News / Middle East

    Egypt's Army Chief Poised to Announce Presidency Bid

    Egypt's Defense Minister Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Sept. 20, 2013.
    Egypt's Defense Minister Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Sept. 20, 2013.
    Reuters
    Three years after the “Arab Spring” toppled Hosni Mubarak, a secretive field marshal with a cult-like following is expected to announce his candidacy for the presidency of Egypt ahead of elections which he is expected to win easily.
     
    Abdel Fattah el-Sissi has come under pressure to run from members of the public who reject the Islamist government he toppled last year, and from the armed forces who want a president who can face down growing political violence.
     
    He has calculated that he can win the votes of those who backed Mohamed Morsi for president in 2012 simply because he represented change from the era of former air force commander Mubarak, ousted in the revolutions that swept the Arab world.
     
    But despite his present popularity, el-Sissi has no record as a democrat and has shown himself willing to use deadly force against those who disagree with him.
     
    El-Sissi has trodden a careful path to power since overthrowing Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected president, last July.
     
    It's the kind of measured advance he has made all his life, from his childhood in the dirt lanes of Cairo's Gamaliya district, to the highest rank in one of the largest armies in the Middle East. On Monday, the presidency announced he was promoted to field marshal from general.
     
    Friends and family speak of him of as a man of few words and decisive action.
     
    “He loved to listen and carefully study what was said. After he heard many opinions then he would suddenly strike,” said his cousin Fathi el-Sissi, who runs a shop selling handicrafts.
     
    “Abdel Fattah had one thing in mind: work, the military, rising to the top.”
     
    The world knew little of el-Sissi before he appeared on television on July 3 and announced the removal of Morsi after mass protests against the Islamist leader.
     
    It was Morsi who appointed el-Sissi army chief of staff and defense minister in August 2012, perhaps his gravest mistake.
     
    Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood leader, wanted a young general to reduce the influence of the military old guard who had served under the autocratic Mubarak before the 2011 revolution.
     
    His reputation for being a pious Muslim may have also appealed to Morsi.
     
    But while Morsi appeared deaf to criticism, el-Sissi was tuned in to the rising discontent on the streets over the Brotherhood's mismanagement. Eventually he issued an ultimatum to the man who appointed him: Bow to the demands of protesters within 48 hours or the military will act.
     
    Intelligence background
     
    El-Sissi, born on Nov. 19, 1954, honed his strategic skills in the shadowy world of military intelligence, which he headed under Mubarak. He was the youngest member of the military council which ruled Egypt for 18 months after Mubarak's fall.
     
    Western diplomats say el-Sissi has been weighing whether to stand for president with his usual caution, and only decided to run recently.
     
    “I suppose in the back of his mind is the fact that once he takes off his military uniform he suddenly becomes more vulnerable. There is always the chance of another takeover,” said a Western diplomat.
     
    A senior European diplomat says it's mission impossible.
     
    “There is a belief among diplomats that he is making a big mistake by going for this job. He will expose himself and the army. The army may act if things go wrong and its image is tarnished. His fall could be sudden and sharp,” said the diplomat.
     
    Others also seem to have had their doubts. The prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, a major financial backer of Egypt after the downfall of Morsi, said it would be better if el-Sissi stayed in the military, before rapidly issuing a clarification saying that was not what he had meant.
     
    El-Sissi's comments in the spring of 2013, when frustrations with Morsi were growing, suggested he would never stage a military takeover, let alone run for president even though he was deeply suspicious of the Muslim Brotherhood.
     
    “With all respect for those who say to the army: 'go into the street', if this happened, we won't be able to speak of Egypt moving forward for 30 or 40 years,” el-Sissi said then.
     
    His own writings from his time at the U.S. Army War College in Pennsylvania in 2006 reflected an awareness that ensuring democracy in the Middle East may be fraught with difficulties.
     
    Despite the risks, el-Sissi decided to run because pressure from the street had grown immensely and junior officers in the army urged him to contest elections because they did not feel politicians could handle Egypt's security challenges.
     
    Islamist militants in the Sinai have stepped up attacks since el-Sissi ousted Morsi, killing hundreds of security forces. And the Islamist insurgency is also gathering pace in other parts of Egypt, including Cairo.
     
    El-Sissi enjoys the backing of the army, Egypt's most powerful institution, the Interior Ministry, many liberal politicians and Mubarak era officials and businessmen who have made a comeback since Morsi's demise.
     
    Judging by his popularity, those forces are likely to give him plenty of time to prove himself as president, and there are no other politicians who could challenge el-Sissi anytime soon.
     
    It remains to be seen whether el-Sissi's caution which worked for him as a military strongman can be translated into the skills needed as a president.
     
    But his maneuvering before Morsi's fall suggests el-Sissi could grow into the role of politician. He gained consensus among key players, from political leaders to clerics, before making his move.
     
