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Hero to many, Sisi faces onerous task
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 29 - 03 - 2014

Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, who announced this week he would run for president in a vote he is expected to win easily, has gained cult-like adulation since he toppled Egypt's first freely elected leader in July.
Supporters see Sisi as a savior who can end the political turmoil dogging Egypt since a popular uprising ended Hosni Mubarak's three decades of one-man rule in 2011.
If he becomes president he will become the latest in a line of Egyptian rulers drawn from the military that was only briefly broken during Islamist president Mohammad Morsi's year in office.
Sisi resigned from his posts of army chief and defense minister on Wednesday so that he could run for president.
Critics fear Sisi will become yet another authoritarian leader who will preserve the interests of the military and the Mubarak-era establishment, crushing the hopes of democracy, reform and social justice aroused by the youthful protests that swept away Mubarak — but not the system that had sustained him.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which had propelled Morsi to power at the ballot box, accuses the army of staging a coup against a legitimately chosen president and destroying democracy.
Sisi has generated sky-high expectations, but has outlined no detailed solutions for the poverty, energy shortages and unemployment that afflict many of Egypt's 85 million people. Nor has he quelled a insurgency based in the Sinai peninsula that has intensified since Morsi's overthrow.
That sets up the 59-year-old for a possible fall from grace in a nation where street protests on a scale never seen in Mubarak's day have helped oust two presidents in three years.
In a pre-recorded speech to the nation announcing he would contest the election, Sisi said he would take on challenges but warned Egyptians he could not perform miracles.
The world knew little of Sisi before he appeared on television on July 3 to announce the removal of Morsi after vast crowds demanded he resign, and to promise new elections.
Sisi had kept a low profile as Mubarak's head of military intelligence. It was Morsi who appointed him army chief and defense minister in August 2012, in a mistaken calculation that the military would let the Brotherhood pursue its Islamist agenda as long as its own entrenched privileges were kept safe.
Military takeover
Mursi may have been swayed by Sisi's reputation as a pious Muslim. Some Brotherhood leaders have said he used to join them for prayers and wept while reciting verses from the Qur'an.
But Morsi appeared deaf to discontent on the streets which rose to a crescendo after he grabbed sweeping powers to ram through an Islamist-tinted constitution. The Brotherhood's perceived mismanagement of the economy only fueled unrest.
When a carefully orchestrated anti-Morsi campaign gathered steam, Sisi picked his moment and gave the man who appointed him a 48-hour ultimatum to resign or face military action.
He then deposed a defiant Morsi and carted him off to jail, eventually to face charges that could carry the death penalty.
Egyptians weary of endless upheaval hailed Sisi, even when the new army-backed government began a fierce campaign to crush the Brotherhood, which as the country's best-organized political force, had won every national vote held after Mubarak's fall.
Security forces killed hundreds of Morsi supporters in the streets in August in the bloodiest civil unrest in Egypt's modern history. They jailed the leaders of the Brotherhood, which the government then denounced as a terrorist organization, despite its renunciation of violence decades earlier.
But the Sisi bandwagon has rolled on, with images of him in sunglasses and beret adorning posters, T-shirts, chocolates and even women's underwear in this conservative, mainly Muslim land.
Sisi has never publicly resisted the relentless praise.
In an unpublished segment of an interview with Al Masry Al-Youm daily that was leaked in an audio online, he spoke of a vision that suggested he was destined to be a great leader.
“In a dream I had 35 years ago, I was raising a sword with the phrase ‘There is no god but Allah' written on it in red,” said Sisi, who rose from a childhood in the dirt lanes of Cairo's Gamaliya district to the highest rank in the biggest Arab army.
Perils of power
Born on Nov. 19, 1954, he was the youngest member of the military council that ruled for 18 turbulent months after Mubarak resigned on Feb. 11, 2011.
Western diplomats say Sisi only recently took what they described as the risky decision to run for office. “The army may act if things go wrong and its image is tarnished. His fall could be sudden and sharp,” said a senior European diplomat.
A few months before he unseated Morsi in 2013, Sisi had suggested he would never stage a military takeover, let alone run for president, despite his suspicions of the Brotherhood.
“With all respect for those who say to the army: ‘go into the street', if this happened, we wouldn't be able to speak of Egypt moving forward for 30 or 40 years,” Sisi had said.
Cracks have appeared in his support base. Secular activists who backed the army takeover have joined Islamists in criticizing what appears to be a systematic stifling of dissent.
Under Sisi, protesting without permission has become a crime which can be punished by a life sentence. Sisi's election would signal a return to the oppression of the past, opponents say.
“There are real fears and there are reasons for them,” said lawyer and human rights activist Gamal Eid. “The current human rights abuses raise a lot of worries over Sisi ruling.”
Yet amid widespread disillusion with politicians and protesters, Sisi enjoys the backing of the powerful armed forces and the Interior Ministry, as well as that of many politicians and former Mubarak officials now making a comeback. Some of Sisi's admirers liken him to former president Gamal Abdul Nasser, a nationalist hero despite leading Egypt to catastrophic defeat against Israel in the 1967 war.
