A fool may throw a stone into a well but 100 sane people cannot remove it, says the proverb. To paraphrase its sentiments, a few crazy people can put Al-Sisi at the top of the tree but who can bring him down? This is a complex and serious question, for this is a general whose ambition pushed him into a premature coup and put him at the top of the political tree.
Although there is no doubt that Al-Sisi’s ambition blinded him to the harsh reality of staging a coup in the middle of a revolution, it is also true that external forces egged him on. They convinced him to become Egypt’s de facto ruler by replacing the democratically-elected president who actually appointed him as Minister of Defence. In doing so he overturned the will of the people as expressed through the ballot box, and all in the name of “advancing democracy”.
He has now found himself in a situation that he did not expect, facing a new popular revolt and having to turn to the US, EU and “all other international forces interested in the security, safety and welfare” of Egypt. “Are the values of freedom and democracy practiced exclusively in your countries,” he asked the Washington Post journalist who interviewed him. “Do other countries not have the right to exercise the same values and enjoy the same environment? Have you seen the tens of millions [sic] of Egyptians demanding change in Tahrir Square? What is your reaction to that?”
The coup general accused the US and EU of “deserting” the people of Egypt. “Do you want to continue turning your backs on the Egyptians?” he asked. “American interests and the will of the Egyptian people should never conflict.” Claiming that “a free people revolted against an unfair political system” Al-Sisi said that the same people now need US support. Begging the US to intervene in Egypt’s internal affairs, he continued, “The United States is influential on the Muslim Brotherhood, and I wish the US administration to use that influence to resolve the conflict”.
Al-Sisi marketed himself in the Post interview as the “saviour” of Egypt and the Egyptians as well as the wider Middle East, and the defender of American interests in the region. “On July 26 more than 30 million [sic] came out to the streets to support me, who are still waiting for me to do something… Yes, the hopes of the people are my goal, and people’s love is most important to me. The pains and sufferings of the people are very versatile; many people do not know this suffering. I am most aware of the size of the problems in Egypt.” Where, he asked again, is your support?
In a stinging attack on the Muslim Brotherhood and ousted President Mohammed Morsi, Al-Sisi accused the movement of having only “very modest experience” of running a country, which is hardly surprising given its history of being suppressed by successive Egyptian governments. Emphasising Morsi’s alleged anti-democratic credentials, he played up to the Americans by stressing what he claimed is the Brotherhood’s desire to “restore a religious Islamic empire”, starting with Egypt. “This does not make him a president for all Egyptians, but one who represents his followers and supporters,” claimed Al-Sisi. “They do not have a sense of homeland and nationalism, just an organisation.”
The problem for the coup’s architect is that he has only just realised that the game of politics is much more complicated than simply issuing orders, which is his experience in military life. That realisation prompted him to demand that those who got him into this mess should get him out of it. In doing so, he let slip that he has been in daily contact with the US Defence Secretary. The Wall Street Journal revealed the content of some of these discussions, which helped to coordinate the coup.
American, European and Arab envoys are trying to bring Al-Sisi down from the tree, but the response of the Muslim Brotherhood is clear: if they want its help to get him off the hook constitutional legitimacy must be restored; the elected president must be reinstated; and the Constitution must be back in place. Ask anyone in Rabaa Al-Adawiyya Square, they all agree: legitimacy first and last is the only thing that will bring Al-Sisi down out of the tree.
The author is a Jordanian writer. This article is a translation of the Arabic text which appeared in Al Sharq Newspaper on 6 August, 2013.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.