El-Sisi posters offer supporters chance for self-promotion

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With Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s re-election as Egyptian president next week practically a foregone conclusion, his supporters have taken to using campaign posters not just to promote him but also themselves.

Supporters including traders, lawyers, doctors and engineers have jumped on the election bandwagon and are hanging banners showing photos of the president and themselves to advertise their services. In previous elections, they would have simply signed their names below a photo of their preferred candidate.

“El-Sisi has a big public profile and the banners of support in the street are very normal,” said Tariq Fahmi, a professor of political science at the American University. “Some supporters are trying to promote themselves by putting their pictures next to the president’s pictures.”

A debate about the ethics of using the president’s image in advertising was sparked among passers-by recently after workers hung banners showing the president and local shop-owners in Roxy Square in the Heliopolis district of northern Cairo.

Some of the Egyptians thought it was acceptable, saying the shop-owners deserved praise for spending their own money to express support for the president. Others saw it as extravagant, saying the banners’ costs should have gone toward more deserving causes.

Mohamed Bahaa Abu Shoka, spokesman for the presidential campaign, said the president appreciated such gestures but appealed to supporters to stop spending so much on this kind of promotion.

The presidential elections are the third since the 2011 Arab Spring that led to the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, the former president. Voting takes place over three days from next Monday.

The only other candidate in the election is Musa Mustafa Musa, who leads a party that had initially backed El-Sisi’s re-election bid. Other potential candidates, including a former chief of staff, Sami Anan, have been arrested amid a crackdown on opposition.

Ahmad Al-Sarjani, a 60-year-old shopkeeper who put his photograph next to the president’s picture in a banner, said he had originally intended to just put his name. But when he saw other business people and members of Parliament using their own pictures, he decided to do the same.

He said he did this out of affection for the president as well as for publicity for his shop because “the most important institutions, companies and factories in the state do so too.”

A teacher at a preparatory school in Giza province said the idea for their El-Sisi banner came from the school principal. “We volunteered (to pay) costs from our own pockets, in addition to the contribution of the school, to confirm our support for President El-Sisi,” said the teacher.

Earlier this month the UN human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, condemned the “pervasive climate of intimidation” in Egypt in the lead-up the polls. He said potential candidates have been “pressured to withdraw” and “independent media have been silenced.” Egypt’s Foreign Ministry described his comments as “baseless allegations.”

In a report issued on Friday, Transparency International, a Berlin-based anti-corruption watchdog said the international community is doing a “major disservice” to the Egyptian people by supporting the Egyptian armed forces with “few strings attached.”

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