Egyptian Non-Campaign Gets Dirtier: Trying to Smear ElBaradei
As I was enjoying the last three-day weekend of summer (Labor Day here in the US), the Egyptian campaign for the Presidency (which, of course, doesn’t exist, there being no official candidates) got dirtier. In the wake of Gamal Mubarak accompanying his father to Washington (the Egyptian Foreign Minister has denied Israeli press reports that “Jimmy” met with Bibi Netanyahu) and the curious wave of ‘Omar Suleiman posters around Cairo, somebody (I wonder who?) leaked the private Facebook photos of Layla ElBaradei, Mohamed ElBaradei’s daughter, by posting them on an open Facebook group, leading to their publication in some Egyptian newspapers. Since her privacy settings are reportedly intact, either her page has been hacked or one of her Facebook friends leaked the screenshots and photos. So far more Egyptians and others seem offended by the violation of family privacy than by anything in the photos.
The leaked photos themselves are here. I link not to further the smear campaign but so readers can see what the fuss is about (and how innocent the pictures are: safe for work unless you’re Taliban). Though captioned “ElBaradei’s Family Secrets,” they’re not particularly shocking: mostly wedding photos of her marriage to her British husband, and some beach photos where she’s in a relatively modest bathing suit. But in increasingly puritanical Egypt the presence of apparent wine glasses at the wedding reception, and the swimsuit photos, as well as a party photo of her and female friends with champagne bottles, may cause some scandal, as could a screenshot of her Facebook Info page in which her political views are listed as “very liberal” and her religion as “agnostic.” She’s obviously not running for office, and her views may not be shared by her father, and her Facebook page was supposed to be private anyway.
ElBaradei has accused the government of being behind the campaign, which seems to be a widespread assumption. His National Association for Change says it will take legal action.
The Muslim Brotherhood backed ElBaradei on this, saying the following:
Given the realities of modern political campaigning, it should come as no surprise that the candidates most likely to use negative ads are the ones who feel most challenged . . .
However, there has been speculations such allegations may have been initiated by the Egyptian security apparatus, in an effort to influence the public negatively toward El Baradei, playing on both their emotional and spiritual stance. It may have also been seen as a shot to weaken the stance of the popular political opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood, which supports El Baradei in his appeal for political change, but it will not tolerate such allegedly unislamic behavior. If this proves to be the fact, it will reveal that security is bidding on the publics’ religious & sentimental values.
Undoubtedly, for most Egyptians, choosing a ruler whose criminal security apparatus focuses on beating and killing civilians, and who shows no regards to human rights, freedom and dignity is far more than dangerous than electing the father of a bikini-clad daughter.
A lot of bloggers are making similar points, and the violation of a family’s privacy seems to have offended many; the ruling National Democratic Party has distanced itself from the affair. Blogger Zeinobia wants ElBaradei to slap somebody. The breach of etiquette seems more controversial than any wine glass on a table.
Egypt isn’t used to down-and-dirty electoral politics, at least above the local constituency level where real competition does sometimes occur; with the uncertainty about the 2011 Presidential elections, there’s something like a campaign going on, but without a lot of precedent or legal underpinning. The Suleiman posters remain a puzzle. The smear on ElBaradei not only involves an invasion of privacy (were there wine or champagne bottles at Gamal Mubarak’s wedding? No one knows: no pictures ever were published), but also attacks the man for his (adult, married) daughter’s alleged behavior/religious leanings, and thus crosses all sorts of lines, including hitting at him through a female member of his family. The fact that the group that would normally have most objected to the pictures and information page, the Muslim Brotherhood, has denounced the whole ploy, suggests that whoever was behind this has miscalculated. If this was indeed an attempt by State Security or Gamal’s supporters to smear ElBaradei, it may have backfired.