Will General Al-Sisi Be a New Nasser?
|Dmitry MININ | 22.08.2013 | 00:00|
What is happening in Egypt, especially the August 14 crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood camps, is in many ways reminiscent of events in Algeria in the early '90s, when as a result of a civil war started by local Islamists, who had been removed from power, about 200,000 people were killed. At the same time, there is reason to believe that the Egyptian military and law enforcement agencies will not permit such a situation to arise, as they are the only organized military force in the country, they maintain absolute unity in their ranks and they have the support of significant segments of the population. The military's line has been supported not only by the Coptic Christians and secular society, who are unhappy with the spread of sharia law, but also by many conservative circles which believe that the Muslim Brotherhood has borrowed its political model from the West. More and more people believe that the country was brought to crisis not by dead-end Nasserism, but by a departure from it.
Many have noticed the unprecedented support of Saudi Arabia for the Egyptian military's actions, which they have declared, despite the facts of the harsh suppression of mass protests, a «fight against terrorism». The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and the UAE have been stanch supporters of the leader of the military regime, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. In the face of serious socio-economic problems compounded by unrest, financial aid from these Arab states could become a decisive factor for Egypt in consolidating the situation in the country under army leadership. Moscow has also been paying attention to the unexpected Saudi-Egyptian alliance, as shown, for example, by the recent visit of the director general of the Saudi Intelligence Agency, Prince Bandar, to Moscow and his exhaustive 4-hour conversation with Russian President V. Putin. It is interesting that Prince Bandar did not respond to a similar invitation from Washington, which speaks indirectly of Riyadh's dissatisfaction with U.S. policy in the Middle East. An extremely curious configuration of powers is taking shape which could have positive significance for the resolution of other problems as well, particularly in overcoming the crisis in Syria.
President Obama prefers not to publicly support the Egyptian military regime. After the bloody events of August 14 he attempted to call General al-Sisi and urge him to «stop repressing the protesters and firing live ammunition». The White House officially condemned the declaration of a state of emergency in the country. However, according to some sources, «Egypt's strongman» did not even take Obama's call - unheard-of audacity. Instead, the Egyptians suggested that the White House call the interim president Adly Mansour, which the Americans, in turn, declined to do. This is an admission of how limited U.S. influence now is; attempts to talk the Egyptian generals out of harsh measures against protestors failed, and the refusal to grant Egypt 1.3 billion dollars in American aid will simply become an invitation for rich Arab states to replace the U.S. in this role. The KSA and UAE have already provided the Egyptian military regime with 12 billion dollars, and the total amount of promised aid comes to 40 billion dollars. The stakes are high. After all, the Muslim Brotherhood are republicans, and despite their adherence to Islam, for the Persian Gulf monarchies they are deadly enemies. Power is more important than religion to the Brotherhood. The Americans continue to harp on democracy in the Middle East, but an increasing number of observers are coming to the conclusion that by that they mean not the freedom for the people to choose, but the proverbial «controlled chaos».
Defense Minister and Commander of the Egyptian army Abdel Fattah al-Sisi openly criticized the administration of the U.S. and President Obama, saying, «You left the Egyptians, you turned your back on the Egyptians and they won't forget that». Al-Sisi urged the administration to do more to support his country, including exerting influence on the Muslim Brotherhood.
Experts recognize that «today, a democratic transition that the West sought to portray as a model that other Arab nations could emulate lies in tatters».
Former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer writes, «One thing already can be said for certain: the basic distribution of power within Egyptian society has not changed. The military and the Muslim Brotherhood divide power between themselves. The Western-oriented liberals do not have any real power and stand, as we are seeing now, on the army’s shoulders». In a broader sense, the military coup in Egypt, along with the civil war in Syria, the destabilization of Lebanon which threatens to spread to Jordan, and the prevalence of violence in Iraq, heralds, in Fischer's view, the end of the Arab revolutions, at least for the time being.
And well-known economist Jeffrey Sachs believes that «here, the feckless West – torn between its democratic rhetoric and its antipathy to the Islamists – showed its hand. The result was equivocation and delay, rather than commitment and assistance. The IMF has talked with the Egyptian government for two and a half years since Mubarak’s overthrow without so much as lending a single cent, sealing the Egyptian economy’s fate and contributing to public unrest and the recent coup».
Analysts are increasingly interested in the future course of Egypt. They are paying special attention to the current de facto leader of the country, General al-Sisi. For example, journalist Yasser Rizk from the Egyptian newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm describes his meeting with General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in early 2011, when the latter was Egypt's director of military intelligence. It turns out that as early as April 2010 General al-Sisi predicted the inevitability of a popular revolution against the Mubarak regime in a report to Marshal Tantawi and suggested that the army support the people. It is not surprising that subsequently, on August 12, 2012, Mursi appointed him commander in chief and minister of defense. Among the Muslim Brotherhood there was even a widespread rumor that he was a secret member of their brotherhood. However, Rizk asserts that al-Sisi was always first and foremost an «Egyptian nationalist».
After al-Sisi took his new post, his first goal was to restore the fighting capacity of the Egyptian army. He also kept it from participating in political games and interparty conflicts. The general hoped that «the political forces would reach a consensus for the sake of Egypt's future». For him the coup was a matter of necessity. Afterwards, one of al-Sisi's first decisions was the dismissal of General Shehata as the director of Egypt's General Intelligence Directorate, a very important post in Egypt's situation, on July 5 and the appointment of General Mohamed Fareed al-Tuhami, who had for a long time headed the Administrative Control Authority under Mubarak. Thus, al-Sisi already made clear his intent to partially reinstate prior experience.
Al-Sisi, as those who know him well point out, is a calm, level-headed and self-assured person. Despite his seeming mildness, which at one time deceived Mursi, he has a very determined character. At the same time he is sensitive: when he hears the traditional solemn address «the great, free Egyptian people», his eyes fill with tears. He has undoubted charisma. He believes in his mission to save Egypt from impending catastrophe. He places the interests of his country above all. He once told Yasser Rizk, «Egypt is the mother of the world and, God willing, it will fulfill this role». The journalist is certain that in his qualities al-Sisi can only be compared with «the extraordinary leader Gamal Abdel Nasser». The commander of the Egyptian army refuted reports that he plans to run for President of Egypt, although he did not fully rule out the possibility. But according to DEBKAfile, al-Sisi will almost certainly run for the highest government post late this year and has already essentially begun his election campaign. He plans to restore the traditional high status of the army in Egyptian socio-political life, despite protests from Europe and America. Al-Sisi plans to conduct democratic changes under his own strict control. One of his main characteristics is that he claims to represent the interests of all Egyptians, not only one religious or social group.
Some experts see al-Sisi as a symbol of «reborn Egyptian nationalism» whose roots go back to Nasser. If events confirm such an assessment, it will serve as a historical justification for advancing military men to the center of social change in Egypt. It is no accident that demonstrators in Cairo who support the actions of the military regime carry portraits of Nasser and al-Sisi in front of them, pointing out the continuity from one to the other. Media loyal to the military regime is more and more frequently calling al-Sisi the «new Nasser», while experts such as Cairo University professor Mohamed Soffar assert that «Egyptians are psychologically not ready for a civilian leader».
The rebirth of the spirit of Nasserism as an ideological and political foundation for the activities of the new government in a critical moment for the country could also open new opportunities for collaboration between Egypt and Russia. In Moscow, as in Cairo, they remember that in the Nasser era this collaboration was very productive, and Egypt was then an influential factor in world politics, including as part of the Non-Aligned Movement.
|Tags: Muslim Brotherhood Egypt Middle East US Al-Sisi Nasser|