From cookies to burgers to dates, it’s been gimmicks galore for Egyptians incessantly searching for new ways to shower their army leader with compliments.
Egypt’s army chief, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, has emerged as one of the most powerful people in the country after he deposed Islamist President Mohammad Mursi on July 3, sparking nationalist fervor and widespread resentment of the Islamists.
But, along with his surge in popularity, has the obsession with the general turned into a branding game, all part of an attempt to propagate “Brand Sisi” across the country?
A top fast food chain has now introduced a “Sisi sandwich,” following in the footsteps of the makers of “C-C cookies,” shaped in two Cs and baked last month during the Islamic holiday of Eid.
During Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting which ended last August, “Sisi dates” were on sale in markets across the country, sparking a trend perfect for Sisi fans fancying a sweet treat. Chocolates and cupcakes decorated with iced images of the general went on sale at a Cairo confectionary store this week.
All the while, fans on Facebook have created hundreds of pages obtaining millions of “likes” from those who want to pledge their allegiance to the top brass. Among the pictures being circulated on social media are images of a saluting Sisi superimposed with a lion or an eagle, with captions boastful of his “lion heart.”
This has only been a snippet of the general’s new found cult of personality, that has also been bolstered with state and independent media broadcasts of pro-military songs. The print media has not been the exception, with many outlets also profusely praising the general.
“The ‘Sisi Campaign’ is not coordinated on purpose nor mandated by the state, but the ‘Sisi Brand’ appears to have imposed its presence by popular demand,” Ahmed Emad, an Egyptian advertising professional and blogger, told Al Arabiya English.
“What comes up on social media in terms of pictures, logos, jokes and catchphrases are all a fruit of user generated content (UGC); from the people, to the people.
“With a population of 90 million that is known to crack jokes on any given situation, you’ll end up with lots of UGC material to use in any campaign,” Emad added.
Analysts also said that Egyptians’ “love for Sisi” appeared to overshadow the protester deaths following the army’s dispersal of Muslim Brotherhood-led sit-ins in Cairo on Aug. 14. The dispersal resulted in more than 600 deaths, according to official ministry reports, while the Brotherhood stated the death toll was closer to 2,200.
“It’s more of the same iteration of post-uprising opportunism,” Charles Holmes, a Middle East analyst with a background in government communications, told Al Arabiya.
“In the immediate aftermath of the January 2011 uprising, the rebranding of consumer products and Egyptian car and telecoms companies, like Vodafone and Mobinil, was unbelievable.”
“The commercial reaction was massive,” says Holmes, noting how the adverts of such companies following the revolution that ousted Hosni Mubarak featured images showing their support of the uprising, such as kids’ having Egyptian flags painted on their faces.
“That’s all now yesterday’s news. It’s an old chapter that has become obsolete. The latest chapter in the story is what has happened in the past few months.
“From the commercial point of view, it’s best to follow the wave of Egyptian popular opinion. It’s a very melodramatic culture, and now General Sisi is the man of the moment,” adds Holmes.
Some local media outlets continue to represent the general as the new face of Egypt, despite lingering violent clashes between supporters of Mursi and those who support the military.
A cartoon in the Akhbar al-Youm weekly last month depicted the general, in full military regalia, as a representative of the different faces of the country.
Even the state television has been effusive.
In covering a police academy graduation, it kept the cameras largely concentrated on Sisi, who serves as defense minister, at the expense of the man seated to his side - the army-appointed interim president Adly Mansour, reported AFP news agency.
“The Egyptian people think of Sisi as a savior, who pulled Egypt away from the Muslim Brotherhood’s domination back to the Egypt we know, a non-discriminatory seamless state living in harmony,” says Emad.
On social media, an image has recently been doing the rounds claiming to show Sisi as young boy giving flowers to late pan-Arab nationalist President Gamal Abd el-Nasser. Although the image has not been verified by any official source, it appears to suggest a palpable link insinuated by Sisi’s supporters.
