Who else is winning hearts in Egypt besides Sisi?

There is no doubt that General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi is the most popular man in Egypt right now with many local observers betting that if he decided to run for the presidential elections today he would definitely win.

Nonetheless, Al-Sisi is not the only army officer who is winning hearts in Egypt. Colonel Ahmed Mohammad Ali who has been serving as the Spokesman of the Egyptian Armed Forces for more than two years is getting widely popular too, particularly among women.


Ali during a press conference (Courtesy of Al Arabyia.net)

Aside from his high educational military background, and public speaking skills, Ali seems to have a charisma many Egyptian ladies cannot resist. Ali’s charisma has been theme of several reports in the Arab media including  the Saudi-funded Al Arabia news channel.  [click to watch]

In an interview with state-run media, Al Ahram, Ali said he wanted to study décor but his mother insisted that he would join the army. He said when he had finished, he had a bachelor military science from the Egyptian Colleague of War, an MA from the British Royal College of Defence Studies (RCDS) and another from the American School of Advanced Military Studies (SAMS), which means he probably attended the US army Command and Staff School at Ft Leavenworth, Kansas.

The popular spokesman dressed in civilian. (Courtesy of his Facebook page)

The popular spokesman dressed in civilian (Courtesy of  Facebook fans)

The young officer’s surging popularity was even acknowledged by General Al-Sisi in a recently leaked video where a group of officers appeared to be discussing how to sway the local media.

In the six-minute video, one commander suggested that army might need more than one spokesperson. Al-Sisi jokingly responded “Not sure why you are not happy with him, but my information is that Col. Ahmed Ali is magnetic to women. If I replace him I will be doomed by people.”

The video, which is said to have been taped a year ago by an Islamist website, received extensive coverage in the local media. While Al-Sisi’s opponents and supporters were attempting to figure out if Al-Sisi had intentions to crackdown on the media, others were caught by that one short line he made about Col. Ali’s influence on women.

In fact, some fans were worried that Al-Sisi might consider replacing their idol in response to a suggestion made during that same videotaped meeting. A Few days after the video was leaked, local newspapers quoted high army ranks calming down anxious fans, confirming that Colonel Ali would continue to serve in his current position.

The popular Spokesperson’s official Facebook page shows that he has now hit one million fans with many of them posting photos of him in uniforms or casual clothing.

Comments posted by fans with female names in an Egyptian slang often refer to him as “Muz”,  Arabic for banana, and in the Egyptian slang it usually refers to a good-looking man. Egyptian actress Zinat Sidqi’s famous movie line; “My fragile heart can not take more”, is another widely used comment Ali’s female fans scattered all over his Facebook page. The late comedian often played the role of a spinster chasing handsome men.

Female fans on twitter showed their admiration using hash tags such as “al-helaywa,” another Egyptian slang expression that means a good-looking man.

An Egyptian woman expresses her admiration of the spokesman using alhelaywa hash tag and a photo of captioned by the famous line of actress Zinat Sedki

A tweet by an Egyptian  fan  using “al-helaywa” (الحليوة) hash tag  with a photo of Ali  (left) captioned by one of those flirty lines of actress Zinat Sidqi along with her photo (right).

Amidst a boiling political situation such as the one  Egypt is witnessing, appearing on televisions  on daily basis and being quoted in newspapers or on the web by dogged reporters could be tough to anyone particularly if he is representing a controversial organization such as the Egyptian armed forces.

The spokesman also enjoys a good reputation among the local media and the “revolution” enthusiasts, including young men who see in him an image of the educated disciplined Egyptian who fought his way to the top, a model the former Egyptian regime of Hosni Mubarak and President Mohammad Morsi failed to present.

On another PR note, unlike what many Muslim Brothers’ supporters are trying to promote about Al-Sisi’s crackdown on media, the leaked video serves as good publicity for Al-Sisi. It shows him trying to defuse anger among other officers who seemed anxious about the media coverage of the army’s role in politics even before the overthrow of Morsi.

Al-Sisi appeared urging his colleagues to adjust with the emerging monitoring role of the local media after the fall of Mubarak and the possibility of grilling by the new Parliament. He even mocked a suggestion to use “carrot and stick” policy to influence media.

Qatar buys sculpture to repair broken branding efforts

Despite recent criticism in foreign media about the poor conditions foreign workers face in Qatar, local officials seem determined in hosting the most celebrated soccer event in the world. The Guardian newspaper has recently reported that dozens of Nepali workers had died on building sites in Qatar over this summer. Human rights activists called on FIFA to take action and deny Qatar the honor of hosting the event in 2022. Recent media reports suggest that FIFA will stick to its decision.

