Egypt’s strongest man is enjoying robust popularity among a huge proportion of the people, hailed as a protector, a provider — possibly a presidential stabiliser. It comes three years after the revolution that removed Hosni Mubarak from power. Yet many see in this a certain irony, since the uprising expressed a strong desire to turn the page on government under military control. But along with what people wished for came unrelenting violence.
Now they welcome Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
President Mohamed Mursi appointed him Armed Forces Commander-in-Chief and Defence Minister in August 2012, replacing Mubarak’s old guard — the country’s first democratically elected civilian head of state thinking he and General Sisi would work well together.
But Mursi alienated whole swathes of the population, until millions demanded he quit, less than a year into his term. Sisi agreed with them, extracted Mursi and took supreme power. He swore it was not out of personal ambition.
He said: “The honour of protecting the will of the people is more valuable to us and to me personally that the honour of ruling Egypt, I swear to God.”
This rhetoric seemed to work, as Sisi was acclaimed by his supporters as a hero. Mursi, detained, awaits trial on various serious charges, and could face a death sentence, while the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic political organisation from which Mursi issued, has been ruled a terrorist organisation.
No calm came out of this. Mursi’s supporters are still defying the army, and the crackdowns have been brutal. More than a thousand people have been killed in clashes and attacks.
Sisi speaks rarely in public. He was once nick-named ‘the Quiet General’. He has a reputation as a pious Muslim.
The new constitution approved in a national referendum on January 18th, has been broadly interpreted as legitimising him as man-at-the-top — even though the Islamist-secularist divide meant that less than 39 percent of Egyptians took part in the referendum.
Now Field Marshal al-Sisi has become a candidate in elections to choose a new head of state. Illustrating his appeal, appearing on pastries, for example, is the inscription: ‘Sixth President of the Egyptian Republic’ — a sweet hope in a bitter time.