Behind the Lines: Meet the new Nasser/Sadat/Mubarak

Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's reign will not bring democracy, nor prosperity to Egypt. It will, however, prevent the nightmare of an Islamist regime on the Nile – by whatever means the general finds appropriate.

Egypt's Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi 370 (photo credit: Reuters)
Egypt's Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi 370
(photo credit: Reuters)
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 veneration.
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, too.
And it is so. The July 3 coup is a victory for the Egyptian counterrevolution. It establishes, at least for now, the status quo pre-2011.
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 chaos.
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 politicians.
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 being.
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.
Yet Sisi 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.
If they 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 side.
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 decoration.
And as of now, the army is winning. This is good for the West, though the West apparently does not see it that way.
In the 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.