Egypt’s al-Sisi: The Field Marshal Who Could Be Pharaoh

The man who orchestrated the military's removal of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi last year now stands poised to make a run for Morsi's old job

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Mohamed Abd El Ghany / Reuters

A poster of Egyptian army chief General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi being held during a protest at Tahrir Square in Cairo on Jan. 25, 2014, to celebrate the third anniversary of the country's uprising against former President Hosni Mubarak

The prospect of Abdul Fattah al-Sisi becoming Egypt’s President offers, at the minimum, the virtue of clarity. The Egyptian military, which on Monday “mandated” its Chief of Staff to stand for President, has never actually been out of power in the Land of the Pharaohs. Al-Sisi became its public face only on July 3 last year, the day the career soldier stepped before a microphone and announced the removal of the only freely elected government in the nation’s thousands-year-old history.

The ecstatic cheers that greeted the announcement spoke volumes about Egypt’s disenchantment with the clannish and tin-eared Muslim Brotherhood administration that al-Sisi sent packing. The adulation also demonstrated the comfort level of many ordinary Egyptians for being ruled by men in uniform. In many countries where a military coup has taken place, the etiquette calls for a firm suggestion that the top brass, having performed a distasteful but necessary duty, leave the field of politics and “go back to their barracks.” In Egypt, the cry being heard after al-Sisi’s nomination was: “The military and the people are one hand.”

It was heard in Tahrir Square almost three years ago to the day. The Supreme Council of Armed Forces, soon to be widely known by the scabrous-sounding acronym SCAF, issued Communique No. 1, a statement supporting the “legitimate demands” of protesters demanding the removal then of Hosni Mubarak as President. Like Anwar Sadat before him, and Gamal Abdel Nasser before Sadat, Mubarak was a military man. “You know, we’ve always had the military running things,” a liberal activist told me on the banks of the Nile, shortly after Morsi had been removed. “It’s as much a part of Egypt as the Nile.”

(MORE: Why Egyptians Are Voting Away Their Freedoms)

Al-Sisi is the latest, if least known, in the line. Born in Cairo in 1955, he was raised in a modest home in the Gamaleya neighborhood. His father made furniture; his mother was described in rare published profiles as devout. Al-Sisi joined the military as a career soldier. Though he never saw combat — Egypt’s last war was in 1973, against Israel, and he graduated from the Egyptian Military Academy four years later — he rose steadily through the ranks, going abroad to study in Britain and, more important, the U.S.

Washington’s intimate involvement with the Egyptian military dates back more than a century, to the 18 veterans of the American Civil War who arrived to train its armed forces in 1869. It was the Americans who first urged the establishment of the staff and naval colleges that dominate any map of Cairo today; the military also dominates a large portion of the Egyptian economy. The relationship with the U.S. remained strong, both through exchanges like the one that brought al-Sisi to the U.S. War College to study for a master’s degree in 2006, and the $3 billion in direct military aid that flowed from Sadat’s decision to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1979.

A portion of the money was withheld after the July 3 coup, a vacillation that al-Sisi denounced bitterly. But the vital relationship persists. Al-Sisi and U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel speak on the phone regularly.

(MORE: Egypt’s Military-Backed Rulers Brand Muslim Brotherhood ‘Terrorist’ and Extend Crackdown)

Al-Sisi’s popularity on the Egyptian street was like his sudden emergence in the top ranks of its military — elevated in 2012 to the post of Defense Minister by President Mohamed Morsi, an Islamist whose scant year in office was defined by a majoritarian impulse and rising distrust of the Brotherhood that too long remained his point of reference. Al-Sisi had replaced Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, a septuagenarian shunted aside by Morsi in what was then seen as a deft and felicitous political move. In time it was understood as a changing of the guard supported by a younger generation of officers. When al-Sisi joined the general staff, he was among the youngest at the table, and held the intelligence portfolio.

That Morsi selected him in his Cabinet suggested a level of comfort with al-Sisi’s Muslim faith. In a detail that was widely repeated as evidence of his family’s piety, one of the general’s daughters was reported to wear the niqab, which covers the entire face. But the general made clear in public statements that his priority was Egyptian unity and that the military would be its guarantor. First privately — and finally, publicly and angrily — al-Sisi was dismayed at Morsi’s rejection of his overtures to bring the Brotherhood and other stakeholders in Egypt’s future together to hash out their differences. By late June of 2013, the overtures had turned to ultimatums — calling for people to take to the streets to signal their appetite for a military intervention.

