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

Russia Names US NGO 'Undesirable'

update Prosecutors determine activities of National Endowment for Democracy to be 'undesirable,' paving the way for it to be outlawed on Russian territory More

Erdogan Vows 'Anti-Terror' Campaign in Syria, Iraq

Erdogan expressed confidence the 'necessary steps' will be taken by NATO leaders, who will meet Tuesday at Turkey's request More

North Korea: 'No Interest at All' in Nuke Deal

Senior US envoy Sydney Seiler visits Beijing Tuesday for talks on how to revive the stalled six-party nuclear talks with North Korea 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.
US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Wini
X
July 28, 2015 12:21 AM
The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Iran Nuclear Pact Wins Few New US Congressional Backers

Later this week, President Barack Obama returns from a trip to Africa to confront a U.S. Congress roiled by the nuclear accord with Iran, an agreement that has received the blessing of the U.N. Security Council. Days of intensive lobbying and testimony by top administration officials have won few new congressional supporters of the pact. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Obama Encourages Kenya to Fix Cultures of Corruption, Discrimination

President Barack Obama bid farewell to Kenya Sunday with a major speech at as stadium outside the capital Nairobi where he called on Kenyans to change the cultures of corruption and discrimination that can hold society back. VOA East Africa Correspondent Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video California Towns Welcome Special Olympics Athletes

Cities and towns in Southern California are greeting thousands of athletes who are arriving for Special Olympics, a competition for people with intellectual disabilities. The games will run from July 25th through August 2nd. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, where athletes from Namibia, Singapore and Tanzania got a rousing welcome from local residents.
Video

Video Critics of Japan Defense Policy Focus on Okinawa

In Okinawa, many locals have long complained that Tokyo places an unfair burden on the tiny island by locating most of Japan's U.S. military bases there. As Japan's government moves toward strengthening and expanding the country's defense policies, opponents of those plans are joining local protesters in Okinawa, voicing concern about where the country is headed. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Okinawa.
Video

Video IS Uses Chemical Weapons in Syrian Attack

Islamic State militants have added a new weapon in their arsenal of fear: chemical weapons. VOA Kurdish service reporter Zana Omer was on the scene within hours of a recent attack in Hasakah, Syria, and has details of the subsequent investigation, in this report narrated by Miguel Amaya.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.
Video

Video Hoverbike Flying Toward Reality

Another long-standing dream of many technological inventors is quickly approaching reality: U.S.- and British-based firms are cooperating in the development of an individual flying platform they call a hoverbike. They say it may revolutionize the concept of flying, including in the U.S. military. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video As Japan Expands Defense Role, Protests Follow

The Japanese government is moving forward with a controversial security bill that would authorize the military to fight abroad for the first time since World War II. Leaders say it is critical to defend against rising threats from China and North Korea. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Japan on the big changes ahead, and the opposition they are drawing.
Video

Video Replacing Poppies with Coffee in Myanmar

The remote mountains of Myanmar’s Shan state are home to the second-largest opium-producing region in the world. After a drop during the 2000s, production surged in the past eight years to feed an increasing demand for heroin in China. But farmers are now making less on the crop, and the U.N. is hoping many will make the switch to growing coffee. Daniel de Carteret reports for VOA from Taunggyi.

VOA Blogs