How will history remember President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi?

How will history remember President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi?
Comment: Western nations may see Sisi as key to stability in the region, but his abysmal track record as military man and president tells another story, writes Bahey el-Din Hassan
7 min read
07 Oct, 2016
None of the defense minsters had the obsessive ambition that Sisi showed [Getty]

Had a thousand chickens been "killed" in a public square in Egypt, the Attorney General would have instructed an immediate investigation, and publicly announced the findings without delay. 

Three years after the most horrific massacre in Egypt's modern history was committed on the 13 August, no one has been held accountable by the judiciary of Egypt for the killing of nearly 1,000 people.

The report issued by the National Council for Human Rights, a quasi-governmental organization, was a weak and apologetic condemnation of the armed security forces' raid of a camp of protestors in Cairo. 

Adli Mansour, the interim president at the time, asked the Attorney General to investigate the report. The Attorney General, however, refused to conduct the investigation.

This was probably because the de facto president - Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who was the Defense Minister at the time and who would later become the 'official' president of Egypt, objected to the investigation, even if it's a sham. 

Sisi is not the first military commander to be promoted to the rank of Field Marshal without having wartime achievements, as is the convention worldwide. He is, however, the only one to have been rewarded the rank without going to war for the entire period of his 40 year military service, and perhaps the only serviceman who was awarded the rank, having overseen the killing of 1,000 citizens.

The above is not a coincidence. Over the years, Sisi has made smooth and gradual change to the Egyptian military doctrine to locate the principal mission and "enemy" at home, rather than beyond its borders. The first step was in 2010 when he was the Director of Military Intelligence. He managed to convince then Defense Minister, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, that the army should be prepared to intervene to prevent Gamal Mubarak, son of former President Hosni Mubarak, from succeeding his father before such announcement would be made in May 2011. 

Three years after the most horrific massacre in Egypt's modern history was committed on the 13 August, no one has been held accountable

Sisi believed that millions of Egyptians would take to the streets in protest, forcing the president to call the army to intervene to maintain order. The plan was to give the army the opportunity to end Gamal Mubarak's and his businessmen allies' plan to curb the army's control of the economy and politics in Egypt. 

Four months before the expected announcement, the Egyptian uprising took place on the 25 of January 2011, by which time the army had already completed the training. 

The Supreme Military Council, therefore, dismissed all attempts to allow Mubarak and his son to rule, even if the former was succeeded by his close ally Omar Suleiman, the former intelligence chief who later became Mubarak's vice-president. The council's excuse was overwhelming popular anger. 

However, a few weeks after the council took power on 11 February 2011, a series of assassinations and massacres were committed against peaceful demonstrators in the streets and public squares in Cairo. These were committed indirectly through the police without the knowledge of the Interior Minister then, or by the army directly, as in the case of the Maspero Massacre of Copts in October 2011. 

It is ironic that these massacres were committed with the help or blessing of the Muslim Brotherhood two years before they were massacred themselves under Sisi's rule. Sisi acted as the director of the military intelligence - the "unknown soldier", in the 2011 massacres against the liberals and leftists. 

He was also behind the army's unprecedented raid on the headquarters of the human rights organisations twice in February and December 2011, as well as the virginity tests conducted on female protestors in the army's detention centres in 2011, which were openly and officially justified by Sisi himself.

A few weeks after he was elected Egypt's president, Sisi waged a vicious "crusade" war against the youth, including football fans, which involved random arrests, false charges, politicised trials and executions.

Within one year of his unofficial rule of Egypt, he had led a campaign to clamp down on Egyptian human rights groups threatening to kill a number of its leaders, before eventually closing down the offices of all international organisations for human rights in Egypt.

Within one year of his unofficial rule of Egypt, he had led a campaign to clamp down on Egyptian human rights groups

It was not the first time the army was called to maintain order during the uprising in January 2011. The first was during the January 1977 uprising when state subsidies of basic commodities were terminated by the government, while the second was in 1986 when one of the central security units rebelled and went out in protest in Cairo.

The army was summoned on both occasions, while seizing power was already a possibility, particularly on the first occasion, as there was a widespread popular discontent for Anwar Sadat, who held the presidency. Charismatic Defense Minister, Field Marshal Abdul Ghani Gamasy, who was the head of the military operation during the 1973 war, was very popular at the time. 

The army, however, was not an economic empire, or a "state" within a state - yet, and none of the defense minsters had the obsessive ambition that Sisi showed, even before taking on the role. 

Before he was elected president, Sisi revealed that he dreamed of becoming the President of Egypt, and that these dreams were a source of inspiration for him in later in life. 

His narcissism led him to believe that God sent him to treat the mentality of Egyptians, and that he is surrounded and blessed by angels. Led by such delusions, Sisi made some of the most important decisions - including massive economic projects worth billions of dollars - by himself, without even conducting consultations or feasibility studies.

Added to this, is the catastrophic failure in the management of the economy

He also embarked on purchasing heavy weapons for billions of dollars in a bankrupt state. A state in which the army's main missions are to fight "terrorism" at home, to protect the political system which in turn secures the army's economic empire and to form an alternative line of defense behind the riot police to crack down on growing public protest. 

Astonishingly, western governments have backed such an unstable character whose decisions are motivated by delusions and personal obsessions. They believe that he is the answer to a stable central state - whose population will soon exceed 100 million - and even see him as key to the stability of the entire Middle East.

It is not yet clear how this seismic change in the military doctrine will affect the army itself, or its image in the national collective conscience, as an army whose mission is to fight foreign enemies. Of particular concern is its image among Egyptians as well as the soldiers' morale, in light of its blatant failure to combat the increasing expansion of IS in Sinai, while its presence is shrinking in strongholds in Syria, Iraq and Libya.

Added to this, is the catastrophic failure in the management of the economy, including its effect on the army whose hundreds of thousands of soldiers come from poor backgrounds, as nearly third of the country's population lives below the poverty line. It is likely that these questions and many others will be addressed by the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, in the Spring of 2018, when Sisi's re-nomination for presidency will be considered. 

The Supreme Council may choose to distance the army from such political responsibility and support instead a "trusted" civilian candidate who will protect the army's economic empire. In 2014, this option was excluded in favour of Sisi against the long-term overall interests of the military institution itself. However, the emerging crises and increasing failures may pressure the army to expedite the re-evaluation process without having to wait until 2018.

Amid the conflicts and continuous defeats at all levels, Sisi is about to "succeed" in convincing lay Egyptians that like "Islam", the army is not a solution in politics - a mission if attained would probably be the only achievement history will credit Sisi for.

Bahey el-Din Hassan is the Director and founder of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS). He is the author of several publications on democracy and human rights in the Arab World.

Follow him on Twitter: @BaheyHassan

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.