prime minister to task for what they said was troubling behavior.
“It is insulting. Any time we hear examples of brownface or blackface it’s making a mockery of someone for what they live, for what their lived experiences are. I think he has to answer for it,” said Leftist New Democrat leader Jagmeet Singh, a Sikh who wears a turban and the first visible minority to lead a national party.
Scheer, the opposition Conservative leader, said brownface was racist in 2001 and is racist in 2019.
“What Canadians saw this evening was someone with a complete lack of judgment and integrity and someone who is not fit to govern this country,” Scheer said.
Robert Bothwell, a professor of Canadian history and international relations at the University of Toronto, said he was “gobsmacked” at the development and wondered how it would land in Parliament.
“We’ll just have to see how the party reacts,” he said. “I’m very curious to know how Liberal members of Parliament that are black will react.”
How the scandal will affect Trudeau’s campaign remains in question. Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, said he didn’t think the photo’s release would cause people to vote differently. Wiseman said race and blackface play a much bigger role in US politics than in Canada.
“I don’t think this will swing the vote, although the story will get a lot of media play for a couple of days,” Wiseman said. “The Liberals may very well lose the election — they almost certainly will not do as well as in 2015 — but this is not the type of scandal that will drive voters to the Conservatives.”