Egypt's Generalissimo takes on his air marshal

Egypt's Generalissimo takes on his air marshal
Comment: A power struggle in the higher echelons of government is reportedly taking place between Sisi and his field marshal, says Khalil al-Anani.
3 min read
01 Jun, 2015
Egypt's ruler is being threatened by the old guard, some suggest [AFP]
One of Egypt's best-read dailies carried the headline "Air Chief Marshal fights the General" on its front page a few days ago.

With this headline, Al-Shorouk al-Jadid managed to perfectly sum up an increasingly pubic power struggle at the centre of the Egyptian regime.

Flying high

The former air chief marshal in question, Ahmed Shafiq, now living in the UAE, is believed to be involved in "an existential battle" against Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the president and an army man through and through.

Shafiq's backers in government have received a stern letter telling them to fall in line, and so the battle between the new Mamluks has come out into the open.

Shafiq, a former presidential election candidate, still lives the delusion that he - not Sisi or Mohamed Morsi - is the legitimate president of Egypt, after striking a deal with the military council that ruled the country after the Muslim Brotherhood leader's ousting.

Sisi dismisses Shafiq as a "man from the past", saying he should disappear from public. This battle may, however, be nothing more than a smoke-screen aimed at covering up Sisi's spectacular failures.

Pro-Sisi media is talking of "a conspiracy" against "the general", aimed at sabotaging the president's successes and ultimately overthrowing him.

Therefore, it is not at all surprising that, during this fabricated battle, some pro-regime journalists have blamed Egyptians themselves for the failures of the regime.

The battle between the air marshal and the general might be the media's latest attempt to distract Egyptians away from the real problems facing the country. Military men are reportedly telling Sisi to deal with his opposition with an iron fist.

These incitements to violence remind one of Muhammed Ali - Egypt's Ottoman governor - who railed against the Mamluks to restructure political power into the hands of one man.
     Sisi dismisses Shafiq as a 'man from the past', saying he should disappear from public.

Crushing dissent

However, aside from the media circus, there are real divisions inside the regime about the sharing of power.

Many of those who helped Sisi into power, including business leaders, now realise that the general possesses neither any meaningful vision nor political experience. It now appears that his sole reason for taking over the reins of power was to get rid of the Muslim Brotherhood.

When brought to power, Sisi attempted to marginalise and gradually eliminate those who had placed him there. He failed, however, and now there is talk that this tactic has backfired and his new opponents are looking to overthrow him.

Furthermore, Sisi also failed to contain the conflicts between various centres of power, such as the police and the army. 

Sisi is the weakest link in the current power struggle, and I cannot rule out the possibility that there are discussions between internal and external powers to sacrifice him - on the condition that this is done from inside the regime.

This would go some way to explaining the media campaign recently launched against Sisi - testing the waters for possible action against the general. 

This interpretation coincides with talk that even Sisi's regional backers are viewing his rule as a burden, especially after the recent wholesale death sentences issued by Egyptian courts against members of the Muslim Brotherhood. 

The possibility cannot be ruled out that there are serious regional and international discussions now taking place to avoid an explosion in public anger against the regime.

While this is conjecture, however, two questions remain. How will Sisi respond to these moves? And will he handle the conspirators the same way as with all other opponents - by eliminating them?

If he does not have the backing of his allies in Cairo's power structure, surviving may be a difficult task for the general.

Khalil al-Anani is a leading academic expert on Islamist movements, Egyptian politics and democratisation in the Middle East.

Opinions stated in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.