Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s online communication strategy has mostly centred on two themes: economic development and a call for unity to all Egyptians, regardless of their faiths and political orientations, in the name of the greater good of the country. Drawing from 174 tweets from the official Twitter account of the Egyptian president over the last six months, four recurrent ideas emerge in the al-Sisi narrative:
1. The Egyptian people should be praised for their achievements in the previous four years. However, it is essential to overcome religious, social and ideological differences to preserve these fragile results.
2. The will of Egyptians legitimates the president's decisions. The President works for a more transparent and open society by fighting corruption and discussing current problems openly with citizens.
3. Infrastructure, such as the New Suez Canal, and foreign investments are the keys to boosting economic development. The President’s intention is to extend the benefits of economic growth to all Egyptians, especially the weaker sections of society.
4. There are powerful forces, including international jihadists, working to derail the future of Egypt. These forces can only be countered by preserving national unity and through public support for the security forces.
Praise to all the Egyptian people
President al-Sisi does not miss a chance to praise the Egyptian people for overcoming a difficult period in the aftermath of the revolution and attaining their current achievements. The tweets that convey nationalistic ideas make up 13.8 percent of the total. Some of them refer to women, Christians and youth to stress their full membership in the national community. In a tweet on 19 January, for example, al-Sisi proudly stated that “everything we achieved in the land of Egypt has been achieved thanks to the wisdom and unity of the great people”. On the same day, he also added that “the real heroes in the battle for preserving the state are the Egyptians themselves”. A day before Orthodox Christmas (January 7), he posted pictures of his visit to the recently built cathedral in the new administrative capital to express his support for Egyptian Christians, who he claims to be “original Egyptians”. Many other tweets praise Egyptian women (5.2 percent of the total tweets), often defined as an indispensable part of Egyptian society. In one tweet, al-Sisi claimed that "everyone must bow to the sacrifices made by Egyptian women”, while in another he praised their ability to work for peace and against terrorism. Finally, the President addressed Egyptian youth in many tweets during the “Egypt’s Youth Forum”, even launching the hashtag #WeNeedToTalk. Unfortunately for al-Sisi, the hashtag was quickly adopted by activists to accuse the security forces of human rights violations.
This nationalist discourse can be understood as a pragmatic strategy to maintain internal order and to present controversial decisions to citizens in the light of national interest. Furthermore, it has proven a useful tool for convincing Egyptians to finance infrastructure projects, such as the New Suez Canal, which has been mostly funded by the purchase of state-issued bonds. Finally, al-Sisi uses nationalism because it is an ideology that has deep roots in Egypt and contributes to uniting all strands of society that would otherwise define themselves in ideological or religious terms.
My country needs me
Al-Sisi’s online discourse conveys the idea that his legitimacy to govern relies mostly on his ability to solve people’s problems. A good 18.4% of the collected tweets contain the concept of “people’s will” for justifying his current power. For example, on 10 January he launched an online initiative for citizens to ask the president questions on Twitter by using the hashtag #حكاية_وطن (National narrative). It is interesting to note that this online initiative was launched shortly before announcing al-Sisi’s candidacy in the presidential elections, to once again stress his determination to solve peoples’ problems. In answering citizens’ questions, President al-Sisi openly claims: “I have borne the responsibility of trusteeship and I have made every effort to protect the nation and assure you that I cannot stay against your will”. To further reinforce the message, he solemnly proclaimed being “ready to sacrifice my soul for my country”. During the same online initiative, he also stated that he is working to build a more democratic Egypt, by stressing that the elections will be “fair and transparent”.
This rhetoric is pivotal to justifying al-Sisi’s power, which emerged in the context of the military stance against President Morsi. Al-Sisi makes a considerable effort to present all his decisions within the framework of the people’s will and constitutional rules. For example, shortly after announcing that he would run in the presidential elections, he tweeted pictures of the documents needed to present his candidacy to demonstrate that he was following procedures like other candidates and that people were asking him to serve a second term.
Big projects and ribbon-cutting
The economic recovery is the most common topic of al-Sisi’s communication strategy. Almost 1 out of 4 posts (23 percent) refers to Egypt’s economy and al-Sisi’s endless efforts to improve his citizens’ material conditions, especially those of the weaker. The two key words which al-Sisi often uses to present his development strategy to the citizens are “infrastructure” and “investments”. “Infrastructure” often refers to big projects, including the construction of the new administrative capital, which al-Sisi considers essential for the development of the country. For example, he stated in a tweet from last January that “no country wants to build an ambitious economy without sophisticate infrastructures”. Investments are also essential in al-Sisi’s economic vision, especially those that come from foreign countries. It is not a coincidence that the visits of Gulf rulers are the occasion for al-Sisi to present new projects and show his citizens that there is an interest in investing in the country as long as stability is preserved. In a tweet he thus proudly stated that “the Egyptian state has been working around the clock to win the trust of foreign investors”. Foreign investments are also presented by al-Sisi as a way to partially solve the problem of unemployment, which is one of the main worries for Egyptian families. Finally, al-Sisi often addresses the importance of sustainable development, which could provide an improvement of conditions for the weaker members of society.
Fighting the enemies of Egypt
The issue of security comprises only 10.3 percent of the analysed tweets. This percentage is quite low compared to the other topics, which seems to be quite surprising when considering that backing from the security forces has been pivotal to al-Sisi’s power. However, the Egyptian president does not need to win support from this group of society, which is already widely supporting his presidency. He thus refers to the army mostly in tweets on the war against terrorism and national cohesion. For example, in one tweet al-Sisi praised “The sons of the armed forces and the police [who] fought a huge battle against the forces of darkness”.He also regularly pays homage to the relatives of the victims of terrorism among the security forces. The Egyptian president describes security forces as an indispensable pillar for national cohesion against external forces who want to destabilise Egypt: a reference which might refer to the Muslim Brotherhood but also to other international foreign powers. In this respect, it is worth noting that al-Sisi rarely speaks about international issues, but when he does he often links them to the issue of internal cohesion. An example is this tweet: “Our foreign policies are strong with the unity and cohesion of the Egyptians” to stress that any contestation of his rule and Egyptian institutions is helping the enemies of Egypt to destabilise the country.
The analysis of al-Sisi’s communication strategy shows interesting insights into the often-underestimated reasons for his support within Egyptian society. The Egyptian president presents himself as a caring father who is driven only by patriotism and the will of the people to serve his country. Al-Sisi does not refrain from addressing some controversial issues, such as terrorism in Sinai and human rights, but reinterprets them within the framework of nationalism and the will of Egyptians. In this respect, al-Sisi presents himself as a pragmatic leader who mostly addresses issues like the economy and security, which pertain to all Egyptians, regardless of their ideological ideas. In al-Sisi’s view, all enemies come from outside the country, while all the Egyptians who are contesting this representation of national harmony are just serving foreign interests to undermine Egypt. On his side are all the good Egyptians, those that promote national cohesion based on shared nationality and Egyptian identity and regardless of their differences.
1. It is worth mentioning that the collected tweets have always been posted on the President’s Facebook page, which includes an additional 40-50 posts that have appeared only on this social platform. The two pages had 1.69 million followers (Twitter) and 7.2 million followers (Facebook) on March 11.