This month, Synergy for Media Production released the third season of The Choice drama series, produced in cooperation with the armed forces morale affairs apparatus. The first season of the drama presented the story of Ahmed Mansy, one of the army’s prominent officers who were killed in Sinai while combating ISIS’s local branch, Wilayat Sinai. In contrast, the second season presented the efforts of the National Security Apparatus to fight the violent Islamist groups after the military coup against the late President Mohamed Morsi and the heresy of several police officers who joined Wilayat Sinai.
The first two seasons of the series raised controversy over the narrative the Egyptian regime attempts to depict about the Islamists and the security and military bodies of the state, as the second season, for example, presented extremely respectful behaviour of the National Security officers towards the detainees, what was seen as unreal image conflicting with all the testimonies about the apparatus behaviour.
The third season became more controversial as it presented the ongoing political history of the country, embodying current high-profile officials who are still in office, on top of them General Abdel Fattah a-Sisi himself, who was then the minister of defence, while defaming opponent figures and directing charges against them.
Since taking office in 2014, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi showed meticulous keenness in seizing the media production in Egypt. The General Intelligence established the United Media Group, which acquired most private media outlets, including TV channels, newspapers and news websites. The totalitarian ambition did not stop here but continued to monopolize the cinema and drama production, excluding independent and private competitors through his monopoly on the media outlets, which are the main clients of those artistic works.
The Cell (Cinema movie 2017), Handcuffs (Drama series 2017-2019), Abu Omar al-Masry (Drama 2018), The Passage (Cinema 2019), Counterattack (Drama 2021) and The Knower (Cinema 2021), all of these were propaganda works produced by the Intelligence’s organs to glorify the security and military institutions in Egypt on the one hand and to demonize the Islamists on the other hand. However, The Choice was the one openly adopted by the state through the armed forced moral affairs. “The Choice III addresses the sidelines of the President Mohamed Morsi period in the presidency and the military coup against him,” said media expert Ali Abdel Alim. “It is pure propaganda, which can hardly be seen even in a semi-democratic country and is remembering the totalitarian practices of Stalinist and fascist regimes.”
According to Abdel Alim, the regime should not discuss ongoing domestic political conflicts via drama, as this will almost lead to violating the rights of the opposition as an act of smear. The violation here doubles as this drama series direct charges to opponent figures detained in the regime’s prisons. They are not just the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, top them Dr Mohamed Badie’, the guide of the group, and Khairat al-Shater, the deputy guide of the group, but also other detained Egyptian politicians, including Mr Essam Sultan, the deputy leader of Al-Wasat Party, and Dr Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, the head of Strong Egypt Party. “While the work is directing charges and smearing those persons, they are in prisons denied of their right to reply,” said the human rights lawyer Islam Gaber. “Even more, those persons are still under trial, and many of these charges were not proved by the courts or were not even suggested against them.”
According to Gaber, this could be considered illegal intervention and an attempt to influence judicial work, and it also breaches the standards of fair trials. The detained politicians are not just denied their right to correct the stories of the authorities but even denied visits, which made them easy targets of the regime’s propaganda.
Illegal leaks and manipulation
The drama presents personal meetings between Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Professor Mohamed Morsi or Khairat al-Shater. In contrast, Sisi appears as a patriotic official and strong man, while Morsi and al-Shater appear as humble profiteers who seek personal and partisan interests. Here seems only the voice of one party, al-Sisi, while the other agent is behind walls or dead. However, the video leaks released at the end of each episode are more violating.
Lawyer Islam Gaber explained that even if the records are accurate, the leaks breach law as they should not be released without the attendants’ approval or the court’s permission. “The leaks are a direct violation of the personal rights of those who appear in them.” “Each episode ends with a video on one of the meetings of the Muslim Brotherhood leaders with the armed forces supreme council,” said Ali Abel Alim. “They are mostly real records.” Abdel Alim explains that the release of the videos aimed at convincing the watchers that the drama scenes are like the video leaks, so they should accept it without evidence. Nevertheless, he observes that the content of the videos, in general, is just announced situations of the group.
“The videos do not condemn the Muslim Brothers but even show that they are keen on social peace,” said Abdel Alim. “In one of the videos, Khairat al-Shater appears saying that they are against violence and combating the recurrence of the Salafist violence which occurred in the 1990s.” Abdel Alim adds, however, that some videos underwent precise manipulation. In one video, al-Shater says he can mobilize a million persons to burn the headquarters of the National Security and make famous trials of its officers. “the video is montaged, as al-Shater said before this sentence that he is keen on avoiding a clash with the military and explains that it is possible to handle a clash with police but not with the military,” said Abdel Alim. “He was explaining his refusal of violence, not threatening it as the manipulation attempted to show.
One of the videos showed Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh warning the military of letting the Muslim Brotherhood control the state and saying he prefers to vote for anyone in the armies other than the Muslim Brotherhood. This video represented an irony on social media, as Aboul Fotouh himself has been detained since 2018 after criticizing Sisi’s authoritarianism in an interview with BBC.