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

Anti-Terror Drills Highlight China’s Push Into Central Asia

China, Russia, several central Asian countries wrap up massive anti terrorism military drills in Inner Mongolia More

Erdogan’s First Step: Secure More Power in New Role in Turkey

Erdogan was sworn in as Turkey's first popularly elected president on Thursday; he picked former foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu as PM More

Pakistan Army Fails to Break Political Deadlock

PM Sharif claims he didn't ask army to defuse crisis; military rejects claim More

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.
Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assaulti
X
Daniel Schearf
August 29, 2014 9:30 PM
After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video America's Most Popular Artworks Displayed in Public Places

Public places in cities across America were turned into open-air art galleries in August. Pictures of the nation’s most popular artworks were displayed on billboards, bus shelters, subway platforms and more. The idea behind “Art Everywhere,” a collaborative campaign by five major museums is to allow more people to enjoy art and learn about the country’s culture and history. Faiza Elmasry has more.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. Shaikh Azizur Rahman reports from Kolkata.

AppleAndroid