Sisi wheels off Egypt presidential bid on bike
As Egypt's presidential election race begins, it looks like the former military man wants to get off to a flying start
It looks like Egypt's Abdel Fattah el-Sisi wants to make a flying start in the presidential race, so much so that he’s been snapped riding a bicycle – only days after he resigned from a top military post to run for the top job.
Images of Sisi donning a tracksuit while on his bike and stopping to talk to a few members of the Egyptian public have already gone viral online after they were released by local media outlets overnight on Sunday.
Yes, it’s the kind of thing you’d expect from Britain’s David Cameron in his earlier years or President Obama while on holiday with the family.
The pictures were reportedly snapped on the eve of the election date announcement and Sisi was reportedly cycling in the Tagamu el-Khames district of New Cairo at the time.
Last week, the former defense minister and army chief, who led the military-backed overthrow of former Islamist President Mohammad Mursi in July last year, announced his presidential bid, in a move expected by many Egyptians.
The first round of Egypt’s presidential elections will be held between May 26-27, Egypt’s election committee announced on Sunday.
Despite the "brand Sisi" image still being plastered on billboards and chocolate bars, indicators of Sisi’s popularity dwindling have been widely reported in recent days.
On Sunday, support for a Sisi presidency dropped in a poll conducted by the Egyptian Centre for Public Opinion Research (Baseera).
The poll found that percent of 2, 034 respondents across all Egyptian governorates between 24 and 26 March said they would vote for Sisi, down from 51 percent in an earlier poll in mid-March.
So far, Sisi and Nasserite Hamdeen Sabbahi are the only candidates to announce their intention to stand.
Meanwhile, the former army chief has been mocked in a social media campaign, in which a sarcastic “elect the pimp” hashtag on Twitter is currently trending.
Amid the Twitter storm, Sisi’s pictures on a bike have been slammed by many as a propaganda-packed stunt.
“It’s a definite act of propaganda, I would say,” Ahmed Emad, an Egyptian advertising professional and news blogger, told Al Arabiya News on Monday.
“Sisi has been known to be an active man, always exercising with his colleagues (when he was still in the army), but these actions were never put on tape or witnessed in public. This begs the question, why now?”
‘Breaking the prestige’
But perhaps Egyptians shouldn’t jump to labeling the move populist propaganda, Charles Holmes, a Middle East analyst with a background in government communications, told Al Arabiya News on Monday.
“The cynical, skeptical view would simply call it populist propaganda. Of course it's no accident that this coincides with his campaign.
“But - the sight of a former military leader and presidential candidate riding a bike around Cairo is pretty remarkable. The fact he's prepared to do this at all suggests a willingness to engage more as a man of the people, regardless of whatever the cynics say," Holmes added.
For Sisi, cycling is apparently a hobby.
“A high-ranking military officer close to Sisi said the general often rides his bicycle around the Defense Ministry’s vast compound,” the Washington Post reported last week, when the 59-year-old Sisi announced he would run for president as a civilian.
“This is a clear effort to break the dislocated prestige, 'untouchable' nature of political leadership. Think about how different this is to the usual sight of official motorcades. And encouraging more people to cycle in Cairo would also do wonders for the city's traffic,” said Holmes.
But Sisi may not deserve a pat on the back just yet.
“Let's see if his policies match up to the image... That's the real test after all, before the cynics just dismiss it,” Holmes added.
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