A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, March 10, 2014

Would Field Marshal Sisi Be Egypt's First Truly Cairene President?

I've criticized the "Sisi cult" in Egypt and its excesses, and I take no joy from the arrests of journalists and activists who seem to have no connection with the Muslim Brotherhood, but barring something unforeseen Field Marshal Sisi seems to be on n inevitable course to e election as President, since many Egyptians seem to feel he can walk on water (reasonable enough since the Egyptian Army recently cured AIDS and Hepatitis C with a magic wand).

But despite many negative aspects of yet another military President, there may be one positive thing to note about Sisi: he is a genuine product of Cairo. A while back I noted  an excellent article in Le Monde Diplomatique on how most of Egypt's leaders had mostly been alienated from Cairo: the kings preferred Alexandria; Sadat retreated to his home village in the Delta; Mubarak preferred Sharm al-Sheikh. Only Nasser loved and identified with Cairo, but he wasn't born there. Muhammad Morsi was from the Delta, and didn't carry Cairo in the elections.

But Sisi is, if nothing else, a true Cairene, and (this would make a US campaign spin artist overjoyed) from one of the most iconic parts of the old city: he was born in Gamaliyya, the section of Fatimid Cairo where Naguib Mahfouz set his Nobel-Prize-winning Cairo Trilogy (and other famous works such as Midaq Alley) are set. His father runs shops in the Khan al-Khalili, the famous tourist bazaar.

He isn't a rags-to-riches tale however: his brothers are all professionals, including a judge and a doctor, and the father apparently prospered with his shop selling inlaid woods and other artisanal products; but he has deeper Cairo ties than other recent leaders.

This is not an endorsement: just an observation.

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