If some Egyptian pundits have their way, Egypt could be on its way to following Turkey’s lead in banning Twitter. While Turkey’s moves against the social media site were motivated by its role in leaking phone calls implicating top government officials in corruption, the outrage in Egypt is stemming from the popularity of a single hashtag.
Opponents of Egyptian army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi have popularized a hashtag which translates to “vote for the pimp” as part of an online campaign against the military leader’s recently announced presidential bid. The hashtag has reached more than 100 million impressions and tens of thousands of posts on Twitter in the days since its creation, according to social tracking website Keyhole. The campaign is a direct response to the splashy showing Sisi’s vocal supporters have made on social media over the past months and should serve as a reminder that the army chief’s popularity within Egypt should not be taken for granted.
Opposition to the military chief has been muted in the Egyptian public sphere and virtually non-existent on Egyptian television stations, including privately-owned outlets. The fear of being tarred as a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has faced an aggressive crackdown following the ouster of President Mohammed Morsi, may have been largely successful in silencing Sisi’s critics but growing opposition following the leader’s official announcement of his presidential ambitions has become increasingly evident online.
The surge in popularity of the hashtag has been seized on by prominent Egyptian pundits as both evidence of the depravity of Sisi’s opponents as well as the necessity of a ban on Twitter. What is ironic here is that vocal anti-Islamists like Al Qahera Al Youm host Amr Adeeb are explicitly pointing to the example of Islamist Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in justifying their calls. According to Adeeb, “Erdogan has shut down Twitter altogether simply because they described him [as] a thief.”
Erdogan may be a fierce opponent of Egypt’s military government but his strong arm tactics might be about to serve as both model and validation for his geopolitical foes. While the Egyptian government has not yet officially weighed in on a Twitter ban, the calls from commentators who serve as effective government mouthpieces is ominous. After all, such a ban is far from an impossibility in a country currently prosecuting both political opponents of its government and journalists en masse.