Would this ‘Game of Thrones’ character make a better president than Egypt’s Sissi?


Egyptian presidential candidate Arya Stark waves her party symbol, the Needle. (Note: Arya Stark is a fictional character and is not contesting elections in Egypt.) (Helen Sloan/courtesy of HBO)

The Wall Street Journal has a good round-up of an entertaining social media trend that emerged as Egyptians went to the polls to elect their next president. Some voters, loathe to rubber-stamp the long-time front runner, Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, chose to spoil their ballots. Instead of opting for Sissi or his challenger, Hamdeen Sabahi, some offered congratulations to actress Emma Watson on her graduation from Brown University or hailed the recent success of Real Madrid football club in the European Champions league final.

My favorite instance of the meme was the tweet below, where one Egyptian voter wrote in the name Arya Stark on her ballot. Arya is a character from "Game of Thrones," the hit HBO series based on the books by George R.R. Martin. The voter also astutely assigned the roguish Arya an appropriate party symbol: Needle, which is Arya's thin yet deadly sword.

 

Sure, Arya is underage and not Egyptian, but World Views is amused at the prospect of a Stark candidacy. Here are a few ways she would potentially stack up against Sissi:

Politics
Sissi became Egypt's de facto leader after the top general authorized the military's ouster of elected Islamist president Mohamed Morsi last July. Since then, he has presided over a ruthless crackdown on dissent, banning the Muslim Brotherhood and jailing hundreds of its supporters in an astonishing purge of Islamists from Egyptian political life.

Arya, meanwhile, can't go to sleep without muttering the names of all her enemies, a list that only shortens once a particular enemy is extinguished. Not unlike elements of the Egyptian deep state that remained after entrenched autocrat Hosni Mubarak was toppled in 2011, Arya bears a grudge. She is also deeply opposed to the mixing of politics and religion.

Still, Arya's growing embrace of nihilism as a real political philosophy hardly jibes with the cult of the strongman that has lofted Sissi into power. Rather, it echoes the frustrations of some of the hard-core protesters who have routinely taken to the streets in recent years.

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Leadership
Sissi has been embraced by many as the "savior" of a nation fatigued by three years of relentless political turmoil. He promises a restoration of stability and a transition to democracy, but a majority now in Egypt would choose the former over the latter, according to a Pew poll published last week.

Arya, as "Game of Thrones" fans know, has lost her home and seen her family get torn apart in the wake of a brutal political transition. She has seen mass slaughters carried out by the goon squads of the realm's de facto rulers. She holds no hope for a restoration of what once was -- and is honest and clear-eyed about charting a new path forward.

Role of women
Part of the marketing of Sissi as savior has billed him as a chivalrous hero, rescuing a feminized, helpless Egypt (if you think that's a somewhat exaggerated depiction, just see this incredible poster made by his supporters).

Mada Masr, an independent news site in Egypt, has an excellent post on Sissi and women:

After ridding the country of Muslim Brotherhood rule, Sisi became seen as the savior and protector of Egypt. A widespread rhetoric of "chivalry, generosity and benevolence" made women an important part of his campaign, not necessarily as beneficiaries, but as sympathisers with his masculine appeal.

Women's rights activists blame him, his campaign and the overall political context for these circumstances. They see that Sisi's speeches and interviews address women as housewives, mothers and sisters. Rarely does he allude to them as more than catalysts, and he generally refuses to acknowledge that they are political players in society, as part of the work force, for example.

The contrast could not be more stark -- pun intended -- with Arya, a daring girl struggling her way through a scary medieval world full of pillaging armies and murderous rapists. Not only does she beat men at their own game, but she starts seeing through the myths and pieties that cloak the injustices of her feudal society. She has no time for conquering heroes.

Ishaan Tharoor writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. He previously was a senior editor at TIME, based first in Hong Kong and later in New York.
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