    El-Sissi has not said how he intends to tackle Egypt's many problems, from a stuttering economy to street chaos and escalating violence by militants. But those who have met him recently say he understands the need to fight poverty.
     
    To many Egyptians, he seems invincible for now, a strong figure many are craving after years of turbulence.
     
    At a coffee shop near his old neighborhood, an el-Sissi poster is displayed alongside black and white photographs of previous soldiers turned rulers: Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat.
     
    Can he save Egypt?
     
    Admirers of el-Sissi, who knew him as a young man, believe his single-mindedness will be enough to rescue Egypt.
     
    A resident who knew him said that while other local boys played football or smoked, el-Sissi and friends lifted barbells made of metal pipes and rocks -- an early sign of the discipline that would take him far.
     
    “Abdel Fattah always seemed to have a goal. He had willpower,” said Atif al-Zaabalawi, a dye factory worker who used to see el-Sissi in the area.
     
    Neighbors say he came from a tightly knit religious family. His cousin said el-Sissi had memorized the Koran and his favorite dish was one often eaten on religious occasions.
     
    The father encouraged him to work in his shop every day after school. He lived in a small apartment on the rooftop of a run-down building owned by his extended family.
     
    “When an apartment was sold it was only sold within the family. Between brothers for instance,” said his cousin, adding that el-Sissi had married within the extended family.
     
    These days it's hard to escape el-Sissi. His image is on everything from mugs and t-shirts to pajamas and even chocolates.
     
    But critics, both Islamists and liberals, are alarmed by what appears to be a systematic stifling of dissent. Since el-Sissi removed Morsi, hundreds of Islamist protesters have been killed and thousands jailed.
     
    In a few days in August, security forces smashed up Muslim Brotherhood protest camps in Cairo, killing hundreds in the bloodiest civil unrest in Egypt's modern history.
     
    In recent months, the ruthless crackdown has extended to prominent liberals, including some who supported the army's removal of Morsi. Under el-Sissi, protesting without permission has become a crime which can be punished by a life sentence.
     
    El-Sissi's election would signal a return to the oppression of the past, opponents say.
     
    “It will be the final confirmation that Egypt is going backwards and that a corrupt, brutal, anti-democratic illegitimate leadership has aborted Egyptians' dreams of a democratic civil state,” said Salma Ali, a spokeswoman for an Islamist alliance that opposes Morsi's removal.
     
    Yet even visiting American politicians seem to have been swept up in el-Sissi mania. After meeting with el-Sissi, Representative Cynthia Loomis sounded deeply impressed.
     
    “He spoke both aspirationally and as an implementer. It seemed like he was multi-dimensional.”
     
    Retired general Sameh Seif Elyazal says el-Sissi will likely ask Egyptians, who have driven out two presidents in the past three years, to be patient.
     
    “He hasn't got an immediate solution for everything. I think he will tell the people we have issues and these issues will take some time. You have to bear with me. We will suffer a little bit,” said Elyazal, who meets el-Sissi on a monthly basis.
     
    But some wonder if the people will be more patient with el-Sissi than they were with Morsi, who lasted only a year in office.

    You May Like

    Candidates' Comments Fly Like New Hampshire Snowflakes

    Four days ahead of the country's first-in-the-nation Republican and Democratic party primary elections, surveys show the parties' contests tightening

    South Korea Says North Korea Moving Closer to Rocket Launch

    In phone call, US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping agree that Pyongyang's move would be 'provocative'

    Australian Commander: IS Changing Tactics

    Head of Australian forces in Middle East talks with VOA about training Iraqi troops, countering evolving Islamic State efforts and defeating extremism

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Mike from: USA
    January 28, 2014 2:38 PM
    Governments which believe criminal/terrorist elements exist in their territories take note of how easy it was for Egypt to invite its enemies to prison, rather than having to go through all that nasty business of hunting them down and bringing them to justice.
    Like that old Japanese example of hammering down any nail whose head pops up! Breath-taking!

    by: Gamal el-Zoghby from: Egypt
    January 28, 2014 12:01 AM
    hey Ali, the life of Egypt had been drained out of Egypt since the Islamic conquest of Egypt.
    Ever sine the Islamic conquest of Egypt the country has suffered privation and disease... Alexandria was the jewel of Rome, Egypt was the center of leaning for Greece... and then came Islam... Islam is a morbid disease!!! it must be eradicated

    by: ali baba from: new york
    January 27, 2014 9:57 PM
    the problem in Egypt is lack of resources, unemployment , food shortage. el sisi is the only choice to put the country under control after islamist put the last nail in Egypt coffin. he has extreme challenge task . could he removed the last nail from Egypt coffin and restore its life. he need a lot of help from the west to succeed in the mission impossible

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.