The Egyptian electoral race just got a notch dirtier. Well, it just started to look like an electoral race - with the online publication of private photos lifted from the Facebook profile of Laila El Baradei, daughter of opposition leading figure and former IAEA director Mohamed ElBaradei.
It's seemingly common practice to dig into the opponent’s family’s private life when it comes to US elections - if you recognize the names Bristol Palin and Levi Johnston for example, then you know what I mean. On the opposite extreme lies the French electorate - the public sale of old topless photos of their first lady, for instance, leaves the French remarkably impassible.
But this kind of dirt-digging - for lack of a better word - is brand new for the Egyptian public.
(Perhaps because we’ve actually never had real elections?)
A Facebook group whose title can be translated as “ElBaradei’s family secrets - How shameless are they” has been lifting private photographs from Laila El Baradei’s Facebook page, whose security settings are in order - meaning that the photo thief is either a Facebook “friend” or a hacker.
The group owner claims to be “a longtime friend of Laila, Mohamed ElBaradei’s daughter who was shocked by his praying and visits to mosques, knowing that neither or his family follow any religion” - and decided to ‘expose’ him. (why it took 'her' close to a year to find out that ElBaradei was slated as a presidential contender is anyone's guess).
Said ‘exposure’ is effectively a couple of photos of the Baradeis with what may or may not be wine on the table (with no indication that it’s even theirs, if you care to know), photos of Laila El Baradei’s wedding in a city hall - an indignant group administrator writes deliberately erroneously that it’s a “church” - as well as holiday photos of her and husband in a swimsuit. Added to those is a screenshot of the young woman’s Facebook profile where she states her religious views as ‘agnostic’ - with a caption by the administrator calling her an ‘emo’.
The photos are incredibly normal by any standards. The wedding photos are endearing. The smear attempt - focusing, you may have guessed, on the alcohol on the table and the holiday photos in a swimsuit - is feeble and mediocre.
And the breach of privacy is infuriating beyond measure.
Online responses on the publication of those photos have been immediate - and overwhelmingly indignant. As users responded to the specific ‘accusations’ that they are fully unrelated to the man's political skills or ability to serve as a public official, the most vociferous response were directed at the deliberate, shameless incursion in a young woman’s private life.
"None of your business" seems to be the new rallying cry against this peak - abyss, rather - of ethically condemnable political gimmicks.
Egyptians are extremely private when it comes to their families - to the extent of refraining from referring to their partner’s name in a conversation or even calling their wife’s first name in public, using instead a generic ‘hajja’ or, more amusingly, the elder’s child name).
The Egyptian first family itself is also quite discreet in its private life. Save for the odd Mubarak photo with a grandchild to respond to rumours of bad health or the like, no holiday family photos are ever published, for instance. No photos were made available when Gamal Mubarak, himself a politician and contender for the succession his father, got married in 2007.
ElBaradei, who is yet to comment on the issue, has found defenders in the Muslim Brotherhood, with whom he shares an unlikely alliance via the National Committee for Change, a loose coalition of anti-Mubarak opponents. The Muslim Brotherhood's website published an article today on its official website aptly titled "Killing Khaled Saeed more fatal than Laila ElBaradei's bikini", in reference to the death of a 28-year old Egyptian at the hand of the police in June, and condemns the 'foul play'.
Coupled with news of the creation of a 45-man, 24/7 “Facebook police squad’’ by the Egyptian Ministry of Interior, which was established on July 1st but divulged only on Sunday [Ar.] and whose job is to monitor opposition discussions on the website; alongside reports that the ruling National Democratic Party houses a ‘hasbara’ group whose task is to defend and respond to online criticism to President Mubarak and his son Gamal, is it hard not to wonder whether this Facebook group is an individual act or rather a calculated state-backed move.
As it currently stands, this anti-Baradei online campaign seems to be an utter fiasco. Regular facebook users know well enough not to take what’s on the website at face value; and know that, for example, “Agnostic” as an answer to the “Religion” question is nothing to scream wolf about. (My own answer is an unexplained “yes”, if someone cares to misinterpret that, be my guest). Also knowing that the photos weren’t leaked, as those often are, because of low security settings shortcoming but were ‘stolen’ and made public wholly shifts the indecency accusations on the group administrator.
It’s only a matter of time before a government newspaper picks up the photos, and with Facebook’s shamelessly lax rules of privacy they will have no qualms or legal deterrent to publishing them with negative comments. But I suspect that the reaction of the Egyptian public at large will be no different, and will be quick to condemn the privacy breachers, not the Baradeis.
Personally, I am yet to be convinced by ElBaradei’s political statements, which drastically fall short of my expectations. Nevertheless, after having seen those private photos - I think the Baradeis would make a charming First Family.