Last month I noted that the July 23 celebrations in Egypt this year included comparisons of the Defense Minister Gen. Al-Sisi with Nasser; Egyptians hardly need to be reminded that Nasser held on to power for the rest of his life.
Lately, there's a land office business in speculating about the general's intentions.The Washington Post asks: "Will Sissi run for president? Many in Egypt wonder." Meanwhile, The Economist ponders, "Ambitious men in uniform:
The generals who deposed the Muslim Brotherhood are keener on power than they let on. Will Egypt return to military rule?" (Some, of course, think it already did, on July 3. And so far those "ambitious men" seem to be just one man.)
Reuters chimes in with "Egypt Army Chief Shows Political Ability in Crisis." ("For a man who says he doesn't want to be president, Egypt's army chief is proving to be a skillful politician so far.")
Then, there are the other signs that Sisi is not exactly avoiding publicity. During the rule of SCAF under Field Marshal Tantawi in 2011-2012, SCAF spoke collectively through communiques posted to Facebook. Sisi has made many public speeches, sometimes rebroadcast with patriotic and military clips, and is no shrinking violet. Tantawi's rare TV appearances were awful; Sisi is telegenic in a military sort of way. Tantawi was, to steal one of Winston Churchill's best lines, "a modest man, with much to be modest about"; Sisi seems ambitious. The Washington Post last week ran an interview with the general (which it described as "a rare interview," though I suspect that may be changing), and Yasser Rizq, Editor-in-Chief of the independent newspaper Al-Masry al-Youm, published "The General Sisi I Know," (English translation via Al-Monitor). It's as fawning as anything Mohamed Heikal ever wrote about Nasser, frankly, and this is from an independent newspaper, not a state-owned one.
Does Sisi see himself as a new Nasser? Maybe. But he's also a general who hasn't served in a war. (Nasser, and Naguib, had won national fame for holding out in the Falluja Pocket in 1948 when the rest of the Egyptian Army was in retreat.) The closure by Israel of Eilat Airport today for security concerns is a reminder of the highly unstable situation in Sinai, which Sisi has claimed the Army will bring under control. If the Army fails tests like that (maintaining basic territorial security), it may have little credible claim to be the protector of the country, but this Army has long been reliant on peace with Israel and a guaranteed income in US aid to maintain its perks and live off the big chunk of the economy it controls. It has not fought a war in 40 years (except for a division-sized force sent to Desert Storm), and even its ability to wage counterinsurgency has yet to be proven, and Sinai will test that. Meanwhile, unlike the faceless SCAF of 2011 (in which no two "official" lists of members were exactly alike and no one seemed to know how it made decisions), the military this time clearly has a face and a name.