In its Public Relation effort to confirm its entitlement to host the World Cup and deny rumors about any location change, Arab News reported that Qatar Museums Authority announced recently that it has bought ‘Coup de Tete’, a sculpture made by Algerian artist Adel Abdessemed to recapture the infamous head-butt the French soccer star Ziendine Zidane gave to Italy’s Marco Materazzi in 2006’s Berlin final match. Zidane was given the red card and booted from the match.

Courtesy of AFP and Italy MagazineScreen Shot 2013-10-05 at 8.13.46 PM

                         Photo courtesy of AFP and Italy Magazine


Some PR experts hailed Qatar’s decision to buy the statue as good publicity that will serve as a tourist attraction but few thought of the negative connotation the statue has especially on an event, where organizers constantly advocate for fair play.

For more than a decade now, Qatar has been in quest for new ways to make an image of a small but important nation. The head-butt statue is just a one of a number of extravagant  efforts to create a world class place.

The country, which is the home to renowned television satellite news network Al Jazeera and Qatar Airways, the world’s best airline in 2012, has also been generating buzz with its controversial foreign policy inside and outside the Arab world. The emirate happens to host the largest U.S military base Middle East known as Al Udeid, yet it also prides itself in hosting the Taliban and Hamas regional offices as well as an Israeli trade office.

Qatar’s “brotherly” ties with some Arab countries, particularly Egypt, have been suffering because of its support of Islamists such as Muslim Brothers and clerics such as Yousuf Al Qaradawi, a famous Islamist televagelist. The emirate and the new Emir’s mother Mozah bint Nasser has been the target of some Egyptian night comedy shows and songs. The country is also seen as a funder of the Jihadist groups fighting in Sirya, Hamas in Gaza and Sunni armed opposition in Iraq.

From a PR perspective, the problem with Qatar’s nation branding efforts is that they lack two main elements. The first is developing an identity or character of the nation. For that, Qatar needs to identify the core values of its people, which have to be real, convincing and most importantly they need to reflect something in common that the majority of the Qataris share.

The second element  has to be a narrative frame for those values. In other words, Qatar’s nation brand has to tell the story of its people just like any successful brand. It could be the story of how they first discovered gas or how the emirate moved so quickly from forgotten peninsula on the Gulf to one of the richest on earth. As long as its a good story, it will sell and it will give the officials there the opportunity to develop and communicate messages that serve the objectives of their campaign.

Videotaped will of Hezbollah fighter goes viral

A  good looking  man with a very pleasant disposition, most likely in his  20s, is the face that the Hezbollah chose to promote its image in Lebanon and the rest of the Arab world following its involvement in Syria’s violence.

Mahdi Yaghi’s videotaped will,  leaked this past week, went viral with many Lebanese trying to figure out why this young fighter for Hezbollah was genuinely happy about joining the fight in Syria and foreseeing his own death.

Yaghi’s death in Sryia was confirmed by several Lebanese news sources including al-Safeer newspaper.  Some sources reported that he was killed in  Aleppo on July 31 2013, but no details on how he was killed were given yet. Some Lebanese pro-Shia leaning forums and news websites displayed photos of Yaghi’s funeral and burial to confirm the death.

The video does not provide any details either on why Yaghi decided to tape his will, but it shows him wearing a camouflage uniform answering with a big smile  and simple words random questions thrown at  him by the cameraman.The Lebanese  Al-Akhbar newspaper reported that the media bureau of Hezbollah often videotapes the party fighters’ before they head out to the battlefield in order to broadcast them later.

With the heavy Lebanese  accent of the Beqaa Valley, Yaghi responded humorously to questions on how his family and friends would react to his death news and what last words he had for them.

“If Al Manar interviews my mother and asks her about the kind  of person I was, I  hope she would say something like I was kind hearted and forgiving..nothing more,” he said.  Al Manar is a Lebanese satellite  television station affiliated with Hezbollah. The channel often broadcasts interviews with families of the so called “men of resistance” killed in Syria or  earlier in the war with Israel in southern Lebanon.

Asked if he was married, Yaghi indicated he had a fiancée. “If I’m is still alive, we will get married next summer” he said. “No no..I don’t want hoor al-ayn”, he said. The Quranic description interpreted by some Muslim scholars as “fair virgins promised by Allah  in heaven”. The interpretation is widely used by Jihadist Sunnis  groups to recruit new members.

As for his last words to his friends, Yaghi  jokingly said he does not want them to read the Quran over his grave, I just want them to think of me when “they spend a good night or maybe  just visit my grave to have a chit chat”.

Constantly repeating that no one is perfect and all human beings make mistakes,  Yaghi closed the video with the same big smile asking everyone for forgiveness.

