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The Emperor’s New Clothes

As a child who was often called a “nerd” or a “bookworm” by my peers, and later with my own children, I read Danish author Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale, The Emperor’s New Clothes over and over. I always perceived it to be a funny, light-hearted story, but in these days leading up to the presidential election in Egypt, I have come to see it differently, and to comprehend the message Andersen may have intended to pass onto his readers.

In the fairytale, an emperor is deceived by two cunning tailors, who convince him they will make him beautiful clothes that can only be seen by his wise and loyal citizens. They end up providing him with nothing at all, but because everyone is afraid of owning up to the fact that that they cannot see anything, lest they be perceived as dumb, they keep on giving the emperor compliments about how fine and luxurious his attire is.

I can understand, or at least with some imagination, I can try to accept that President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has lots of supporters, and that they want him to continue for a second term as president. People are afraid of the impending threat of terrorism, and of the continuous reminders from the state, media and each other, that we could, at any time, turn into another Syria or Iraq. We are told we have to be grateful for the stability the military says it is providing and the security situation we enjoy, compared to many other neighboring states. A lot of infrastructure projects have been implemented in record time, especially in the housing sector, and new roads and highways have been built, in addition to the extension of the Suez Canal. These projects have created job opportunities for many, and helped in improving overall employment rates nationwide.

In order for Sisi to continue for a second term under the rubric of being democratically elected, there is a need to follow what is stated in the Constitution and conduct elections. But is this really necessary? Sisi has no opponents to run against this year, except Ghad Party candidate Moussa Mostafa Moussa, who announced his intention to run one day before the deadline, and submitted his papers with just minutes to go. Other presidential hopefuls either withdrew their applications, or were deemed unfit to run in many different ways. Moussa himself has even reportedly said that he supports Sisi, and that he will not ask for a debate, as he should not be compared to the current president, with all his achievements and popularity, and that the best thing is for Egypt to be united under Sisi.  

I read the newspapers and this is what I find: The National Elections Authority (NEA) is reviewing applications from elections monitoring organizations, and granting permissions to some, but not all; In a televised statement, the head of the NEA explains that more than 60 million Egyptian citizens are eligible to vote; the minister of immigration during her visit to Australia called upon Egyptian expats to participate in the elections; it was announced in the privately owned Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper that schools would be given a three-day holiday for the vote, as many will be used for electoral committees, and journalists and columnists are writing about the need to go out and cast your vote on election day because this is our “constitutionally endowed right.” Some have gone so far as to say that if anybody calls for boycotting the elections, this should be considered “treason.”

I am in Qena in Upper Egypt for a short visit, where, according to state statistics agency CAPMAS, 59 percent of citizens live below the poverty line. I watch street demonstrations in support of the president, and a huge tent, with microphones, banners and speeches calling on people to support Egypt, which is understood by all to mean, vote for President Sisi. In New Cairo, on Friday at noon, traffic is blocked because of a parade of huge cartoon figures and young beautiful girls singing along to nationalist songs. I ask the traffic policeman standing by what is happening, and he says, “It seems they are celebrating Egypt.”

Perhaps we must read The Emperor’s New Clothes one more time.

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Laila El Baradei