The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Egypt in TV

Another entry in our contributor Nour Youssef's avidly followed Egypt in TV column. 

"El Sisi just doesn’t want to disclose any information about his plans. He is not stupid. He is smarter than you and your father," the red-faced, middle-aged woman seated next to me in a restaurant told her son, who coolly alternated between sipping Pepsi and asking if she was done talking, provoking her to throw dripping straws in his face.

What caused the fight across the table was a discussion of the nearly four-hours-long interview Field Marshal Abdel Fattah el-Sisi gave Lamis el-Hadidi and Ibrahim Eissa on CBC last week, where he repeatedly expressed love, admiration, respect and all things synonymous for the straw-thrower’s demographic.

"(I don’t want) anyone to get me wrong, but I love the Egyptian woman," he told Ibrahim Eissa, who wanted to know why the Marshal’s metaphors are always related to or directed at women. This followed el-Sisi’s request for caution from the public while choosing their representatives in parliament and the president -- the same caution an Egyptian mother exercises when checking the backgrounds of her daughter's suitors.

To be fair, el-Sisi’s flattery was not limited to women. The rest of the population is also exceptionally smart and more patient than any other nation.

When not complimenting the population, el-Sisi ducked numerous questions -- literally. Questions about the nature of his policy towards Hamas and Qatar were met with a lowered head and a close-lipped smile. And when he depended on words to answer questions, the Marshal made certain that they were so vague that I had to re-watch segments of the interview multiple times to make sure I was not missing some vital transitions that would put things in order and reassure voters about our future president's attention span.

When they asked about the weapons deal with Russia and whether or not the next parliament will monitor the military and its budget, el-Sisi dispensed words about "leaving the army alone." After a long pause, he said: "The army is a very great institution, to an extent that Egyptians can't imagine. God willing all of Egypt could be at that level." The two journalists sitting across from him smilingly accepted his answer without further questions.

In a separate group interview, questions continued to bounce off el-Sisi. When Rola Kharsa asked him to explain to the upset people who think January 25 is a conspiracy why anyone should be nice to January 25 activists and supporters, he answered by saying that he was summoned by the public to intervene on July 3 and complied despite not wanting to and that he has values and principles, which he has an annoying habit of honoring regardless of what they cost him, and the public will just have to live with this. He then went on to talk about the public's lack of trust, which Kharsa and the rest of the media should counter, adding that he looks at all Egyptians with love.

"I think that any leader in any position who doesn't (foster young leaders) so they are ready to work for the future," is doing the homeland, and not just the youth, a disservice, the Marshal said in response to Youssef el-Husseini's question about how he will deal with and contain the potentially-growing heterogeneous group of angry people who dislike the government (a sentiment that is understandable, he argued, given that the media often defames and attacks groups without evidence, as was the case of April 6). 

The unveiling of el-Sisi’s short term plan to help the poor via the provision of considerably cheaper frozen meat, however, was saved for the CBC interview.

The meat, he claims, arrives in Egypt with a price tag of 30 pounds. Yet the meat is sold at a price of 60 or more. What el-Sisi plans to do is ask investors to lower it to 40. If they refuse, "Egypt will make them." Once markets come into existence, like that of el-Obour where prices are reasonable, and he will arrange for say one thousand pickup trucks that will travel to the countryside to purchase vegetables and fruits and then transport them to market at lower prices, thereby providing the good to the consumers and forcing the uncooperative investors to lower their prices.

This is also part of his solution to unemployment. After all, these trucks are not going to drive themselves. They are going to need a young man to drive them and two others to assist. Anyway, even if that fails, he intends to give young people some land to farm, solving the problem.

As for the energy crisis, el-Sisi intends to encourage the public to conserve and buy energy efficient lights, which will save us 4000 megawatts of the 6000 we consume for lighting households. But these light bulbs el-Sisi speaks of have been available in Egypt for years and can only save up to 1500, according to the Ministry of Electricity itself. These 4000 mostly non-existent megawatts will then be redirected to industry, saving fuel and money, he told his kind hosts. His rival Hamdeen Sabbahi's interviews were much more prone to interrupting him, but he still insisted on making the following point in response to the accusation that he was too close to the Brotherhood: “I refused to be vice president under Morsi. Your candidate accepted (the position of) defense minister under Morsi."

The rest of el-Sisi’s economic plan include guilting Egyptians abroad into donating money, effusively thanking the Gulf monarchies for their help so far, and carrying out the very same Suez Canal Development Project that the MB tried to do and was mercilessly attacked for it (and accused of plagiarizing it from the Mubarak regime) around this time just last year.

One thing has changed since last year though. Now when TV host Amr Adeeb wants to yell, he warns his viewers ("I'm very angry so you had better lower your TV volume," he says around minute 7). 

The reason for that outburst was the Foreign Minister's statement about the relationship between the US and Egypt being more like "like a marriage, not a fling." 

"Why are you cheapening Egypt this way, ya Nabeel?" Adeeb bellowed before asking the obvious question: "And who wears the pants in this relationship? After a moment of hurt silence, he said: "Whoever pays."

While on the subject of sex, it is worth mentioning that Tamer Ameen thinks nonmarital sex is not happening in Egypt. Ameen's tantrum was provoked by a commercial for condoms on what he deemed to be a "respectful channel."

“Is there a husband who uses a condom with his wife?” he asked, incredulously. The commercial is, he decided, clearly advocating promiscuity since only unmarried couples require contraception and protection from STDS, making it one of the causes of sexual harassment because it reminds viewers of their genitalia and their intended purpose. “Censorship, then censorship and then censorship! This country’s people need to be protected.”

The last but certainly not least tantrum of late was by Mo'taz el-Demerdash, who threw it at a pissed off teacher called Samia, being interviewed on the street. Angered by the decision to ban April 6 and by her best students leaving the country for the better life Egypt cannot provide, Madam Samia felt the need to vent and seized the opportunity to tell el-Hayah’s reporter that the media is full of lies, something the host, el-Demerdash, took personally. "Honey, you cannot monopolize patriotism and love for this country, we all love this country!" he yelled over her, after arguing that "If (they) are all liars, how come (he is) allowing you to say that on air?" The fight ended with him inviting her to join him in the studio later. Presumably to yell at her some more.