Egyptian military leader Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, about a year after taking power in last summer's military coup, has officially become president with a big swearing-in ceremony on Sunday. Sisi won the not-very-contested presidential election with an eyebrow-raising 96 percent of the vote, although turnout was below half of eligible voters. So Sunday's swearing-in looks more like a coronation.
Here, then, is the perfect photo to capture today's big event. It was taken not at the actual ceremony but by the Egyptian newspaper Youm7 in Cairo's Tahrir Square, where there is a pro-Sisi demonstration:
#اليوم_السابع | المحتفلون بـ #التحرير يضعون تمثالا رمزيا للسيسى احتفالا بتنصيبه رئيسا http://t.co/9WghJXVbBG pic.twitter.com/8yPgcpwU35— اليوم السابع (@youm7) June 8, 2014
Yes, that's a mannequin of Sisi on the left, proposing marriage to a giant doll representing Egypt on the right.
There are a few reasons this fits so well as a symbol of today's rubber-stamping. There is the clumsiness of it all, the facepalm-worthy overtness of Sisi's power-grabs and his supporters' un-self-aware enthusiasm. There is the transparently farcical quality, apparent to everyone but the true believers who see Sisi as so wonderful that this doll display is cause for joy. There is the overt creepiness of it all, as ultra-nationalist pro-dictator movements always are. But, funny though these giant smooching dolls may be, what they represent is deadly serious.
Sisi has already cracked down severely on perceived opponents such as the Muslim Brotherhood and journalists; the low turnout in the May presidential election likely means he will tighten his grip further to make up for the weakened legitimacy. These doll-waving pro-Sisi crowds may still gather in Tahrir, but they seem to represent less of Egypt all the time.
Creepily nationalist displays like this one are yet another indication that the pro-Sisi movement that has cheered on his coup and his power-grab is, despite its claims to represent liberal democracy, at its core an ultra-nationalist movement. That movement has shrunk considerably since it cheered on Sisi's summer 2013 coup and subsequent slaughter of pro-Muslim Brotherhood civilians, but it's still around. One question for Sisi's rule is whether, or for how long, he continues to believe that all of Egypt is so adoring.