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