Storm of anti-opposition invective on social media after Egypt attacks

A narrative of revenge and anti-opposition invective have been markedly pervasive among Egypt’s pro-regime social media users after the country’s security forces in the Sinai Peninsula were targeted in a series of deadly attacks last Thursday.

The Sinai Province group, affiliated with ISIS, claimed responsibility for the attacks, which left at least 45 people dead, mostly soldiers, but the Egyptian authorities blame the Muslim Brotherhood, which they recently designated as a terrorist group.

Frequent attacks on the army—the most revered institution in Egypt—by the same group or other armed groups expectedly triggered angry reactions on social media, coloured by a rising ultra-nationalist sentiment and idolisation of the country’s president, Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Thursday’s attacks, however, generated a higher level of invective both on social media and mainstream media, possibly fomented by Al-Sisi’s emotionally charged remarks in a meeting with top military officials after the attacks.

His remarks that he won’t “restrain Egyptians from avenging the death of Egyptian martyrs killed in terrorist attacks” seemed to stoke hate speech on social media following the attacks not just against the Muslim Brotherhood but also against its perceived backers—Turkey, Qatar and the US and the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

A video posted on YouTube and widely shared on Facebook showed pro-regime journalist, Yasir Rizk, phoning in a TV show to call for “the use of utmost violence” in dealing with the terror threat.

“We no longer want to hear anyone talk about reconciliation….the state should deal with terrorists with the utmost force; it should liquidate, not arrest, them,” said Rizk.

He urged the state to “use the highest level of violence allowed under the law in dealing with protests and the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo and other areas in the country”.

Similar calls made the round on Twitter with one Egyptian writing: “This is the option I support: executing the Brotherhood leaders”.

A group called ‘the official page of the 19 March coalition-the silent majority’ posted on its Facebook page an appeal for Egyptians to report any page on the social media site that carries incitement against the army or the police, providing telephone numbers and a government link.

To some Egyptians, the US is the culprit, if not the main instigator, for instability in Egypt. Just a day before the attacks, the US faced new accusations that it is hatching a conspiracy with Islamists to destabilize Egypt.

The accusations were triggered by a reported visit of a Brotherhood team to Washington.

The picture of the team, circulated on Facebook, sparked an outcry.

“How could America, a terror sponsor, claim to be fighting terrorism?” read a post on the silent majority page.

Another conspiracy-based post on the same page cast Sisi as the savior of the Sinai, quoting him as saying in his meeting with military officials he’d rather be killed than see the peninsula break away from Egypt.

The post accused the west of wanting “to make a trade-off between the stability of Sisi’s rule and the Sinai,” implying that the cost of stability is the Sinai breaking away from mainland Egypt.

“They [western countries] want to put the Giora Eiland plan into effect in the Sinai after having said they would put it on hold until Mubarak left power. But Sisi emerged declaring: kill me but don’t take the Sinai away.”

In 2004, Israel’s then National Security Council chief Major General Giora Eiland reportedly proposed as part of a Middle East peace plan to increase the size of the Gaza Strip threefold through an Israeli-Egyptian land swap.

Almost in the same breath, another post on the same page reported that Sisi thanked France and its president for supplying Egypt with high-tech military equipment.

In a similar vein, a presenter on Egypt’s national TV said the Muslim Brotherhood was “the master of those in the White House and their funders”.

The presenter was commenting on a report in which he quoted so-called US research centres as saying “the Muslim Brotherhood infiltrated the White House”.

Egyptian actor Khalid Abul Naga, known for his political activism, was on the receiving end of profanities and homophobic expletives on social media after tweeting that Sisi should step down for “mishandling” the security crisis.

Abul Naga was taunted as “shaz”—a derogatory term for a gay man. [it means deviant or a pervert.]

#“MB members told the US Congress in their latest visit they support gay rights in Egypt; check this out with Khalid Abul Naga,” a tweet read.

#“To the group called ‘We are all Khalid Abul Naga’, why don’t you call yourself ‘We are all Homosexuals (shaz).”

These are just a mild sample of the expletives that Abul Naga received on Twitter, reflecting the basic disrespect for performing artists embedded in Egyptian culture.

Mustapha Bakri, a populist politician-turned talk show host lambasted Abul Naga and his fellow actor, Mohamed Atiya—also a regime critic.

“You and other lads like yourselves should go to hell”.

“If Sisi goes, Egypt will collapse…we brought him in and entrusted him with the post and we will defend him because he is the symbol of stability and recovery of this nation,” Bakri said on Al-Balad TV, a private channel known for its populist, xenophobic talk shows, promoting outlandish conspiracy theories.

“Anyone who dares say anything against the army and police and questions them, serves terrorism and should be prosecuted immediately.”

In a tirade against Qatar, its own channel AlJazeera and Hamas, Egyptian writer, Said al-Qimni appealed to Sisi, in a string of tweets, "to destroy them all now and not tomorrow”.

“Do it now Mr President….destroy traitors and the aggression bases of Hamas and take a firm position on the statelet of AlJazeera with the shrunken testes attached to it called Qatar,” Al-Qimni wrote.

“AlJazeera knew of the time of the attacks and filmed them as rockets were being launched causing an explosion,” he said, in reference to a video, which the channel broadcast of one of the attacks on army positions on Thursday.

“We need a patriotic song that goes O president shred them to pieces,” he said on Facebook.