“We understand also that the military’s intervention to support the Egyptians was not a surprise,” al-Sisi told the Washington Post’s Lally Weymouth a few weeks after the coup. “We can go back [through] my statements, starting with my invitation to the political powers in Egypt to come to a negotiating table for reconciliation in November of last year until the last 48-hour deadline I gave the President and the political powers to come to a compromise.”

(MORE: Egypt’s New Rule)

The military wrapped its takeover not only in the flag, but also the original 2011 uprising — in the days after July 3, Egyptian flags were draped from helicopters, painted in the sky by fighter jets and dropped by the thousands over Tahrir Square. And the armaments were not just for show: hundreds of Brotherhood supporters have been shot in the streets, and the organization declared a terrorist group. With a shooting war with religious extremists under way in the Sinai Peninsula, the lines between political Islam and extremism have disappeared, at least in the public space that the Egyptian military has taken over. A new constitution passed a referendum with the kind of support — 98% — associated with the sham presidential elections under Mubarak. Activists who dared post a sign urging a no vote were taken into custody.

Through it all, al-Sisi — all but unknown two years earlier — appeared to grow more comfortable with the role of the Indispensable Man, left vacant since Mubarak. He was promoted to field marshal just a few hours before being nominated by his fellow officers as the nation’s President.

“I have a long history with visions,” al-Sisi is heard to say in an interview session with a friendly journalist, on a tape that was later leaked. “For example, I once saw myself carrying a sword with ‘No God but Allah’ engraved on it in red … In another, I saw President Sadat, and he told me that he knew he would be President of Egypt, so I responded that I know I will be President too.”

It hasn’t happened yet. But after Monday’s events, the field marshal’s election has taken on a certain foreordained quality.

47 comments
MontyofEgypt
MontyofEgypt

What is happening in Egypt is so simple and does not really need academia to explain it. Egyptians simply have to choose between two bitter options: a religious state run by a group of fanatics (aka Muslim Brotherhood) or a secular state run by the army. Most people, including myself, would go for the lesser of two evils, a secular state controlled by the army. At least army control will bring stability, safety and order back to the society that has grown weary of chaos for three years. This secular state will also provide protection for women, minorities and the cultural heritage of Egypt.

MohammedAbdEn-nasser
MohammedAbdEn-nasser

Good article. very objective analysis. you wrote it as a man how never left Egypt. and knew it accurately.
regards

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gomezfrances1

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DrKat
DrKat

Better a Pharoah then a Shah...under Sharia law.....

mohammad28march1993
mohammad28march1993

I am Egyptian and I agree this is a hilarious, sick and sad joke but hey I think that this is related to society suffering from systematic abuse by governments for over 60 years before even Gamal Abd El Nassar this no doubt leaves a remnant of craziness, kidnapper's syndrome if you will if that is what it is called :D. Parallel to individuals suffering from certain mental illnesses caused by childhood abuse. I am probably being unobjective and unscientific but I am really pissed.

Mabdelma
Mabdelma

Maybe if more Americans did some research and found out that the Muslim Brotherhood had strong ties to the people that flew two planes into the Twin Towers they'd stop defending the Brotherhood as a "democratically elected" government. Please, and you want an entire nation to be governed by these people? When the country turns into Iraq 2.0 everyone just wants to start pointing fingers of blame. Religion has no place in government and I applaud Americans as well as other westerners for realizing that. Unfortunately, Egyptians just chose to learn the hard way. There's no telling how good of a leader Sisi will be, but I sure as hell trust him over some closeted extremist with ties to various terrorist organizations. 

KSsif
KSsif

Egyptians truly have a sense of humor but they dont realize that the joke is on them !
The whole region is laughing at them for the slaves that they are ! they are enslaved to the military who they themselves are enslaved to the Saudis and UAE ….etc, they just love financial aid money more than their pride and self respect which is nonexistent.
The Saudis/UEA/Kuwait  and other autocrats in the region support the generals because they are against any spread of civilian rule throughout the region . All the arab autocratic monarchs oligarchs have not one historical leg to stand on when it comes to legitimize their position in power and government to stop civilian rule they backed the generals with 12 billion dollars which they didn’t offered to the first civilian government this shows their intentions. so anyoune who is for civilian rule and against autocrats are islamists and jihadis so you can t be a civilian who is against oligarchs monarchs and autocrats.
 
what a beautiful democracy , the generals in the security council of the armed forces have handpicked their candidate and destroyed any form of civilian opposition to make any election look like a one horse contest .

