The public response towards officials who make controversial statements is increasingly impacting decisions at the governmental level.
The dismissal of justice minister Ahmed Al-Zind due to his controversial statements was not the first incident of its kind. Al-Zind has been notorious for his classist comments since he was the head of the Egyptian Judges’ Club. In 2012, he made public statements in support of the widely perceived nepotism in the judiciary. At the time, Al-Zind stated that “sons of judges inheriting the job” is a process that will continue and will be resistant to any reform.
Public censure has led to the transfer, dismissal, or resignation of several public officials. Daily News Egypt has profiled four other officials who have recently come under fire after making controversial comments.
Fewer than two days after making statements regarding the proper class background necessary for judicial appointment in May 2015, former justice minister Mahfouz Saber resigned. Appearing in a TV interview at the time, Saber said garbage collectors’ sons are unfit to occupy the position of a judge.
The comment also provoked several human rights groups and political activists to question the mechanisms governing the appointment of judges.
Saber’s comments resonated in the international sphere, as well. The UK ambassador to Egypt John Casson made a jocular comment on his Twitter account stating that the UK embassy accepted employment applications from all demographics, including the sons of garbage collectors.
Following former prime minister Ibrahim Mehleb’s unannounced inspection of the National Cardiac Centre in early June 2015, he stated that he was surprised by the decrepit condition of the medical institution. In response, a group of doctors created a Facebook page that published images from Egyptian public healthcare facilities that have been left in disrepair.
This initiative was called “So that you’re not surprised if you visit”, sardonically implying that it serves to preempt any future surprise while also pointing to perceived government negligence of a widely known issue.
Within months of the initiatives launch, a sudden cabinet reshuffle took place in which Mehleb and an array of other ministers were dismissed. While the government did not announce an official reason for Mehleb’s dismissal, the decision followed a corruption incident in the Ministry of Agriculture and several other incidents where Mehleb made controversial statements. In a notable incident, he said that “the poor do not deserve subsidies.”
A former member of parliament and television host, Tawfik Okasha often managed to mobilise public support. In the 2015 parliamentary elections, he garnered the largest number of votes. However, he lost all support after he met with an Israeli ambassador in Egypt. The House of Representatives voted to expel Okasha from the legislature in March after the motion received a two-thirds majority vote.
The meeting with the Israeli ambassador was not the only controversial incident involving Okasha. He was also the source of debate for his discourse in parliament and on his TV show.
Okasha was forced to leave a parliamentary session in mid-February following a scuffle with Parliament Speaker Ali Abdul Aal. He was summoned to an investigative hearing by the parliament, following the event.
Former foreign affairs minister Nabil Fahmy was criticised by politicians and diplomats for statements that were perceived to have a sexual overtone. He was dismissed from office and replaced by the current minister Sameh Shoukry in June 2014.
The most notorious statement occurred when Fahmy commented on United States-Egyptian relations as a “marital relationship, and not just a love affair”. He intended to convey a message that the diplomatic relations between the countries are strong enough to survive distortion. However, his comments were perceived as inappropriate sexual metaphors.
Salah Abdel Maksoud
Serving in the now ousted Muslim Brotherhood cabinet, former minister of information Salah Abdel Maksoud often inflected official statements with sexual innuendo. His statements contributed to a cabinet reshuffle and provoked nationwide anger against the Muslim Brotherhood.
In April 2013, he responded to a journalist’s question regarding freedom of the press with a colloquial sexual term. In an interview in late 2012, he told Syrian anchor Zeina Yazgi: “I hope your questions are not as hot as you are.”
His statement angered women’s rights groups, which considered it an explicit form of sexual harassment, and the statement became a popular topic of discussion on social media platforms.