For many Egyptian supporters of the July 3 coup against the Muslim
Brotherhood-led government, coup leader Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is a figure of
Posters bearing the general’s visage alongside that of Gamal
Abdel Nasser have appeared all over Cairo.
Nasser, of course, initiated
the officers’ regime that held sway in Egypt from 1952 until the downfall of
Hosni Mubarak in early 2011. He also, in 1954, presided over the bloody
repression of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Sisi, for those who venerate him,
is seen as the inheritor of Nasser’s mantle.
For the crowds that he
summoned to Tahrir Square in his televised address on July 24, he is, like his
predecessor, a patriotic officer who stepped in to save the day at a moment of
supreme national crisis.
No one in Egypt venerates Nasser’s two
successors, Anwar Sadat and Mubarak. But if the Sisi-Nasser comparison makes
sense, it must also be the case that the putschist general is their inheritor,
And it is so. The July 3 coup is a victory for the Egyptian
counterrevolution. It establishes, at least for now, the status quo
It is important not to be taken in by the crowds in Tahrir
Square who pledged to defend Sisi. These were summoned by the general in a
maneuver familiar to other times and places. Nasser, too, knew how to call
intoxicated masses of followers onto the streets of Cairo when necessary –
usually to ecstatically demand some item of policy which the president had
already decided to carry out. So it is with Sisi.
In Sisi’s case, the
crowds in the square are needed to make the coup look like something else. This
is not only or mainly for regional or local consumption.
In the old days,
Arab officers would cloak their rule in slogans exhorting socialism or the Arab
nation. Today, democracy and representation are the watchwords. Sisi understands
that his patrons in the West, on whom the Egyptian military relies, are upset
and frightened by the army’s move.
For him and his followers, this
reaction represents the very height of naivete. As far as they are concerned,
the July 3 act saved Egypt from the establishment of a Muslim Brotherhood- led
autocracy presiding over chaos and probably famine.
A US decision to
delay the delivery of four F-16 fighter jets to Egypt indicates a growing
American discomfort and concern regarding the de facto military rulers of Egypt.
At the same time, the US has not yet openly stated the obvious fact that the
ousting of president Mohamed Morsi constituted a coup, since this would require
a cessation of US aid in toto, which would plunge Egypt into
Similarly, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton’s insistence
on visiting the deposed and incarcerated Morsi was meant to signal the EU’s
disapproval of the military’s tactics.
The military has indicated that it
does not want to rule the country, and has laid down a roadmap intended to bring
about new presidential elections within nine months. But even if new elections
take place as scheduled, the coup of July 3 has irrevocably changed the Egyptian
political landscape that emerged since 2011. It indicates that whoever wins
elections, the army is the force that will ultimately decide the direction of
the country, stepping in to adjust the situation as and when it sees fit, while
leaving the mundane tasks of daily administration to the
This was not what the Muslim Brotherhood had in mind when it
entered elections. It is also not a reality they intend to accept. As a result,
Egypt remains poised on a knife edge.
The Brotherhood has not accepted the
verdict of July 3, and the movement is reverting back to the role of an
insurrectionary opposition movement. Brotherhood demonstrators remain ensconced
in the Rabia al- Adawiya mosque, in the Nasr City area of Cairo. Hundreds have
already died in violent clashes with security forces.
There are rumors
that guns and explosive devices are being hoarded at Rabia, in the event that
the army attempts a violent dispersal of the protestors. The Brotherhood’s
demands remain rocksolid: the reinstatement of Morsi and the reimposition of the
Islamist constitution that he and his colleagues brought into
Violence against soldiers and police in the Sinai area is on the
increase. There are reports of the growing presence of Salafi Islamists among
the demonstrators at Rabia.
Brotherhood preacher Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi
has called for a jihad against the new regime in Egypt.
apparently seeks to avoid a frontal confrontation with the Brotherhood. For the
moment, he has what he wants – power, popular legitimacy, and the Brothers
outside of the tent. From his point of view, it is their move.
seriously intend to convert themselves into an insurgent army – which would be
outside of the traditions of the movement in Egypt – then they are inviting an
Algerian-type situation for Egypt.
Such a scenario would be catastrophic
for all Egyptians.
But it would almost certainly result in the defeat and
destruction of the Brothers.
And if, as seems more likely, they want to
carry on political protests, with the more extreme elements engaging in sporadic
acts of violence, then Sisi will seek to contain them, and wait them out,
countering their gatherings with mass public demonstrations of support for his
The point to be borne in mind is that there remain two forces of
note in Egypt: the army and the Brotherhood.
Everything else is a
And as of now, the army is winning. This is good for the
West, though the West apparently does not see it that way.
meantime, the new Nasser/Sadat/Mubarak, supported and financed by Saudi Arabia
and the United Arab Emirates, is in control of Egypt.
His reign will not
bring democracy, nor prosperity to the blighted country. It will, however,
prevent the nightmare of an Islamist regime on the Nile – by whatever means the
general finds appropriate.