Aswat Masriya (Cairo)

Egypt: Youths Mock Presidential Candidates Via Hashtags

Less than two weeks before presidential elections kick off in Egypt, activists on social media are mocking the two competing candidates, former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and leftist politician Hamdeen Sabahi, via hashtags*.

"Every citizen taking a minibus to work should let his fellow citizen sit on his lap. This way the minibus will take [double] the passengers - imagine then how much diesel will be saved," one user joked.

Sisi had suggested that Egyptians use energy-saving lamps as one of the solutions for Egypt's increasing power cuts, and that students should walk to university instead of using public transport as a way to confront the country's fuel shortage.

Jokes on social media are one of the few ways young people can vent frustration as the optimism of the revolution sours into disillusionment with politics, among some people, and spaces shrink for meaningful public debate.

"It's nothing new, sarcasm has always been this generation's way of dealing with anything forced down their throats," blogger and independent journalist Wael Eskandar told Aswat Masriya.

"When they [the youths] see all analysts on television glorifying what is essentially a mediocre approach to solving the country's problems, they can only make a mockery of it," Eskandar added.

"Why send your children to school and pay all that money? They're going to work on vegetable trucks anyway," one user said. To solve unemployment, the ex-army chief had suggested among other things getting youths to work on 1,000 vehicles to sell vegetables.

Both posts were among dozens of tweets using a sarcastic hashtag that roughly translates to "offer solutions as if you are Sisi" which has been trending on Twitter since the former defense minister appeared in a recorded interview last week with two prominent television hosts.

"The hashtag is a result of the great solutions and suggestions which Sisi dazzled us with during his first television interview," Islam Salah, a 26-year-old engineer who supports neither camp, said sarcastically.

Salah is one of many social media users who found Sisi's solutions to Egypt's serious problems absurd. However, opinions on Twitter do not necessarily reflect the wider public opinion.

Sisi gained wide popularity last year when the army ousted President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood in response to mass demonstrations against his rule. Sisi is expected to easily win this coming presidential race.

Like Sisi, veteran Nasserist politician Sabahi is also being attacked by online activists who either believe he is unqualified to lead the country or fear that he is giving credibility to what they believe are otherwise void elections.

"Sabahi's campaign consists of nothing but two trucks, a tok tok (rickshaw) and one minibus," a Twitter user mocked the meager resources that the candidate's campaign has managed to secure.

Sabahi came third in 2012's presidential elections that brought the Brotherhood to power for a year-long term that ended with a crackdown on Islamists. He was in the opposition under both the Hosni Mubarak regime and the Mohamed Mursi administration.

"I will marry off all of Egypt's youths... and if you vote for me now, the honeymoon is free wherever you choose," said another post mocking the candidate whose promises are accused of being unrealistic by his critics.

According to an "Arab Social Media Report," only 519,000 Egyptians were using Twitter as of March 2013, compared to the 8,837,565 who were using Facebook as of May of the same year.

"Egypt continues to constitute more than one quarter of all Facebook users in the region and has had the highest number of new Facebook users since January 2013 with an increase of over 1.5 million users," the report added.

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