Why Egypt’s top general is so popular, and why he may run for president.

Will General Sisi run for the President of Egypt next year?

Will General Sisi run for the President of Egypt next year?

The Egyptian military commander who overthrew the Mohammed Morsi regime and is waging an aggressive crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, is growing increasingly popular amongst the people of Egypt. Indeed, there is growing talk that when elections are held sometime in 2014, the General may be the prohibitive front-runner.

Consider recent headlines:

Clearly he is someone to keep an eye on, and be praying for. But why is the General so popular? And will he really run for president?

Consider this analysis by a former senior Israeli military intelligence official.

“Since the ousting of President Morsi on July 3, 2013, the issue of who will be the next elected President of Egypt has been at the center of attention in Egypt and abroad,” notes an intriguing new report published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, an Israeli think tank. “Morsi’s presidency has proven the extent to which an Egyptian president can influence the course of the country and shape its domestic and foreign policy. Because of this, one can easily understand the amount of energy devoted by analysts of the Egyptian scene in order to try and decipher the intentions of General Abd el Fattah el-Sisi, the actual strongman of Egypt.”

The report was written by Israeli Colonel (retired) Dr. Jacques Neriah, a special analyst for the Middle East at the JCPA. Neriah previously served as a foreign policy advisor to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and as Deputy Head for Assessment of Israeli Military Intelligence. 

“Sisi holds the combined titles of Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, first Deputy of the Prime Minister, and Minister of Defense and Military Production,” writes Neriah. “He is the man who led the overthrow of President Morsi. Since August 14, he has conducted a ferocious crackdown (only parallel to the crackdown performed by Gamal Abd el Nasser in 1954 against the Brotherhood) aimed at eliminating the political power of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. And unlike his predecessors, Sisi is waging a merciless campaign against jihadi fighters in the Sinai Peninsula in order to restore Egypt’s sovereignty in the desert while drastically reducing Hamas’ power in the Gaza Strip.”

“Sisi has been very murky about his future plans, denying through the army spokesman any intention of running for the presidency in early 2014,” Neriah continues. “However, events on the ground seem to show that the general is preparing himself for the presidency because this is the only viable choice for him and the military establishment. In theory, Sisi could decide to stay in his position under a newly elected president and enjoy his powers as he is doing today, but he could also suffer the fate of his predecessor, Field Marshal Tantawi, who had his career terminated with the stroke of a pen. Sisi does not want to alienate his opponents by eying the presidency too early and creating a situation in which he would have to justify himself.”

Additional excerpts from the report:

  • General Abd el Fattah el-Sisi, the man who led the overthrow of President Morsi on July 3, 2013, holds the combined titles of Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, first Deputy of the Prime Minister, and Minister of Defense and Military Production.
  • Unlike his predecessors, Sisi is waging a merciless campaign against jihadi fighters in Sinai Peninsula in order to restore Egypt’s sovereignty there while drastically reducing Hamas’ power in Gaza.
  • Sisi may be “called to the flag” as a savior in order to salvage Egypt from its enemy, the Muslim Brotherhood — talk shows and newspaper columns have been advocating the idea of the general running for president in order to fight the terrorist threat they say the country is facing.
  • Most of the other potential candidates have declared that if Sisi would run for president, they would retract their candidacies.
  • There is a concentrated effort to picture Sisi as the political heir of the iconic President Gamal Abd el Nasser.
  • Sisi himself participated in the 43rd memorial ceremony of Nasser’s death. There were posters with his picture adjacent to Nasser’s. Egyptians see Nasser as the Egyptian leader who fought the Muslim Brotherhood domestically and led Egypt to the leadership of the Arab World and the non-aligned community. In fact, Sisi was presenting his legitimacy as the rightful leader of Egypt not only to his Egyptian compatriots but also toward the U.S. administration, which is questioning his legitimacy and presenting him as the leader of a coup and a usurper of power.
  • This creates an opening for a possible Russian comeback in Egypt and through it to a reinforced Russian position in the region.
  • By deciding to cut its financial aid to Egypt and postpone the delivery of weapon systems already ordered, the U.S. has overturned the longstanding correlation between financial assistance and Egypt’s honoring of the peace treaty with Israel.
  • The $14 billion that Saudi Arabia and the UAE transferred to Egypt immediately after Sisi’s takeover, and the $40 billion promised in economic aid, are a reminder that Egypt may not be in need of such conditional financial assistance.
  • Observers of the Egyptian scene are repeatedly stressing the change in the mood of the Egyptians towards the United States, from friendship and admiration to open hostility. In fact, the crisis with the Obama Administration and Sisi’s reaction to it has helped build up his leadership credentials as a daring Egyptian nationalist who does not retreat before a superpower – particularly one that so openly supported the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East.
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