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Egypt Unwrapped

The Rise of Sisi

Egyptian opponents of deposed president Mohamed Mursi hold up a poster of army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on July 26, 2013 during a protest in Cairo.(Mohamed El-Shahed/AFP/Getty Images)
Egyptian opponents of deposed president Mohamed Mursi hold up a poster of army chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi on July 26, 2013, during a protest in Cairo. (Mohamed El-Shahed/AFP/Getty Images)
It all began with a military general whose membership of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) coincided with one of the most brutal military regimes Egypt has ever witnessed. The same military general found no shame in admitting that the armed forces did indeed subject female protesters arrested on March 9, 2011, after a peaceful sit-in in Tahrir Square was violently dispersed, to virginity tests in order to “protect the girls from rape as well as to protect the soldiers and officers from rape accusations.”

Only two years after this controversial confession,the same man, Gen. Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, had become the most popular man in Egypt, proving to be a main contender for army strongman Gamal Abdel Nasser’s throne. Now, all that prince charming Sisi needs to do in order to mobilize millions to take to the streets is simply to call on them to do so. They then respond in droves, giving him a carte blanche to deal with “terrorism and violence” in whichever way he sees fit, all the while holding his photo close to their hearts.

And the crowds’ love goes further than simply holding those large and sometimes heavy posters in the July heat, on a Ramadan morning while fasting. The peoples’ love for the leader is not just seen in their eyes, but is also in their chants and their day-to-day conversations.

The general found no fault in admitting that the armed forces did indeed subject female protesters to virginity tests in order to “protect the girls from rape as well as to protect the soldiers and officers from rape accusations.”

The evolution of the army’s position in peoples’ hearts is indeed remarkable. Mind you, the army was never unpopular with the average Egyptian—not even during that black year and a half when Sisi and his SCAF friends cracked down with all their might on the basic rights that the January 25 revolution called for. Nevertheless, just a month ago, on June 28, pro-army chants at Tahrir Square were more or less met with a frown. Now, supporting the army is a matter of great pride. Whenever an army helicopter flies above Tahrir Square, demonstrators immediately stand up, wave their flags and their Sisi posters and hail the army.

What unearthed this deep-rooted love for the armed forces? One word: Sisi. To some, he is the leader, the lion, Egypt’s protector, Egypt’s savior. No wonder Egyptians have already begun to consider him Nasser’s replacement, as they measure him up in that sacred military uniform and marvel at how perfectly it fits the man they see as this age’s Nasser. What the two people have in common, beyond both being army officers, is beyond me.

It seems clear that a “Sisist” regime and ideology is in the making, and that it will gain support—possibly more than the Nasserist ideology ever did. Nevertheless, one wonders what this ideology might look like. What could the people see in such a regime that they would so enthusiastically believe that Sisi is the new Nasser?

We know what Nasser’s regime did in Egypt. On the positive side, he promoted social equality and built a modern industrial state almost capable of independently fulfilling the needs of its citizens with minimal imports from abroad, thus creating unprecedented pan-Arab sentiment and building strong ties with neighboring African and Arab countries.

On the negative side, he established a never-ending police state, ruined political life by banning political parties and almost eradicating parliament, cracked down on all forms of basic human rights, savagely suppressed the Muslim Brotherhood to the extent that they could only prosper underground, and established the most misleading, propagandist media the state has ever known, literally a mouthpiece of the ruling regime.

So far, Sisi has done nothing to suggest that he embodies Nasser’s positive characteristics. Nevertheless, he has many times exhibited the “great leader’s” negative ones. Nothing screams “police state” louder than the words of Minister of the Interior Mohamed Ibrahim, speaking the last Saturday in July only hours after at least eighty supporters of ousted president Mohamed Mursi were killed in deadly clashes with security forces and residents. Ibrahim’s comments on the massacre included promises to bring back a strong state security apparatus to monitor “political, Islamist and extremist” activities.

No human right rises above that of the right to life, but this has repeatedly challenged through the killing and detention of scores of citizens in attempts to suppress the expansion of a (possibly armed) sit-in. Calling on people to take to the streets to “delegate the army to fight terrorism” was understood by both pro-Mursi and pro-army citizens as asking permission from the people for the armed forces to crack down on the Muslim Brotherhood. And from the looks of it, it seems as though Sisi has received sufficient permission from the people to crack the whip on Islamists as brutally as he sees fit.

And if it is not propaganda to suspend Ramadan programming (the most watched and thus most paid-for form of entertainment) for an entire day to indirectly or directly influence peoples’ decision to answer Sisi’s call, I do not know what is.

Since the 1952 coup is seemingly set on replay—as today the army gracefully maneuvers about, messing with political life amid applause from the people—an orchestrator for this day and age must also exist. And the people of this age have chosen Sisi.

Just as July 26, 1952, witnessed the nationalization of the Suez Canal—the pride of the Egyptians since it was built—July 26, 2013, witnessed the nationalization of the January 25 revolution, also the pride of the Egyptians. Earlier, so did June 30, when the army helped supplant the Brotherhood who had seized it. And the nationalization of the revolution, coupled with the army’s monopoly on anything that is nationalist, paves the way for the rise of Sisi and his clan.

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Rana Taha
Rana Muhammad Taha is a politics reporter at the Daily News Egypt. She has lived in Cairo all her life and has closely followed the uprising in Egypt since its began on January 25, 2011.

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