Religious background
In his early childhood, Sisi showed signs of unusual discipline, people in his old neighborhood say. While other boys played football or smoked, Sisi and his friends lifted bar-bells made of metal pipes and rocks.
“Abdel Fattah always seemed to have a goal. He had willpower,” said Aatif Al-Zaabalawi, a dye factory worker who used to see Sisi in Gamaliya.
Neighbors say he came from a tightly-knit religious family. A cousin, Fathi Al-Sisi, who runs a handicraft shop, said the future field marshal had memorized the Qur'an.
Sisi's father encouraged him to work in his shop every day after school. He lived in a small apartment on the rooftop of a run-down building owned by his extended family.
Aware of the scale of Egypt's problems, Sisi may ask his compatriots for patience, said retired general Sameh Seif Elyazal, who has met the presidential favorite several times.
“He hasn't got an immediate solution for everything,” Elyazal said. “I think he will tell the people ... you have to bear with me. We will suffer a little bit.” — Reuters
KEY MOMENTS
Here are some key events from more than three years of turmoil and transition in Egypt:
• Feb. 11, 2011: Hosni Mubarak steps down after 18-days of nationwide protests against his nearly 30 years of rule. The military takes over, dissolving parliament and suspending the constitution after the uprising, which left hundreds of protesters dead.
• Nov. 28, 2011-Feb. 15, 2012: The Muslim Brotherhood wins nearly half the seats in multi-stage elections for the first post-Mubarak parliament, while ultraconservative Salafis take another quarter. The remainder goes to liberal, independent and secular politicians.
• June 14: The Supreme Constitutional Court orders the lower house of parliament dissolved on grounds the election rules were unconstitutional.
• June 17: Mohammed Morsi defeats Ahmed Shafiq, the last prime minister under Mubarak, with 51.7 percent of the vote in a runoff presidential election, taking office on June 30.
• Aug. 12: Morsi removes the defense minister and military chief, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, and replaces him with Lt. Gen. Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi.
• Nov. 22: Morsi unilaterally decrees greater powers for himself, giving his decisions immunity from judicial review and barring the courts from dissolving an assembly charged with drafting a new constitution. The move sparks days of protests. Islamists hurriedly finalize a draft constitution and Morsi sets a Dec. 15 date for a referendum.
• Dec. 15-Dec. 22: Egyptians approve the constitution by referendum, with 63.8 percent voting in favor but turnout low.
• Jan. 26: Death sentences handed down on 21 people accused in taking part in deadly soccer violence the year before set off days of clashes between protesters and police in the Mediterranean city of Port Said, with dozens killed.
• Mar. 12: Egypt rejects an offer of a $750 million rescue loan from the IMF. In the coming months, fuel and electricity shortages stoke discontent, while a campaign called Tamarod, or “Rebel,” gathers signatures calling for Morsi's removal and early presidential elections.
• June 30: On Morsi's anniversary in office, millions of Egyptians begin days of massive demonstrations demanding he step down, claiming he has abused his power. The military gives him 48 hours to reach an agreement with his opponents, but he vows to stay in power.
• July 3: El-Sisi announces Morsi's removal, installing Constitutional Court Chief Justice Adly Mansour as interim president. Tens of thousands of Morsi supporters camp out in two sit-ins in Cairo's streets demanding his return.
• July 8: Egyptian soldiers fire on Morsi supporters protesting outside a military facility in Cairo, killing over 50. Each side blames the other for starting the violence.
• Aug. 14: More than 600 people are killed when riot police clear the two pro-Morsi sit-ins in Cairo. Islamists retaliate by torching government buildings, churches and police stations.
• Aug. 19: Suspected militants kill 25 policemen in the Sinai Peninsula. Militant attacks escalate in Sinai over the following months, with shootings, bombings and suicide attacks against security officials and troops.
• Sept. 23: A court orders the Brotherhood banned and its assets confiscated.
• Oct. 6: At least 51 are people killed when security forces and Islamist protesters clash during a national holiday.
• Nov. 4: Morsi is flown by helicopter from his secret detention place to a police academy in eastern Cairo to begin his trial for allegedly inciting violence, the first of several. Some charges against him carry the death penalty.
• Dec. 25: The government designates the Brotherhood a terrorist organization, the latest measure in the crackdown against the group.
• Jan 14: Egyptians vote in a referendum on amendments to the constitution adopted under Morsi in 2012. The referendum, considered a key step in the military's post-Morsi political roadmap, approves the charter, with 98.1 percent casting a “yes” ballot. Turnout is less than 39 percent.
• Jan. 25: Clashes between security forces and protesters on the third anniversary of the country's 2011 uprising leave at least 49 dead. Estimates of the total death toll from political violence since Mursi's July 3 overthrow now run into the thousands.
• Mar. 24: A court sentences to death nearly 530 suspected Morsi supporters over a deadly attack on a police station, capping a swift, two-day mass trial in which defense attorneys were not allowed to present their case. A second mass trial by same judge begins the next day.
• Mar. 26: Ending months of anticipation, El-Sisi announces that he has resigned from the military and will run for president in elections scheduled for next month. — AP


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