Nasser, a military officer, orchestrated the 1952 coup that toppled the monarchy. During his presidency, Nasser was glorified for nationalizing the Suez Canal in 1956, negotiating the withdrawal of occupying British forces, dismantling the feudal agricultural system and spreading free education.
“Comparing Sisi and Nasser is a way to legitimize Sisi. Nasser wasn’t democratically elected but he strongly legitimated himself with anti-colonial rhetoric and his policies, especially in 1956 when he confronted the UK, France and Israel,” Dr. Omar Ashour, a senior lecturer in Middle East Politics and Security Studies at the University of Exeter, told Al Arabiya English.
In a report published in The Guardian last month, reporter Marin Chulov in Cairo wrote: “The two men [Nasser and Sisi] can be seen together all over central Cairo, on banners, flags and on posters on sale to tourists and locals.”
“In his public appearances since the July 3 coup, Sisi has mirrored Nasser’s key messages of nationalism, skepticism of western intentions, Arab dignity and strong leadership,” wrote Chulov.
“The way Sisi is being glorified and celebrated at the moment points to a dangerous possibility; the re-personalization of the state and of the regime in Egypt,” writes Ziad Akl, a political sociologist and a Middle East specialist at the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.
Across the country, there are now repeated calls for Sisi to run for president, despite a military spokesman saying last month that Sisi has no intentions to do so. Still, the idea has even been discussed publically by former presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq.
In an interview with a private Egyptian TV channel on Sunday, Shafiq – former President Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister – said that he will not run presidency in the upcoming elections if Sisi enters the presidential race, adding that he would be the first to back him.
“May God give him good fortune. We would all support him and I am the first one to support him,” Shafiq said.
So, could “brand Sisi” help propel the military chief to the top?
“Sisi has not shown himself as a power-hungry general so far, but the unnecessary propaganda unfortunately does not help to support this idea,” writes Akl.
Others are wary that exaggerated lip service to the general could create “another Pharoah,” following in the footsteps of Mubarak and Mursi who were criticized by the Egyptian masses for authorizing sweeping powers for the premiership.
“Overdoing it all would just be creating another Pharaoh. We’ve already seen lots social media [-propagated] “Sisi for President” calls. The people’s need for salvation has made their insecurities carry them overboard at times,” writes Akl.
While it seems a glorified Sisi will continue to ride this wave of adulation for a while – at least during Egypt’s transitional period – it has not gone unnoticed that a degree of trust has endured amongst much of the public despite the fact that the military was the power behind the scenes during six decades of authoritarian rule, notes the Associated Press in a recent report.
The military ruled directly for nearly 17 months after the fall of Hosni Mubarak, who was the commander-in-chief of the Air Force and ruled as a quasi-military leader. It was a period that stained General Sisi’s image, with anti-military protests and accusations of abuses by troops.
Now, his popularity appears to be shooting sky-high. Couples are brandishing pictures of Sisi during their weddings, while his saluting image has also been seen printed on t-shirts sported by Egyptians across the country.
Such products are “trying to capitalize on the popularity of Sisi among some segments of the Egyptian society,” says Ashour.
But when it comes to a burger chain creating the “Sisi sandwich,” Ashour says that such businesses are “trying to align their products with the new ruling patron.”
This phenomenon has not only been limited to Egypt. The emerging cult of personality being built around Egypt’s Sisi is reminiscent of a perfume advertised as the “scent of resistance,” celebrating Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah’s “divine victory.” It was released on the market in Lebanon in 2007. More recently, following the toppling of Muammar Qaddafi, Libya’s new leaders felt the need to enforce a law to ban the glorification of the late leader, although it was later scrapped.
“It is pretty much the same pattern of ‘sucking up’ to strong rulers, which we used to see happen under Mubarak, Qaddafi, Syria’s Assads and others,” says Ashour.
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