I do not know to what extent it is permissible for me to comment on or discuss the comments that Al-Masri Al-Youm newspaper have attributed to Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi. This is due to the man’s high military ranking, the fact that he holds the title of Minister of Defence and, of course, because he is Commander in Chief of the armed forces. According to my knowledge, the Ministry of Media has warned the press not to publish any information relating to the issue without its permission. What bewilders me is that the news that was published is in Al-Sisi’s own words and that he is discussing politics. His military and political ranks prevent anyone from debating or commenting on his statements but their nature makes it very desirable for us to have this type of discussion.
In an attempt to find a way out of this impasse, I have decided to proceed with caution and use the general’s own words as a general framework within which I present my opinions. My formal remarks on the publication are as follows:
The manner in which this information was published over the course of three days suggests Al-Sisi’s intention to be nominated for the presidency. I read the entire dialogue after I returned from an overseas trip and I am more and more convinced that we are not talking about this interview as much as the latest chapter in “Kamel Gameelak”, with Al-Sisi supporters trying to raise 30 million signatures to persuade him to stand for the presidency so that he can “finish the job well”. It is all to do with PR, not journalism.
My suspicions that there was an intention to run for office were confirmed in the third and final episode when Al-Sisi was asked about his candidacy for presidency. His diplomatic response was that he did not rule out the possibility but that it was also not the right time raise or discuss this issue, adding that what Allah has commanded will happen in the end. He also addressed his former statements that the military should not be involved in politics by stressing that his words are often taken out of context.
I noticed that Al-Sisi’s team published more than twenty-eight of his photographs, of different sizes taken from different angles, in the newspaper, in the efforts to win a vote of confidence of the kind that the people had in Gamal Abdel Nasser. The image of Nasser I am referencing is not the president as soldier; rather it is a reference to Nasser the man. According to some information leaked about this matter, many ‘Nasserites’ do not support the comparison, although numerous Gulf countries were quick to give their blessing. Ironically, the same countries in the Arabian Gulf which fought against Nasser’s forces in Yemen are the same that are now encouraging people to support Al-Sisi.
The whole of Al-Sisi’s speech looked at the question of internal affairs and although much of his speech reiterated his strategic vision, he did not make any reference to his vision for dealing with the external issues facing Egypt. He did not discuss Egypt’s current relationship with the Arab world, for example, nor did he make any references to the Israeli violations and settlement expansion plans which are threatening to destroy the Palestinian cause and threaten Egyptian national security. Furthermore, Al-Sisi did not discuss relations with the United States, whose military officials have recently been discussing the possibility of forming a strategic alliance with the Egyptian army.
I admired Al-Sisi’s when he said, “Our borders, our dignity and our military are capable of repelling any aggression.” This led me to wonder what his stance is on the peace agreement with Israel and to what extent his position will infringe on Egyptian dignity and sovereignty.
In this regard, I commend him for his evident admiration for Nasser but I am rather puzzled by his admiration for Sadat. I do not understand how he can admire Sadat, whose entire presidential agenda contrasted greatly with that of Nasser, regardless of the victory he achieved in the 1973 war.
I have also noticed that Al-Sisi has exhibited fairness and caution when discussing the Halayeb Triangle issue and the development of the Suez Canal. He considers Dr Mohammed Morsi’s position on these two issues as a cause of great concern for the armed forces, especially because they relate to the issue of national security. I also noticed that he did not address the Sinai Peninsula, which has been affected by many different factors, or that the tunnels that connect it with Gaza are the main cause for the lack of stability in the region and pose a threat to Egyptian security. This does not surprise me because when General Al-Sisi was head of military operations he participated in a series of manoeuvres related to Sinai’s security, in which Hamas also participated.
One must praise the man’s pure speech when he discussed Morsi and how his lack of ability to manage internal affairs eventually led to his ousting. While this may be true, Al-Sisi’s language changed when he talked about the period after Morsi’s isolation and his discussion ignored the main reasons behind the failure. He referred to intimidation, sabotage and terrorism as if these factors were the root cause of isolation and not the result of it.
Al-Sisi was correct when he said that some Islamists have abused Islam as opposed to all of them, which is the image fostered by the media and its current discourse. However, he was wrong to say that the Brotherhood was not concerned with the nation and its borders because of its ideological commitment to the caliphate and the Ummah. I wish that he had retracted and revised that statement because it is well known that the Muslim Brotherhood fought against the British occupation in Ismailiya in defence of Egypt’s sovereignty and that youth members Omar Shahin and Ahmed Almonisi, were killed during that fight.
Finally, Al-Sisi made an assessment of Morsi’s presidency and while it is an assessment that deserves much respect and appreciation, it remains biased and cannot be considered fair unless he hears opinions from the other side, which were not represented or available at the time.
Here ends the extent of my permissible speech.
Translated from the Arabic text which appeared in Shorouk Newspaper, October 10, 2013
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.