Popular hashtags take sides on Egypt president's leadership

In this Thursday, June 21, 2018 photo, provided by Egypt's state news agency, MENA, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, center, meets with President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, second left, and Mideast envoy Jason Greenblatt on the latest stop in a regional tour to discuss a blueprint for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, in Cairo, Egypt. (MENA via AP)

CAIRO — Tens of thousands of Egyptians have set social media alight with tweets on opposing hashtags, one calling on President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to resign and another praising his leadership.

The hashtags surfaced after a recent wave of steep price hikes for fuel, drinking water and electricity was introduced by the government as part of austerity measures designed to overhaul the economy, which is still recovering from a costly 2011 popular uprising. The hikes were announced as Egyptians were celebrating Eid al-Fitr, a holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan, a move believed to be designed to minimize chances of protests.

Frustration deepened last week after Egypt's national soccer team, competing in the World Cup for the first time since 1990, failed to advance after only two matches. The hashtags have picked up since, making it Twitter's top trending list in Egypt for days. But by Saturday, the one calling on el-Sissi to leave office carried over 279,000 tweets. The opposing hashtag had a much lower figure of more than 48,000.

"No freedom, no justice, no education, no country, no humanity ... it's the time to go away!!!," one user posted on the hashtag asking el-Sissi to leave, which is translated from Arabic as #Sissi_leave.

Meanwhile, other users flooded the hashtag praising the president (#myleaderisSissiandproud) with flattery and adulation.

Economic reforms and tough austerity measures started shortly after el-Sissi took office in 2014 but have been accelerating recently and have hit poor and middle-class Egyptians especially hard. El-Sissi, who led the 2013 military overthrow of elected but divisive Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, has urged Egyptians to be patient as the reforms take effect.

"If we want to become a real nation, we must suffer pain and endure hardships," el-Sissi said. "We have to pay the price together."

Ahead of the recent price hikes, Egyptian authorities arrested several critics, including a well-known blogger and a socialist activist. The arrests, which came after el-Sissi's re-election in a March vote in which he faced no serious challengers, are part of a wider crackdown on dissent since Morsi's overthrow amid mass protests against his yearlong rule. Thousands of people have been jailed, including several prominent secular activists who defied the protest ban.

Those measures have virtually eliminated street activism in Egypt, where the 2011 uprising ended former President Hosni Mubarak's nearly 30-year rule. The government has also cracked down on online organizing by blocking hundreds of websites, including many run by independent journalists and rights groups.

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