The work that began in Tahrir Square just end now .

Is this what thousands have died for to see another general become president and to see the same military system survive to dictate exploit and oppress for another 60 years !

Nasser and his Free Officers Saddate and Moubarek  expected to become the "guardians of the people's interests" .  Almost four decades since he died, people invoke his legacy as the prime cause behind many of Egypt's ills today.

Tunisia gave birth to the Arab spring,  looking to offer freedom and equality, and actually the perspective of freedom and equality, for all.
Hope Tunisia will continue making progress and i hope it will become a role model...

roxoraz
roxoraz

Both the author and most commenters appear to miss the realpolitik re Morsi, who was paving the way for an Islamic dictatorship wearing a "democratically-elected" sheepskin.   The Egyptian military is not the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, so a clash was inevitable and thankfully came soon.  For now, Egypt is more stable with a continuation of the past than the fanatical future the Botherhhod had planned. And most Egyptians appear to agree, so indeed who are Americans -- who are ruled by Wall Street and the corporate 1% under a cheap veneer of democracy -- to judge?

TimmehChan
TimmehChan

GRAMMAR/COPY-EDITING:
"Though he never saw combat – Egypt’s last war was in 1973, against Israel, and he graduated from officer’s school four years later – he rose steadily through the ranks, going abroad to study in Britain and, more important, the United States."


4th paragraph, last sentence. Should be "more importantly,"

Anonymo
Anonymo

Ugh, Pharaoh? Really?  A reference that is LITERALLY ancient history.  Next time an article about America gets written I hope they are referred to as Quakers and Colonizers.

dildocam
dildocam

Revolution fail lol.  Have fun Egypt, hope your stupid country stays in turmoil for decades to come.

RickKuda
RickKuda

Better a Pharoah than another Ayatolloh!

KyleSmith1
KyleSmith1

I think the rock band The Who said it best "Meet the new boss

Same as the old boss".  Pretty much says it all.  Very sad.

RehabMaher
RehabMaher

why the America people see that they have right to judge us ( Egyptian people)
we love general Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and he is a true strong man who can leads Egypt during this period .
a small question for  American people  since when you support Muslims ?
please American people don't  don't try to control us .

THANKS

YasserNegm
YasserNegm

@MontyofEgypt  
How can somebody who knows (literally anything) about Egypt say that:
"army control will bring stability, safety and order back to the society that has grown weary of chaos for three years. This secular state will also provide protection for women, minorities and the cultural heritage of Egypt."

Is that what has been happening through 60 years of secular army control of the country ?
Or is that what has been happening during the massacre of Maspero by the army 2.5 years ago and the (virginity examinations) by the same army 3 years ago for females demonstrating in Altahrir square ?
:)



hanyffm9
hanyffm9

@DrKat  I agree with you, however I guess you mean't "Better a Pharoah then a Mullah...under Sharia law....."

Mullahs islamic revolutions removed the Shah

BlauhimmelSkyway
BlauhimmelSkyway

@Mabdelma Not true at all. I did a deep research and found  No ties with any terrorists. We had a one year of complete and unprecedented FREEDOM. Freedom that we enjoyed to the full, to the most extent. The freedom of speech was at its highest level in Egypt to the point of abusing that freedom by the media insulting and making jokes of  the first ever legally elected president Dr. Morsi. He never en jailed any of  them. Nowadays if you just make a sign ( the Rabea sign) raising four fingers to protest again the massacre did by the sisi  you will be transferred  directly to jail even without interrogation. Sisi made a military coup to be president and made the rule. Sooner or later another one will make a coup against him unless the Egyptian wake up and get back our pure and democratic revolution on track.

vrome
vrome

@Mabdelma  No, if more Americans did some research, we would find out that the Muslim Brotherhood  STRONGLY condemned the 9/11 attacks.  To quote Morsi after the attack, "[it was] a wrong act which we denounce regardless of its doer.” 

Unfortunately, Egypt doesn't have a free press.  So Egyptians only read what the military wanted them to read or know. 


