A Sisi presidency — what it could mean

Andrew Hammond considers the implications of Defence Minister General Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi becoming Egypt’s next president: For Sisi, it’s not even necessary to run for president. He can easily manipulate and oversee from his position as defence minister, not least with the military’s new powers of non-oversight enshrined in the constitution. To take on the job of president would be to open himself to the gradual erosion of his cult status among fans. It would also run the risk of tainting the reputation of the military institution itself, especially if his presidency came to be seen as a failure (a point that former editor of Al-Ahram newspaper Mohammed Hassanein Heikal has said worries Sisi). For this reason, there is some speculation that Brotherhood leaders would be relieved if Sisi took the plunge. With the military “other” leading the country, they would be able to avoid a serious review of their mistakes, and the group would then remain a powerful anti-modern force, some factions of which, as one former member put it, could succumb to the politics of resistance and obsession with injustice. Public opinion may also slowly turn in their favour.

Sisi may also be blinded to certain factors of his popularity. He has not put forward a vision to Egyptians of how the country can develop economically or politically. His message has simply been an uber-nationalist “No” to Islamist rule as un-Egyptian and a nostalgic call to order. His rhetorical style, with its home-baked weekend soothers – “I am telling you, don’t worry about Egypt”, “the lion doesn’t eat its cubs” – has gone under the radar of serious analysis because Egypt’s fascistic state propaganda machine has packaged it as sublime and above reproach (while notably reducing coverage of his public pronouncements, adding to the aura of saviour-from-beyond). Yet his tone is reminiscent of a mosque imam at Friday prayers.

Once Sisi dons civilian clothes and has to deal with the daily realities of policy and a restive public, people may well come to tire of him rather quickly. If, as is widely expected, he takes these risks, it will be due to a variety of things: vanity, an honest belief that he has a duty to the country, pressure from inside and abroad (Abu Dhabi, Riyadh), and promises of continued funding from the Gulf to ensure four years that can be deemed a success. It would also be naïve to think that, despite the anti-American sentiment that the media has whipped up, Washington won’t be appraised of his decision in advance, possibly even for its approval. [Continue reading…]

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