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Monday, March 31, 2014

Egyptian Presidential Campaign Launched on a Bike

In a throwback to the Mubarak era, Egyptian bloggers on Monday once again found themselves parsing images of the nation’s most powerful man, released to bolster his popularity, ahead of a presidential election in which the result seems to be a foregone conclusion.

As the state-owned Egyptian news site Ahram Online reports, Egypt’s former defense minister, Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, was photographed on the campaign trail for the first time since he resigned from the military last week to run for the presidency â€" astride a mountain bike, in a tracksuit, chatting with the public.

While the former general’s fans gleefully shared the images of Mr. Sisi in sporting trim among the people, supporters of the 2011 revolution who had hoped for competitive elections and a check on the power of the military cast a more skeptical eye over the self-presentation of the man widely expected to win in a landslide.

One of the skeptics, the blogger and journalist Wael Eskandar, wrote in a comment on Facebook, “As a bicycle rider, I should have been happy to see this,” before asking what it might mean that Mr. Sisi’s bike, emblazoned with the Peugeot brand name, appeared to be “a Chinese rip off,” rather than one of the manufacturer’s genuine models. “Is everything this man endorses going to be fake?” Mr. Eskandar asked.

Mr. Eskandar’s readers later pointed out that the bicycle Mr. Sisi was pictured on â€" it looked like either a Wave-XXL or a Wave-XL â€" could have been purchased from the Cairene bike shop Bescletta or on the website Dubizzle.com.

A representative of Bescletta told The Lede by telephone that the Wave-XXL model is made in China, but it is a high-quality frame and comes with a two-year warranty. (Since Peugeot now manufactures many of its products in China and recently sold part of the company to a state-owned Chinese firm, the difference between a real and a fake Peugeot bicycle might not be as clear as it once was.)

Another blogger, from the cadre of hipster cycling advocates among Cairo’s activist community, Mostafa Hussein, dug out archival photographs of Anwar Sadat on a bike and Hosni Mubarak in the gym, reminding readers that the Sisi campaign seemed to be using a familiar playbook.

David Kirkpatrick contributed reporting from Cairo.