Source: The NY Times
By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICKJAN. 27, 2014
CAIRO — When Egypt’s first freely elected president, Mohamed Morsi, named Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi defense minister, the officer pledged to keep the military out of politics and make way for civilian democracy.
A year later, General Sisi ousted Mr. Morsi, insisting the military was answering the people’s call to secure “their revolution.” Just three weeks later, he once again said he was turning to the people when he urged them to take to the streets to give him a personal “mandate” to crush Mr. Morsi’s base of support in the Muslim Brotherhood.
Then on Monday, Field Marshal Sisi — he added the title the same day — took the first formal step to become Egypt’s next president, insisting he was yielding once again to “the free choice of the masses” and “the call of duty.” With that, he paved the way for Egypt to return to the kind of military-backed governance that was supposed to end with the Arab Spring of 2011.
In his two years in public life as defense minister and then de facto ruler, Field Marshal Sisi has combined the cunning of a spymaster with the touch of a born politician to develop an extraordinary combination of power and popularity not seen here since Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser ended the British-backed monarchy six decades ago.
Marshal el-Sisi, center, with Egyptian generals on Monday after a meeting in Cairo. Egypt Military Spokesman, via Associated Press
But by moving to formally take the reins as head of state, Field Marshal Sisi is taking on a far greater and riskier challenge. Promoted by the state and private news media as a national savior, Field Marshal Sisi will have to manage an increasingly unruly domestic population, including an elite expecting a full restoration of its privileges; generals who may see him as only the first among equals; a broad section of the public that still feels empowered to protest; at least hundreds of thousands of Morsi supporters who openly reject the new government; and a terrorist insurgency determined to thwart any hope of stability.
“I think the economy eventually will be the undoing of anyone in that position, because all the same issues that led to the 2011 uprising are still there — the youth unemployment, their marginalization from politics, the overly bloated Civil Service, the unsustainable food and energy subsidies,” said Samer S. Shehata, a University of Oklahoma political scientist.
Now the continuing protests and violence have squashed any hope of a swift recovery of the crucial tourism sector, he said, and “no one has the will required to take the necessary and painful steps required to move the country forward.”
Field Marshal Sisi’s backers argue that his status as a charismatic national hero will enable him to break the logjam. “Those who love you will swallow bricks for you, and your enemies would wish you make a mistake,” Ahmed El Nagar, an Egyptian economist, declared in a recent television interview about the prospect of a Sisi presidency, quoting an Egyptian proverb. “No matter how bitter the prescription of reforming the economy is, if it comes from someone the people love, they will endure it.”
But Khaled Salah, editor of Youm el-Saba, a popular pro-Sisi newspaper, said that expectations were the problem. " ‘Let Sisi solve it’ — this idea is most dangerous in the public now,” Mr. Salah said. “The very big dreams and expectations won’t work.”
Field Marshal Sisi has given almost no indications of what policies or platform he might pursue as president. The most notable characteristic of his six months as Egypt’s de facto ruler since the takeover has been the often lethal and ruthless crackdown on the Brotherhood and, increasingly, liberal dissenters as well.
But the nearly universal expectation that he would run for president was confirmed Monday when he presided over a meeting of his top generals to bless his candidacy. In a statement, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces called his presidential campaign “an onus and an obligation,” and said that Field Marshal Sisi considered it “a call that demands compliance.”
Although at least two other candidates in the 2012 presidential elections have left open the possibility of running, few believe they might stop Field Marshal Sisi from becoming Egypt’s sixth president and its fifth from the ranks of the military.
Field Marshal Sisi has had harsh words for the United States over the Obama administration’s criticism of his removal of Mr. Morsi and the crackdown on his Islamist supporters. “You left the Egyptians. You turned your back on the Egyptians, and they won’t forget that,” he said in an interview with The Washington Post in August. “Now you want to continue turning your backs on Egyptians?”
But he has close ties with his Western military counterparts. He trained at military colleges in Britain and the United States, and as chief of military intelligence was a key conduit for communications between Egyptian and Israeli military leaders.
His military career began as an escape from hard circumstances. Born on Nov. 19, 1954, Field Marshal Sisi grew up in the overcrowded dirt lanes of the neighborhood of Al Gamaliya, in a district of Cairo. Military colleagues say his father ran a stall in the Khan al-Khalili market, the bazaar patronized by generations of tourists. He escaped that career by winning a place in a prestigious air force high school.
His military colleagues say he shares the dutiful piety of average Egyptians. He is up at 5 a.m. for dawn prayers. And his wife, unlike the spouses of any previous president except Mr. Morsi, covers her hair with a head scarf. Where Egypt’s previous military presidents sometimes incorporated Islam into their public personae or speeches — most notably Anwar el-Sadat — Field Marshal Sisi has displayed a more natural fluency in the verses of the Quran.
Before becoming defense minister, Field Marshal Sisi had risen through the ranks to chief of military intelligence, where, some scholars, say he may have cultivated his political wiles. As late as the spring of 2013, just months before he led Mr. Morsi’s ouster, he publicly reiterated his pledge to keep the army in the barracks, warning that military intervention in politics could drag the country backward.
As discontent with Mr. Morsi grew, Field Marshal Sisi suggested protests might nonetheless move him to intervene. And after millions turned out in response, he declared on July 3, 2013, that the armed forces were still “first to announce their need to remain distant from political action” but felt compelled by the public calls to save the country from ruin.
He spoke at a carefully choreographed news conference. But the first in a series of mass shootings at street protests by Mr. Morsi’s Islamist supporters took place the next week, and by the end of August security forces had killed more than a thousand, according to human rights groups.
As president, Field Marshal Sisi would have to manage a set of demands that are far more complicated than those he faced as the commanding officer in a period of crisis, and than those previous presidents encountered. The tumult of the revolt has highlighted the failings of a system in which each institution of government operates quasi-independently with a self-interest all its own. Then there is post-revolutionary public.
“It is a society in complete mobilization mode, totally restive,” said Mona El-Ghobashy, a political scientist at Barnard.
“It is not the monarchical presidency that Nasser created and Sadat and Mubarak inherited,” she said, making a reference to President Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted in 2011. “Sisi faces an entirely different setup than the autopilot Mubarak was on.”
Source: The NY Times