To truly respect the institution of democracy, you must respect the legitimacy of the persons freely elected by your fellow citizens to serve as leaders.You don't have to like them, you just have to respect that they were freely chosen in a fair and free election.  The current president of the United States has an approval rating of about 20%.  But guess what?  There has been no military coup against him because Americans accept the institution of democracy, and we know we can make corrective changes later.

mohammad28march1993
mohammad28march1993

@KSsif  The Irony is that you say "they just love financial aid money more than their pride and self respect which is nonexistent." None if this money ever gets to at least 90% of Egyptians !! in essence the people want to stay poor and humiliated by their own free will.


We could sit around for days discussing and documenting incidents where people in this country where abused by their governments and we would never even scratch the surface of how much injustice was done.........

DrKat
DrKat

@roxorazWell Said.  The only people who think that is crazy talk are the damn muslims.

FolinaRai
FolinaRai

@roxoraz 

You are talking about imaginary situation but this is already dictatorship. You are out of your mind.

vrome
vrome

@AsaadGamal To love the Sissy is to hate democracy, freedom, human rights, rule of law, justice, prosperity and peace.  In essence, if you love the Sissy you are a savage who hates America and  God.

FolinaRai
FolinaRai

@RickKuda 

Ayatollah is better than Pharoah , his country has space projects and self developed weapons programs,  while Egypt is dying under military since past 80 years.

DrKat
DrKat

@RehabMahergood question...because most of these are either 1) muslim pukes or 2) idiots swung by our media...many people here would not be able to think and research on their own and the rest are too busy watching reality TV....sad but true....

vrome
vrome

@RehabMaher We Americans value a free press, freedom of association, freedom of speech, the right to organize and protest, and the freedom of religion.  Freedom is something Egyptians know nothing about because military dictators have been ruling Egypt since the days of Nassar.  Now your country has been taken over by another evil military dictator who imprison's and kills Egyptian citizens who don't agree with him.  He controls the press and has turned it into a propaganda tool, so you have no idea what crimes he is committing against your fellow Egyptians. It is sad to see that you are so ignorant of your own country.

KyleSmith1
KyleSmith1

@RehabMaher I don't want to judge RehabMaher, but comment areas are for observation and well, comments.  I do not speak for all (or any other) Americans but my observation is that: After a "revolution" of sorts kicked out a military leader and democratically elected Morsi (regardless of his religion).  Then Morsi was overthrown in a  coup by the Military.  Now the Military in putting one of their own in charge.  And I know the situation is actually more complicated than that, but my statements are true I am pretty sure.

MontyofEgypt
MontyofEgypt

Muslim Brotherhood "STORNGLY condemned the 9/11 attacks"! Maybe, but Al Qaida is really nothing but an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, so yeah they condemned the 9/11 attacks. 

Also your note that Egyptians only read what the military wanted them to read is totally false in this age of satellite TV channels and internet (both are not censored in Egypt). 

DrKat
DrKat

@vrome@Mabdelma really how about the fact that our media was completely pro MB.  In addition, how about the fact that many of my egyptian friends, especially women were disgusted with Muslims yet again trying to impose their belief system on the rest.  

AliMasri
AliMasri

@vrome And the fascist terrorist muslim brotherhood would achieve all what you remembered of democracy and prosperity?! ha ?
The western media is really washing your brains with total lies about the situation in Egypt, but whatever you think or say about us we don't give any interest about that because we are the only who know the reality of what's happening in our country.
Now we have a liberal constitution that will make a real democratic system and there will be a presidential & parliamentary elections in the next 6 months.
That's the real democracy which I know and we will achieve it. Or you just talk about the democracy that must destroy the country to admit it in your newspapers ?
!

RehabMaher
RehabMaher

@KyleSmith1 first of all what happened in 30 June is not a military coup it's a true revolution
second what happened in 25 January to totally wrong no country on the world can survive without President , Police ,  Army , State institutions , you destroys you country in this way ,The real revolution is to  Eliminates corruption and building a country ( This is what happened on June 30, by the way) not to destruction  the country  and Spread corruption
any way the Egyptian people are now different they understand more in politics and believe me if you were in Egypt  last year ( Under the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood ) you will understand what i mean 

vrome
vrome

@DrKat @vrome @Mabdelma  Have your female friends go protest dictator Sissy in Tahir Square and they too will be killed, tortured, raped and imprisoned like any male protester.  They should be disgusted by that.


