CAIRO — Opponents of Egypt’s new rulers say a carefully orchestrated media and advocacy campaign is underway in Egypt to generate support for the country’s military and its leader.
In their luxury chocolate shop in an affluent neighborhood in Cairo, the Bartaw family sells chocolates emblazoned with the face of the man they hope will become Egypt’s next president - General Abdel Fattah el-Sissi.
Shopowner Sherif Bartaw hopes the military leader will reach the stature of a previous national hero, Gamal Abdel Nasser, who died in 1970.
“This is our President Nasser, and the small guy, it’s Sissi,” he said, pointing to the chocolates.
Bartaw, who used to work in Cairo’s now-decimated tourism industry, says Egyptians are sick of political instability and the economic upheaval that has come with it. He hopes Sissi will be a strong enough leader to end the on-going political and social crisis.
Egypt's interim government took office after the military led by Sissi ousted democratically-elected President Mohamed Morsi in July. Subsequent crackdowns reportedly left more than 1,000 protesters dead and at least 2,000 were jailed.
Despite the crackdown, there’s an upsurge of pro-military feeling in Cairo and a renewed taste for political strongmen. Rights groups say this is being carefully choreographed though campaigns in the state and private media.
"Since the military is in control, is calling all the shots in Egypt, that’s also then allowed them to, through heavy handed military propaganda, frame themselves as the only reliable strong consistent voice in Egypt today,” said Heba Morayef, Egypt Director for Human Rights Watch.
In an office across town, leaders of the group "Complete Your Favor" are collecting 40 million signatures calling for Sissi to run for president. They supported the military action in August clearing the protest camps of supporters of Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood, despite the numerous casualties.
“It was not a peaceful sit-in, it was an armed sit-in," said the group's spokesman Abd el Nabi Abd Sattar. "The Brotherhood tried to alter and forge the image to the extent that they bought buried corpses to suggest and give the illusion to the Western or international media that the victims are numerous.”
Still, the Brotherhood continues its protests - despite being banned by an Egyptian court earlier this week.
In a Cairo suburb last week, several thousand Brotherhood supporters voiced their continued anger at the ouster of their president and the killings of fellow protesters.
“There are those voices that are calling for an exclusion of the Brotherhood and of political Islam as a fundamental threat to the Egyptian state," Morayef said. "And they then justify that by using a discourse of terrorism, to say that the Brotherhood are terrorists, and therefore should be excluded completely. And I think that’s incredibly dangerous, and incredibly destabilizing."
General Sissi says he has no ambitions to run for president and aides say he’ll only do so if the Egyptian people demand it. In the current climate, those demands seem to be growing.