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A Close-Up View Of Egypt's Media Fawning Over Al-Sisi

Token tough questions are drowned out by heaps of praise for the general-turned-presidential candidate, and even some Hosni Mubarak nostalgia.

Al-Sisi supporters demonstrate near Tahrir Square on March 28, 2014
Al-Sisi supporters demonstrate near Tahrir Square on March 28, 2014
Dalia Rabie

CAIRO — At a conference organized by a popular group supporting presidential candidate Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a woman is heckled as she argues that the media should be a platform for Egyptian youth to express themselves.

"I don't want the media to only show someone saying "Long live Sisi,"" she says, trying to explain herself amid the commotion. "I want them to show the youth who oppose him and ask why."

The conference, organized by the pro al-Sisi group Egyptian People, is here to discuss the future of the media and its challenges under an al-Sisi presidency. The woman explains that her children have turned on her because she supports the former army chief but that they deserve to have a voice. "Al-Sisi's campaign should listen to the youth," she pleads. "I am trying to relay to you how the youth think and why they protest at universities."

"Because they are funded," someone yells.

Another attendee approaches the podium where the woman is standing, bearing a defiant look and chanting "Long live Egypt" in protest at the suggestion that anti-Sisi youth should be heard.

Another offers friendly advice, telling the woman that she needs to raise awareness with her children, as "they are only scared of tomorrow."

Many of these staunch al-Sisi supporters also appear to have a soft spot for former President Hosni Mubarak. This becomes evident when journalist Mohamed Faris characterizes Mubarek as "ousted president" when he addresses attendees. Many of them respond, yelling, "He stepped down. He was not ousted!"

This back and forth continues intermittently throughout the speaker's address, but is finally interrupted by someone who attempts to ease the tension by chanting “Long live Sisi.” This seems to remind them of their common sentiment for the presidential candidate, after which they all join in agreement, “Long live Sisi.”

While speakers affirm that they all took part in the Jan. 25, 2011, uprising and spent 18 days in Tahrir Square, Thawra Party head Tarek Zeidan concludes the conference with a disclaimer: "Hosni Mubarak gained my respect after I learned that he tried to prevent bloodshed during the uprising."

The conference starts an hour and 45 minutes later than scheduled, and the dozen or so waiting listen to “Boshret Kheir,” a catchy song in which Emirati sensation Hussein al-Jasmi urges Egyptians to vote, on loop. A few use this time to pose next to al-Sisi banners.

An ideological media

Despite the conference's title — "The media: prospects and challenges facing the presidential candidate" — panel discussions focus less on the stated subject and more on the ways the media can support him.

"We need to stand behind Sisi," says journalist Mahasin Senousi, who is also the spokesperson for the Egyptian People group. "It is not that we are against Hamdeen Sabbahi, but at the end of the day there will only be one president."

Senousi claims the role of the media in both the Jan. 25 and June 30 revolutions cannot be denied, but that there have been "blunders" over the past three years. She adds that some media figures have admitted their mistakes — in chanting "down with military rule," for example — and rectified them.

Panelists agree that there needs to be a "charter of honor," and regulations under which the media can operate, emphasizing its role in building and strengthening Egypt.

All speakers conclude their addresses by urging listeners to head to the polls next week and pledge their votes to the former army chief. Their addresses are constantly interrupted by chants of, "We love you Sisi," and "Sisi, you are real, like the Nile and like the dam." They are instigated by a group of women from the campaign wearing al-Sisi pins, one of them waving an Egyptian flag upside down.

Journalist Jailan Balbaa praises al-Sisi, saying he saved Egypt from a Zionist and American conspiracy. "The young people who chant against the military surely don't understand," she says. "They need to read up on history."

The evening closes with a rendition of a song in praise of the presidential hopeful, after which “Boshret Kheir” is blasted again, as attendees dance their way out of the conference hall.

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Life On "Mars": With The Teams Simulating Space Missions Under A Dome

A niche research community plays out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another planet.

Photo of a person in a space suit walking toward the ​Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

At the Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

Sarah Scoles

In November 2022, Tara Sweeney’s plane landed on Thwaites Glacier, a 74,000-square-mile mass of frozen water in West Antarctica. She arrived with an international research team to study the glacier’s geology and ice fabric, and how its ice melt might contribute to sea level rise. But while near Earth’s southernmost point, Sweeney kept thinking about the moon.

“It felt every bit of what I think it will feel like being a space explorer,” said Sweeney, a former Air Force officer who’s now working on a doctorate in lunar geology at the University of Texas at El Paso. “You have all of these resources, and you get to be the one to go out and do the exploring and do the science. And that was really spectacular.”

That similarity is why space scientists study the physiology and psychology of people living in Antarctic and other remote outposts: For around 25 years, people have played out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another world. Polar explorers are, in a way, analogous to astronauts who land on alien planets. And while Sweeney wasn’t technically on an “analog astronaut” mission — her primary objective being the geological exploration of Earth — her days played out much the same as a space explorer’s might.

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