News / Middle East

    Egypt Army Chief Shows Political Agility

    Woman holds poster of Egyptian Defense Minister General Abdul Fatah al-Sisi, Tahrir square, Cairo, July 19, 2013.
    Woman holds poster of Egyptian Defense Minister General Abdul Fatah al-Sisi, Tahrir square, Cairo, July 19, 2013.
    Reuters
    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.

    Since he deposed Islamist President Mohamed Morsi on July 3, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has built on a web of contacts he began nurturing after his appointment as army chief last year.
     
    He has met everyone from top clerics to writers and youth activists through the crisis unleashed by Morsi's downfall, while juggling sensitive foreign relations with the United States, Europe and Arab allies.
     
    But his close relationship with Mohammad ElBaradei, vice president in the new, army-backed government, could be the one that shapes the outcome of the current standoff with the Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt's political future.
     
    “General Sisi is meeting ElBaradei regularly and calls him frequently. He appreciates his opinion,” said an army officer.
     
    The 58-year-old former military intelligence chief has shown political nous ever since Morsi appointed him last year. One of his first steps was to revamp the army's public relations department that is now helping him to win hearts and minds.
     
    Since Sisi deposed Morsi, his remarks have shown that he was studying Egyptian politics as closely as anyone. They have also revealed deep suspicion bordering on hostility towards the Muslim Brotherhood that could shape the outcome of the crisis.
     
    Thousands of supporters of the Brotherhood have been staging protests in two areas of Cairo for more than a month against Sisi's overthrow of Morsi, demanding the reinstatement of the elected president.
     
    The army chief has said the Brotherhood was more interested in restoring a trans-national Islamic empire than in the Egyptian nation - a charge denied by the group but widely voiced among its harshest critics.
     
    In his only interview since the takeover, Sisi also alleged that Morsi allowed terrorists to enter Egypt, fuelling rising militancy in the Sinai Peninsula on the ultra sensitive border with Israel.
     
    He also described the Brotherhood as a minority of 5 to 10 percent seeking to impose its views on all Egyptians.
     
    “It was always in their minds that they have the exclusive truth and the exclusive rights,” he told the Washington Post. “A major part of their culture is to work secretly underground.”
     
    Targeting his message to the breakfast table of uneasy U.S. policymakers, Sisi said: “The title of the article should be 'Hey America: Where is your support for Egypt? Where is your support for free people?' ”
     
    ElBaradei role

    Sisi's antipathy towards the Brotherhood may influence efforts to lure the group off the street and back into politics. But the relationship with ElBaradei appears to have brought an element of moderation into the army chief's approach.
     
    “The army wanted to end the Brotherhood's sit-ins fast and in any way,” said one security source.
     
    “But it was forced to wait after it felt that a likely eruption of violence during the evacuation could trigger strong reaction from the West or lead some in government to resign,” the source said, in reference to ElBaradei among others.
     
    Suggesting he has Sisi's ear, the Nobel Prize winner has said the general understands the need for a political solution, which ElBaradei has been championing.
     
    A political source close to ElBaradei said the former U.N. nuclear agency chief was not happy with a violent crackdown on the Brotherhood and was working closely with Sisi to bring it to an end.
     
    The army chief turned to ElBaradei because he sees him as a “decent, honest man with international experience” said an army colonel close to Sisi, suggesting the vice president may continue to wield influence.
     
    “This is what we need for this period, those are the kind of people Egypt needs,” said the colonel.
     
    Underscoring their close ties, it was ElBaradei who first said Sisi was not interested in becoming president, answering one of the biggest questions about his political ambition.
     
    But even if he doesn't run for office, Sisi sees the army remaining at the heart of Egyptian affairs.
     
    From the moment Morsi appointed him last August, Sisi “foresaw the army being a national independent establishment that will need to have a role in Egypt's politics”, the colonel said.
     
    This was “not to come back to power but might need to help out at certain difficult stages”, he said.
     
    By seeking consensus early on, Sisi is trying to avoid the mistakes of the generals who ruled after veteran autocrat Hosni Mubarak was overthrown in an Arab Spring uprising in 2011.
     
    “General Sisi reacted upon the will of the people and did not do that solely but brought on board many public figures and politicians which was a very wise move,” said Mustapha Kamel Al-Sayyid, political science professor at Cairo University.
     
    Pious Man
     
    Sisi has worked hard to improve the image of the army which was damaged by economic stagnation, indecision and alleged human rights abuses by security forces during its 17 months in power after Mubarak's fall.
     
    In a departure from the days of his elderly predecessor Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, Sisi appointed a telegenic military spokesman to head up PR.
     
    After dozens of Morsi's supporters were gunned down outside the Republican Guard headquarters, army spokesman Ahmed Ali appeared on television to present video footage of Islamist violence, including masked gunmen shooting at troops, to illustrate the army's side of the story.
     
    Ali frequently meets journalists dressed in casual clothes and leads a department staffed by youthful officers. Army planes have staged frequent flyovers in Cairo to rally support, and there is even a new Arabic pop song lauding the military role.
     
    Portraits of Sisi in dress uniform with a chest full of medals suddenly flooded the capital after the takeover.
     
    “The general understood the importance of having a strong young leadership in the army as it gives a positive impression about the army being strong and fit,” said the colonel.
     
    “It was understood that General Tantawi had to go, along with others from his era, and fresh blood was needed and that is what he did.”
     
    Sisi was groomed for leadership after serving in top roles in the command, intelligence and diplomatic branches of the armed forces.
     
    Among his previous missions were a stint as defense attache in Saudi Arabia, to which he retains friendly ties, and command posts in the Sinai Peninsula and the northern military region.
     
    Sisi is described as a pious man whose wife wears the full-face veil, known as the niqab.
     
    Ideas espoused in a paper he wrote at the U.S. Army War College in Pennsylvania in 2005-2006 have been cited as evidence of Islamist leanings.
     
    But those who know Sisi say he is no Islamist.
     
    Sherifa Zuhur a research professor at the Strategic Studies Institute within the Army War College who knew Sisi while he was there described him as quiet, well-spoken and very well informed about historical issues, including Islamic history.
     
    “Just as the vast number of ordinary Egyptian Muslims are pious, so too was al-Sisi, but not more so than my husband or in-laws,” Zuhur wrote in a blog post.

    You May Like

    California Republicans Mull Choices in Presidential Race

    Ted Cruz tells California Republican Convention delegates the campaign will be 'a battle on the ground, district by district by district,' ahead of the June 7 primary

    Video Kurdish Football Team Helps War-Torn City Cope

    With conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, many Kurds are trying to escape turmoil by focusing on success of football team Amedspor

    South African Company Designs Unique Solar Cooker

    Two-man team of solar power technologists introduces Sol4, hot plate that heats up so fast it’s like cooking with gas or electricity

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensionsi
    X
    April 29, 2016 12:28 AM
    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensions

    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora