A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, January 15, 2015

President Sisi is a New Favorite of the American Right Wing

On the occasion of the Prophet's Birthday, President al-Sisi of Egypt gave an address to al-Azhar in which he called for a "religious revolution" (thawra diniyya) within Islam aimed at countering the negative image of Islam created by radical Islamism. I didn't blog about it at the time as it was quite well-publicized and gave explicit voice to the generally anti-Muslim Brotherhood rhetoric that has dominated Egyptian life since July 3, 2013. But it has had a rather interesting resonance in US politics, where the right wing of the Republican Party has adopted Sisi as a new favorite. Since the Republicans control both houses of the new Congress, this should protect Egypt against those who want to cut US economic aid and military sales.

Here's the actual speech. If the English subtitles don't appear, clack on the "CC" button.

I do think Sisi may be the best public speaker of any President since Nasser, to whom the press loves to compare him. If you know Egyptian Arabic, he is speaking a clear colloquial Arabic in a manner that gives the listener the sense they are being addressed directly.

One of the most extreme examples of Sisi's new role as a darling of the American right was a recent speech by Representative Louie Gohmert, Republican of Texas, in which he said:
“I hope one day that our top leaders in this country will have the courage of President al-Sisi in Egypt and they will reflect, as Gen. al-Sisi has, the will of the people of their country,” Gohmert said in a speech first flagged by the District Sentinel.
"If the story is properly written about Egypt, and one day it will be, they will see that in the last six years, that besides Israel, the country that has been most fearless in standing up for freedom and against radical Islamic terrorism, unfortunately, has not been the United States because of our leadership," he said. 
I'm at a loss about the "last six years" line, which takes us back to 2009 and the late Mubarak era, and for one of those six years, the Muslim Brotherhood was at the helm.. And Gohmert is not a newcomer among Sisi admirers: in 2013 he traveled to Egypt with Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and Steve King of Iowa (both Republicans) and actually thanked Sisi for overthrowing Muhammad Morsi. That didn't sit well with the State Department at the time.

Gohmert isn't alone. Fox News has of course joined the Sisi choir, as has The Washington Times and commentator Raymond Ibrahim. 

Oh, and George Will says Sisi deserves the Nobel Peace Prize.

Now, as it happens, I don't disagree with what Sisi said at al-Azhar and think it needed saying, and I think his appearance at the Christmas Mass at the Coptic Cathedral was a very positive step. If the journalists and other protesters currently jailed were freed, I'd start to see him as an enlightened autocrat, though hardly a democrat. So I'm conflicted. I agree Sisi is showing some positive signs among other negative ones.. But not in Gohmert's terms. And those are fairly big ifs, as well.


Anonymous said...

I suspect that "six years" is in reference to Obama.

Michael Collins Dunn said...

Ah. Now I get it. Not literate in right-wing shorthand, I fear.

Anonymous said...

Yet, Dr Ben commends Da'ash on their commitment.

Michael Collins Dunn said...

Well, I agree they should be committed. Define "they" as inclusively as you wish.