You really don’t need to know  Arabic to see how jovial this man was. His pleasant disposition  is perhaps why more than one Facebook page is now named after him. Fans are posting personal photos of him with prayers and poems to salute him.  Videos showing him with his family and friends or during training continue to surface on different social media platforms. The videotaped will also made it to Elaph, a Saudi online news journal with anti-Hezbollah editorial line.

From a PR perspective, the video is meant to give Hezbollah a facelift amidst an aggressive press campaign launched against it by the Sunni Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the Lebanese opponents  of the party’s support for the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad.

The seven minute video attempts  to paint Hezbollah fighters as tolerant “cool” people who while they have strong belief in their “cause”, they also like to hang out and have a good time, i.e they are not  Muslim fanatics . Such portrayal is meant to stand in contrast with the image of the Sunni jihadists of Al-Qaeda or Jabhat al Nusra who as Syrian regime opponents, are also involved in Syria and accused of restricting civil liberties and imposing Sharia laws in cities which fall under their control.

The video also targets young Lebanese for recruitment and fund-raising purposes. Some  of Yaghi’s Facebook pages  called on fans to text their donations to support the party. As for recruitment, Yaghi’s cheerful personality may  have a strong impact on the young generation, whether in Lebanon or other Shia Arab communities, such as Iraq, who could see Yaghi as role model or see themselves in him.

Al Arabyia well calculated false reporting

Imam Khamaini waving to his supporters. (Courtesy of Al Arabia.net)

Khomeini waving to his supporters. (Courtesy of Al Arabia.net)

It seems that Al Arabyia.net felt that there isn’t enough bad news coming from Iraq, so the editors worked their magic to produce one more.

The Saudi funded channel reported on its online edition that as part of their curriculum,  Iraqi college students will  have to study Iran‘s  Grand Ayotallah Khomeini’s book “Shazerat min Fiker al-Imam al-Khemani” (Glimpses from Imam Khomeini‘s notion).

Despite the fact that such news should not be a surprise to many readers who are familiar with the attempts of some Iraqi Shia parties to “Iranize” Iraq, the news was still hard to grasp. Here’s why:

* The  story is  based entirely on a vague statement  given by literarily NO ONE. Al Arabyia.net  is quoting the “bureau manager of the Iraqi Minister of Higher Education”, yet, it  provides no name of that manager. If this was an off the record statement, it should have stated so,  and in that case neither the name nor the position should have been revealed.

* Furthermore, this unnamed source, the bureau manager who said Khomani’s book will be part of the curriculum, made the statement  to “a satellite television channel” which Al Arabyia.net did not name either !!

* This unnamed source gives no details on when this decision will be implemented. Is it this year, next year or when exactly? we don’t know!

*In the last few lines of the story, Al Arabyia.net  quotes a different  source, only this time with a full name and position. It said the  Spokesman of the Iraqi Ministry of High Education, Qassim Mohammad Jabbar,  told Noon news agency that there is no intention  for the ministry to include the book in any academic curriculum and that such allegations are mere rumors which  Baathists are behind.

So, if we have a clear real official source denying the story why the story headline  still reads:

“Glimpses from Imam Khemani’s vision” to be included in Iraq’s academic curriculum 

Don’t you also agree that if the  “story” was too compelling not to publish,   a  news source such as Al Arabyia should have at least used the Spokesman’s refutation as a header instead of the one they used below:

Iraqi Ministry of Education says it will print the  book to replace Baath party ideology  

Was this just a misreporting from Al Arabyia side ! The channel has probably one of the most skillful team of editors and reporters. It is very hard to believe they would make such immature news packaging unless it was intentional.

The channel guideline policy on Iraq’s shia government has been for a long time now unfriendly, reflecting  the official views of the Saudi government. The way the story was edited seems to be part of an agenda setting policy and recurrent framing the channel tend to use to highlight Iran’s threat to the region.

In a fair world, this kind of framing, or misreporting, could  have hurt the channel reputation as the best available source of news in the Arab world  to counter Al-Jazeera. The truth is that despite  all the weak elements of the story, it  went viral as many readers, specifically young Iraqis, kept exchanging it on different social media platforms. Some did not even bother to finish the story to read the spokesman’s refutation. It was no coincidence that it was placed at the bottom. Even those who did, were still sharing it,  perhaps because some see it as  an opportunity to further question the Iraqi government‘s intentions which they don’t seem to trust.

I won’t be surprised if the story  gained Al Arabyia.net more followers than those it could have lost, especially among the young Iraqi generation who when the story was published, Sept 18,  were getting ready to start the new academic year. Schools in Iraq starts officially on the last week of September. There could not have been a better time than the one they chose to run the story.