You may claim your media was "completely pro MB" but I believe UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and Mohammed El-Baradai more than your words.  The International Criminal Court acknowledges that the Egyptian military was in control of the press during the Morsy's presidency.   The United States State Department Human Rights Report for Egypt in 2012 states clearly the crimes of General sissy's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. To quote the report, "The most significant human rights problems during the year were: a) threats to women’s rights, with an increasingly challenging environment in which women faced assaults and sexual harassment and often were unable to assemble peacefully without male protection; b) failure to prosecute perpetrators of violence against religious minorities and in some cases to protect minorities from violence; and c) threats to freedom of speech, press, and association, as security forces assaulted, abused, and arrested journalists who sought to cover clashes between the military and protesters while the SCAF was in power. Courts convicted persons charged in private lawsuits with “insulting” religions, government figures, and the Prophet Muhammad, and “harming national unity.” A restrictive nongovernmental organization (NGO) law continued to hinder freedom of association. 

DrKat
DrKat

@AliMasri@vromeThey dont want democracy..they want a facade of that while they implement sharia law.....puke.

vrome
vrome

@AliMasri @vrome We have a free press in the United States.  Anyone can print anything.  Perhaps you are the one being misled by your military-run media which imprisons journalists for reporting the truth.  It's such a shame that you are being brainwashed by the terroristic thugs that have stolen control of your country and taken away freedoms.


The Constitution that was voted for by 98% of your country is laughable.  When you imprison opposition and fake the ballots, it's quite easy to approve a Constitution that exempts the military and police for being tried for the crimes they commit.  We in the United States believe in the rule of law, so we don't see that as a liberal Constitution.    

vrome
vrome

@beareth @vrome Without freedom of the press, speech or protest, you don't have fair elections.  You must be living in Turkey or some communist block nation because you aren't really living in harmony.  You just don't hear about the disharmony because you don't have a free press, free speech, or the right to assembly and protest.


Tunisia disproves the rest of what you have said.

beareth
beareth

@vrome please, give over. Name a time in Egypt's history democracy was enforced? A. under conquest of the commonwealth or France? Egypt needs encouragement to find their way not forced to capitulate to western ideals or policies. Western mentality will not work in a eastern concept. As a westerner who continually works with Egyptians, I have come to understand how they look at the world in their eyes. USA had to find their own path after breaking away from Britain, so allow this sovereign nation find their path. In my country (western) we do not have freedom of press, speech or protest, but we maintain a well balanced right to vote, work and live life in harmony. Don't judge them until you have lived with them, enjoyed life with them (even though it's hard) and show genuine care! 

KyleSmith1
KyleSmith1

@RehabMaher @KyleSmith1 No I am not on the ground there and do not know what goes on from day to day.  The great thing and hard thing about democracy is you have to accept the outcome, even when you do not win.  If you do not respect that you can never be truly free.  I have never heard anyone in Egypt say Morsi was not democratically elected.  If so many are against him there, where were they on election day?  Sure I fear radical Islam, but I fear tyranny more.  I wish the best for your country and countrymen.  

vrome
vrome

@RehabMaher @vrome So now you are calling the sponsor of the movie a liar?  Netflix has no pony in your race.  They have no reason to lie.

vrome
vrome

@AliMasri @vrome If you watched it, you would see the lies of the Egyptian military.  Bold faced lies of murderers attacking peaceful protesters and killing and imprisoning them for peacefully protesting.  You are being ruled by lawless thugs. 

AliMasri
AliMasri

@vrome By the way, the movie wasn't banned but no one knew about untill it became an oscar nominated. The film was showed in some cinemas and didn't make any audience so it was removed, that's all.

grolfff
grolfff

@RehabMaher @KyleSmith1 You are living in a fool's paradise.


In 2017, the "grown ups" will be back in charge in the US. Sisi will not be able to resist American influence. He will become another Mubarak.


The military did not need to overthrow Morsi. They could have simply kept him in check for the duration of his term and let the Egyptian people vote him out of office. Then you would still have a democracy. As it is now, you are back where you started, cheering the oppression of the Brotherhood and wondering when the jackboots will come to kick in YOUR door. 




FolinaRai
FolinaRai

@vrome 

Every thing which goes against government is banned.  Old regime is back .

vrome
vrome

@RehabMaher @KyleSmith1 The Netflix movie "The Square" has been banned in your country.  Do you have any ideas why?