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An old enemy, a new dictator

January 27, 2014 at 1:23 pm

In Egypt, General Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi of the Egyptian armed forces is now the most powerful man in the land. While Hitler and Mussolini were invited, or voted into office, Sisi took power for himself in a military coup in July that toppled the first democratically elected leader – Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood – Egypt had seen in six decades.

Since he assumed power, Sisi has embarked on a gruesome campaign of targeted killings, arbitrary arrests and mass murders of supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and its leaders. Many are now in hiding for fear they will be targeted by the new strongman.

Sisi’s ascension to power, in the public domain at least, started in August 2012. From beneath a cap peaked with gold he was appointed defence minister by President Mohammed Morsi. One of the youngest members of the armed forces, he was part of a bold move in which the President removed Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, head general for 17 years under Hosni Mubarak, from his privileged position.

It was a strange choice. In 2011, Sisi attracted widespread criticism for defending virginity tests on female demonstrators in Tahrir Square, on the grounds that the results protected soldiers from the charge of rape.

At the time, reports suggested that Sisi was closer to the Muslim Brotherhood than Tantawi. Considering that under Mubarak the army had their own enterprises, hospitals, clubs – their own Egypt – the military and the Brotherhood presented a threat to each other’s existence. The feeling was that the Brotherhood needed the army on their side.

It was Morsi, not Sisi, who would take centre stage and be the subject of public scrutiny for the next year. He was criticised for not pulling Egypt out of an economic disaster, not creating enough jobs for Egyptians and for entrenching Islamic rule across Egypt’s institutions.

As dissatisfaction with Morsi rose, it provided the perfect opportunity for Sisi to position himself as the only credible alternative, riding on the wave of an angry and disappointed nation who felt their revolution was not going the way they wanted it to. He organised meetings with opposition groups, intellectuals and journalists. As the protests grew, he announced on state television that Morsi was gone.

And so Egypt fell back into its old cycle of military dictatorships, a staple in politics since the overthrow of the king in 1952. Sisi may not be the president, but there is no doubt that it is him who is calling all the shots and leading the bloody crackdown on members of the Brotherhood.

Since the coup on the July 3, there have been four massacres, over 1,000 dead and many more injured. On Sunday, 38 prisoners suffocated to death inside a police truck when security forces threw tear gas inside.

Numerous eyewitnesses have reported snipers in uniform shooting from the top of buildings; a highly disturbing video captured the targeted killing of Asma Beltagi, daughter of Dr Mohammed Beltagi, a prominent leader in the Brotherhood.

Last Wednesday, women and children, part of the sit-in at Rabaa Adawiya, burnt to death as they slept after members of the security forces set fire to their tents. Families arriving at morgues to pick up the bodies were told to sign papers admitting their loved ones committed suicide in exchange for the corpses.

A campaign has been launched, backed by much of the state media, to paint the Muslim Brotherhood as terrorists, to place them in the context of the global war on terror and enemies of the state. It is an attempt to reduce them to non-human beings and make their deaths easier to stomach. The idea is that if Sisi doesn’t get them first, the Brotherhood will destroy the whole of Egypt.

The arrest earlier this week of the Brotherhood’s supreme leader Mohammed Badie marked a significant moment for Egypt. While Mubarak was also known for suppressing the Brotherhood, the supreme leader had never been arrested. This was a red line which Sisi had no qualms about crossing.

The possibility of banning the Brotherhood has also been announced. A state of emergency is now in place; there is a curfew and there are arbitrary arrests. Two thirds of Egypt’s provincial governors are now from the military and Morsi himself has been held in a secret location since his removal.

While the possibility of Egypt descending into civil war has been aired by analysts from Washington to London, Sisi told the Washington Post that it is actually his intervention, the military coup on July 3, which stopped the country from descending into chaos.

“I expected that if we didn’t intervene, it would have turned into a civil war,” he said, as the bodies of the Brotherhood burnt in the background.

This article first appeared on Al Jazeera

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.