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

ASEAN Ministers Set to Push for South China Sea Agreements

According to documents obtained by VOA Khmer, ministers will stand up for 'freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful maritime commerce, trade and over flight' More

Puerto Rico Defaults on $58M Debt Payment

Payment was due Saturday, default is first in country's 117 years as a United States possession More

Turkish Public Fears Jihadists More Than Kurds

Turkey facing twin threats of terrorism by Islamic State and PKK Kurdish separatists, says President Erdogan’s ruling AK Party More

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.
Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Communityi
X
Sharon Behn
August 03, 2015 2:23 PM
A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs