Words, Rudyard Kipling once said, are the most powerful drug used by mankind.
Individuals, companies, political parties and governments will work tirelessly to ensure the right words are transmitted to as many people as possible. Public relations can make or break a nation.
So it’s no surprise Egypt’s propaganda wheel is working overtime. In fact, it’s one of the few features binding the country’s warring sects.
While the military and some non-Islamist factions have branded the Muslim Brotherhood as terrorists and thugs, Brotherhood supporters consider the opposition as “putschists”, who are furthering a fascist agenda.
Slogans and logos now distinguish who is on what side, with each party trying to outdo the other in the hopes of capturing the majority support.
Except the propaganda, unsurprisingly, hasn’t worked. Egypt remains polarised and Egyptians suspicious of each other. Words spoken or written by the military, government officials or Brotherhood spokespeople now all seem to be part of the same political game citizens are no longer involved in.
As the Economist’s Max Rodenbeck highlighted:
At the hands of politicians, the truth can fare poorly in peacetime, too. Yet in Egypt, though the country is not at war, and normal politics is pretty much suspended since the army toppled an increasingly unpopular elected government last month, the truth is taking an unprecedented beating.
Now, Spin Doctors run Egypt.
General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who authorised a bloody crackdown on his opponents, has become a hero to some for the military overthrow of Islamist president Mohammed Morsi. His trademark dark glasses and soft-spoken addresses to the nation have won over Egyptians who were desperate for the stability Morsi failed to provide.
His picture, at times flanked by the logo “Egypt Fights Terrorism”, has been plastered on cars, shops and buildings.
“Right now, he could probably win an election at a canter,” Heba Saleh writes in the Financial Times.
Meanwhile, Gehad El-Haddad, the spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood has been open to the international media, regularly engaging with his followers on Twitter and declaring the military overthrow of Morsi a crime against humanity and a bloody coup.
Muslim Brotherhood supporters, under the “Anti-Coup Alliance” have flooded journalists, diplomats and foreigners with English-language emailed statements daily.
Of course, some of these movements were wildly successful. The uprisings of January 25, 2011 and then again in June 30, 2013 were driven partly by organised PR campaigns, drawing hundreds of thousands to the streets.
Some have been less successful. Tamarod (“Rebel” in Arabic), the Egyptian youth movement that rallied street protests against Morsi, is struggling to retain momentum. Splits are forming within the group and some members have announced their collective resignation.
Black Bloc, more of a fashion fad than a movement, entered the political sphere in January this year, but drew more attention for their all black outfits and balaclavas than their anti-Brotherhood agenda. Months later, the group has lost steam and any of the original excitement they once garnered.
Still, small campaigns come and go. Masmou3 (“Heard” in Arabic) was created in the aftermath of the military overthrow to protest against the military-backed regime and the Brotherhood. Daily protests involved banging on pots and pans during the curfew. But the campaign was short-lived and soon enough, the tweets and Facebook updates stopped.
Egypt has lost its way, and brands, campaigns and movements won’t help. With each campaign, the Brotherhood and the military-backed government included, Egypt becomes more fractured and each party takes away the support of a smaller fraction of the population.
True recovery will come when the PR tools are put down and politicians prove they are civil servants organising along an economic revival.