On popularity and bubbles

Mahmoud Salem
7 Min Read
Mahmoud Salem
Mahmoud Salem

Stories by foreign journalists on Egypt usually come in themes. One period it’s all about sexual harassment, the other it’s all about Egypt’s very bad liberals, and currently it’s all about the Sisi Personality cult. Articles probing all sides of the “story”, from the cult’s prevalence to what it means to the role of the state in promoting it, have appeared in every news site there is, with every angle covered. Well, almost every angle anyway.

What’s most perplexing about those stories, however, is they miss the most obvious truth about this whole Sisi mania, which is that it is a bubble. This is despite exhibiting all the traits of a fame bubble and one that has reached its critical mass – it won’t get any bigger. When you can no longer get new fans, that’s when you will start getting an increasing number of detractors.  After people sell chocolates with your face on them, or when the nation watches you applauding a video of yourself giving a speech in the 6 October operetta, you know it’s all downhill from there.

This brings us to the truth about Bubbles: they burst. Popularity is a fleeting thing, especially in Egypt and its generally unforgiving people. Remember how Hazem Salah Abu Ismael was crushing every popularity poll? Where is he now again? You don’t even know. In some prison hole somewhere, and the masses and his fanatics couldn’t really care less. This is a country where “You snooze, you lose” is the political mantra of the masses, unbendingly.

It’s easy to see how it will all play out from now: If the MOI’s performance continues the way it is, and the curfew (which is becoming more unpopular by the day and tenfold on Fridays) and the MB demonstrations last for another month with all the police brutality that they face, people will start losing whatever faith they had. Then they will start accepting those as inevitable side-effects of their rulers, but will then start demanding things: more money, more subsidies, employment for their children. Their frustration will start being directed at the government and Sisi himself, and they will slowly but surely drag him down from his pedestal.

This doesn’t mean that the entire population will turn on Sisi when it all goes to shit, for there will always be a group of the population that will always love him: the Sisi fanatics. For the Sisi fanatics, Al-Sisi is the epitome of the leader they have waited so long for: a leader who risked his life, and risks the lives of his men daily to protect them. Them. The population that nobody bothers with really, and everyone in power ignores, suddenly has someone who not only comes to their aid at their hour of need, but is also protecting them and addresses them in a way that they like. This is unheard of in Egyptian society, and even comparisons with Nasser don’t do it Justice, because Nasser would say “We taught you dignity”, while Sisi is all “My eyes for any of your demands”. To them he is a national hero: the people’s minister of defense. Why wouldn’t they love him? Why wouldn’t each one of them have at least three posters of him?

The only thing that is delaying the bursting of the Sisi bubble and saving him from scrutiny so far has been then the Muslim Brotherhood and their suicidal political strategy. The MB’s continued antagonism of the society they wish to rule has reached legendary levels, from harassing citizens during Ramadan, to  intending to spoil the 6th of October celebrations, to their traveling to Ghana to cheer  for the Ghana team who offered Egypt its most humiliating defeat last week in the World Cup qualifying game. Those stunts not only further antagonise society against them, they solidify support for their number one enemy, Sisi, in that same society.  The MB’s mixing between opposing the government and opposing the population is causing the population to support the government, and further extends the lifeline to its leading man.

We are living in the age of the internet, where Bubbles- due to the 24/7 scrutiny of social media- have incredibly short lives. Entrenched personality cults of yore are no longer possible for this exact reason, no matter who the person is. The politicians in Egypt get this, so they are acting the way politicians do: by riding the bubble to their maximum benefit. This is why many are all openly supporting the Sisi nomination; over the short term it endears them to the Sisi fanatics, while over the long term puts him front and centre in the seat of responsibility for what’s going on, when he seems intent to be in the shadows as much as possible to further extend his popular shelf-life, because even he must know how little time he has.

Bubbles burst from overexposure, popularity is a two way street that is contingent upon consistency and quality, and personality cults are too twentieth century to survive in our day and age, especially Messianic ones, because the age of miracles is over. The only constant in our day and age is disillusionment. Remember Obama mania and how long it took for the shine to wear off? Exactly. However, the military critics shouldn’t bring out the champagne just yet, for the popularity of Al-Sisi may come and go, but in a weird way, it will never affect the popularity of the armed forces. Some popularities are more entrenched than others.

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Mahmoud Salem is a political activist, writer, and social media consultant. His writings could be found at www.sandmonkey.org and follow him @sandmonkey on Twitter