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Russia’s Arabic News Channels Are Increasingly Popular Amongst Sisi's Supporters

Updated: Mar 31, 2023

The high centrality of Russian news platforms in Egyptian media suggests that Moscow is taking advantage of Egypt’s highly regulated media market to expand the reach of its Arabic news networks in the region. Its communication strategy in Egypt follows a logic of cost-effectiveness and appears to rely on relationships of clientelism with local media professionals. Unlike AFP, Reuters and the Associated Press, Russian newswires are likely more affordable to Egyptian outlets. Sputnik and RT Arabic thus became prominent sources in Egyptian national media. These networks are also considered as competitive news providers because of their tabloid content and clickbait headlines, which have proved to be highly profitable in the context of today’s attention economy.

But Russia’s media influence is not limited to its visibility on Egypt’s national media outlets. Pro-Russian Arabic news channels administered from abroad (usually Russia, Algeria and the UK) are also popular amongst Egyptian Sisi's supporters sharing their content on social media. These Russian news websites and social media accounts include the UK-based channel ( اقلام حرة, ‘the Free Pencils’) delivering Arabic news to 571,545 Facebook followers; the ‘Russian Brief’ (الموجز الروسي - @mog_Russ) Twitter account (58,000 followers), and the Moscow-based ‘Russia Now’ Twitter profile, which disseminates Arabic content to 182,600 followers. and @Russianowarabic also circulate Russian propaganda via their Telegram channels. Amongst Egyptian Sisi supporters, influencers like Eslam Othman (@Esll7970Gladii) disseminate these sources to their own partisan audience, drawing analogies between Sisi and other populist leaders known for challenging Western liberalism. Eslam Othman’s Twitter account caters to an audience of 160.9K followers, and occasionally quotes foreign sources, which are perfectly aligned with his views on foreign policy. The influencer has advocated for the participation of Egypt in the ‘BRICS’ alliance, contested Western solidarity with Ukraine, and warned against a world war III conspiracy led by Europe and the United States.

Other Egyptian accounts amplify the posts of these Russian News platforms to support the idea of an alliance between Egypt and Russia. Twitter influencer Karim Katsho (@TkaTsho20) engages an audience of 10,996 followers by calling for a ‘new world order’ led by Russia, China and the Egyptian military regime. The user professes his allegiance to the president in his Twitter bio, naming Sisi as a role model and stressing the importance of Egypt's national sovereignty. This suggests that Russian rhetoric strengthens the argument of national security, which grants legitimacy to the military regime.

Pro-Sisi influencers are also quoting Russian sources to frame Moscow as a beneficial economic partner, whose investments are expected to provide a hardly convincing quick fix for the economic crisis. In February of this year, Eslam Othman relayed an RT Arabic story announcing new Russian imports of food products on the Egyptian market. The story stated that rouble payments were expected to reduce the food prices generated by the inflation and the lack of dollar liquidity, thus promoting trade agreements between Cairo and Moscow. The appeal of this narrative amongst pro-Sisi influencers confirms that Russia is perceived as a compelling alternative to Western stakeholders and that the economic argument plays a major role in the success of its regional communication strategy.

Future research should further investigate the degree centrality of Arabic pro-Russian accounts amongst Sisi's supporters, and determine if these foreign platforms have a high level of betweenness centrality within clusters of Egyptian social media accounts favourable to the military regime. This would suggest that Russia’s Arabic news networks help reassert the authority of the Egyptian president at the expense of the progressive opposition. A preliminary study of Moscow’s media operatives in Egypt certainly indicates that the military regime is complicit in the spread of Russian propaganda, and that Russian-style rhetoric provides more ground for state authoritarianism and the repression of the civil opposition.

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