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January 14, 2016

Not in Western media: Most Egyptians support President Sisi (Part 1 out of 2)

Prof. Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

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(Cairo, Egypt) An estimated 80% of Egyptians support President Abdul Fattah El-Sisi, while 15% are in a wait-and-see mode and just 5% feel he's not doing anything right.

My survey of public opinion above and many others show a good vote of confidence that any world leader would love to claim. Yet it seems that Western corporate media are interested only in reporting the views of a small disaffected minority.

As an Egyptian-born Canadian senior academic, I am no recent outside observer of my native country; in fact, I have been deeply connected with its affairs over the past 20 years and heavily engaged during the past 10.

I visit the country often to see and feel things on the ground and to interact directly with fellow Egyptians. Some of my observations and reflections appear in a weekly column published in Canada and Egypt. Many former PhD students from my 40 years of university teaching now hold key positions in Egyptian business, academia and government and I’ve been privileged to remain in regular contact with them. Most fit in the 80, 15, and 5 per cent groups of my opening estimate.

But my conversations and discussions include a broad cross-section of the population – men and women, the elderly and young, those with basic schooling and post-graduate education, rural folk and urban dwellers, Muslims and Christians, people with vastly different ideologies, and politicians at every level of government.

As with so much in life, I find everything is relative when talking about the country where I was born.

Among the two-dozen or so states comprising the contemporary Arab World, Egypt is now the new “golden child,” a renewed nation poised for a bright future in three key global areas: economic development, democracy and social justice. And it has both the natural and human resources to do all three very well.

Let us begin with Egypt’s human rights track record – a major focus of Western media, especially with the recent release of Canadian-Egyptian journalist Mohamed Fahmy.

Egypt’s record, though far from perfect (as is Canada’s), is by no means the worst in the region: consider Turkey’s oppression of the Kurds, Israel’s lifelong campaign against the Palestinians, Iran’s systemic oppression of Sunni Muslims and other opposition groups, and Saudi Arabia’s routine mass executions.

If Egypt is light-years away from the brutal policies of some of its neighbours, how does its human rights record stand in comparison to Western nations such as Canada and the US?

First of all, Egypt does not have draconian laws in place to fight terrorism. Yet Canada passed legislation whereby individuals accused of terror crimes can be ordered to appear in court, even though their lawyers are refused access to evidence against them for “reasons of national security.” And Egypt does not detain people without charge in mass holding prisons like the infamous American-run Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

Let us remember as well that journalist Mohamed Fahmy and all others accused of supporting terrorism – including members of the Muslim Brotherhood – were, and still are, being prosecuted according to the country’s criminal code.

Their trials were conducted publicly, unlike those of many counterparts in Canada and the US. Fahmy has since launched a lawsuit against his former employer, Al-Jazeera TV, not the Egyptian government, for the unfair time he spent in jail.

Fahmy and many others were given pardons following their sentencing, which never happened in similar cases in Canada or the US. By contrast, the prosecution of Canadian-born child soldier Omar Khadr (arrested in Afghanistan while still a minor) is a textbook case of justice miscarried by both the American and Canadian governments.

Moreover, Egypt does not tolerate hate-speech by anyone against its minority Christians, unlike the US (and Canada in some cases) against its Muslims. Moreover, Egyptian police officers who kill suspects without provable evidence of self-defense, go to jail far more often than white officers who kill black suspects in the US.

Despite these important and positive differences, critics of President Sisi have been much more frequent and virulent in both print and social media than they have to former Canadian PM Stephen Harper’s government during its decade in power.

But here again, context is everything.

It is very important to consider what the Middle East and its surrounding sphere of influence is going through right now, with upheaval, civil war and other serious tensions continuing in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran and more.

By comparison, Egypt is not only faring better than any of them, but doing extremely well by international standards. So I ask again; why are Western media, who claim to be “free,” not serving their readers by providing a balanced analysis of Middle Eastern realpolitik?

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