A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, August 8, 2013

What Are General Sisi's Ambitions, Exactly?

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.


Anonymous said...

This is just so unfair.

General Sissi was dragged kicking and screaming by over 35 million Egyptians to stage his coup, err sorry, popular revolution.

To get this bashful patriot to run for president at least 4 times that number will have to "demand" his candidacy.

And then and only then will he heed the popular call.

The appropriate headlines are being prepared in the media as we speak.

Hassanein said...

Not only did Sissi present a bouguet of flowers to President Nasser.

While still a young lad, he used his slingshot in 1956 to stop an Israeli tank in Suez. The rock he hurled went straight through the driver's view slit causing the tank to swerve off the track, causing the entrapment of several tanks behind it. This bold move and not Eisenhower's intervention was the real cause of the end of the 1956 aggression.

In 1972, he submitted the award winning design for the pontoon bridges to cross the canal and was there in October 1973 to deploy them. And that was lucky because military engineeers were having problems which Sissi solved on the spot.

While not technically yet in the military, he was the first Egyptian to cross the canal. The true hero of 1973. Sadly, his accomplishments were not honored because of a jealous Sadat eager to claim all glory from the war.

I could go on with more of his imagined accomplishments, but the Generalissimo is a modest and shy man.

He also was the first to congratulate the Prophet Mohammad after the first Ramadan. Because of restrictions on depictions of the Prophet no pictures were taken.

Magdi said...

Al Sissi's family was poor and they couldn't afford to send him to school.

So he studied at home at night by candlelight and wrote his lessons out on a shaduff using fakhm. A practice that also developed his reflexes and coordination skills.

Later when he was a young man he sold bread to travelers at the Ramses train station. One day he discovered that he had shortchanged a traveler 1 piastre. He walked all the way from Cairo to Menufia to repay the man.

A deed that earned him the title "Honest Abd".

Mahmoud said...

General Washington has nothing on al-Sisi.

Abdul Fattah's family was so poor it only had a few feddans of farmland in Zamalek where his dad grew cotteon.

The General noticed how hard his father worked and felt pity for him. The night before harvest day the General went out and cut all the cotton, stacking it neatly into bundles.

His father rose early and after prayers took his family to the fields to harvest the cotton. They were surprised to see that it had already been harvested. The General said, "Al Hamdi lilahi my father you may rest this day".

The family spent the day speculating who had done this noble and gracious deed. Al Sisi was silent.

But his father was suspicious and asked him point blank. "Son, did you chop down the cotton?"

Al Sisi responded, "I cannot tell a lie, I chopped down the cotton".

A man who will never lie to the Egyptian people. But as you Americans will notice he did not chop down a fruit bearing tree but rather harvested a crop. Such is the nobility of our dear General!

Anonymous said...

That's nothing.

While a young cadet at the Military Academy in 1973, Al Sisi analyzed the Vietnam War and prepared a plan that would have ensured an American victory.

His letter was only delivered to the Pentagon in 1975 because of the incompetence of the American postal system.