The heir of Nasser.

Abdel-Fattah al Sisi (1954- )[1] grew up in Cairo; his father sold knick-knacks to tourists and wanted something better for his children. He stressed self-discipline and study. His children absorbed the lesson. About the time of the Yom Kippur/Ramadan War (1973), Abdel al Sisi chose to become a soldier. He graduated from the Egyptian Military Academy in 1977. He rose in rank, alternating between staff and command assignments.[2] He did military courses in American (1981), Britain (1992) and America again (2002), and served as the Egyptian military attaché in Saudi Arabia. In 2008 al Sisi took command of the Northern Military District, headquartered in Alexandria. After this command, he jumped to become chief of military intelligence. These promotions brought him membership in the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, a group of twenty-odd senior military officers who intermittently exert great influence.

In 2011, the “Arab Spring” reached Egypt. Hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to demand the ouster of the long-serving dictator, Hosni Mubarak. A panicky Obama administration added its voice to the chorus. Eventually, the Egyptian military bent to avoid breaking. Mubarak went to a hospital-prison, and—eventually–elections put the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammad Morsi at the head of a civilian government. In 2012, Morsi wanted to get rid of the Minister of Defense, General Mohammad Tantawi, who had commanded the early crack-down on dissent. Al Sisi was reputed to be a conservative Muslim.[3] What’s the worst that could happen?

Morsi soon wore out his welcome with the military and its allies in Egyptian society.[4] In June 2013 the military evicted Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood from power. American policy pin-balled in response: President Obama delayed delivery of some military equipment to express concern, while Secretary of State John Kerry hailed the restoration of “democracy” by the military overthrow of an elected government.[5] Al Sisi got busy expanding democracy by driving a new round of protestors off the streets of Cairo. (About a thousand of them were killed.)

Lots of Egyptians—and ones who mattered a lot more than either Muslim Brotherhood beardies or tech-savvy young people—welcomed the coup-that-dared-not-speak-its-name. In June 2014 al Sisi won election as President of Egypt. Since then, al Sisi has cracked down on Islamists, talked about economic innovations like cutting the subsidies that fuel inflation and expanding the capacity of the Suez Canal. He has sought closer relations with Russia and with Saudi Arabia—both of which are fed up with American uncertainty.

Curiously, for a kid often described as quiet and bookish, al Sisi became a “charistmatic” and a “passionate” speaker. So, “Bad Moon Rising”:

The World is what it is.

“Egypt’s New Strong Man,” The Week, 6 September 2013, p. 11.

[1] So, he’s my age and has accomplished a lot more.

[2] If he had a specialty it was anti-tank weapons. The Israel Defense Force (IDF) has a great many tanks.

[3] Rumor has it that his wife wears the “niqab.” No Westerner has ever seen her, so who can say?

[4] Since 1953 Egypt has been run by an alliance between the military and the economic elites—rural landowners and urban industrialists. The ignorance of the American press about the nature of Egyptian society and politics is surprising. Or perhaps not: they don’t know much about American society or politics either.

[5] See: Rene Magritte.


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