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General Al-Sisi and the Red Sword

January 27, 2014 at 10:07 am

In a recently leaked sound clip of an interview with General Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, Egypt’s Minister of Defence and current de facto leader, interviewer Yasir Rizk, the Editor-in-Chief of Al-Masry Al-Youm Egyptian newspaper, asks the General if he had ever dreamt of leading the Egyptian army, to which Al-Sisi replies by asking, “The leadership of the Egyptian army, or something bigger than that?” The General then begins to talk about what he describes as “a long history of dreams” that he always believed in, but, for reasons that he does not disclose, he has stopped talking about since 2006. Among the important dreams that he mentions, is one with the late Egyptian President Anwar Al-Sadat (1970-1981). According to Al-Sisi, Sadat tells him that he knows that he (Sadat) will become Egypt’s president, to which Al-Sisi replies by saying that he, too, knows that he will become Egypt’s president. In another dream, the General is told that he “would be granted something that nobody had been granted before [him]”. In perhaps a related dream, the General is wearing an “Omega watch with a huge green star on it”. When asked why he has a watch that nobody else has, he says: “This watch is mine. It’s Omega and I am Abdel Fattah [his first name].” He explains to Rizk, “I linked Omega with ‘internationality’ with Abdel Fattah.”

A megalomaniac mentality that glorifies political power and material wealth is evident in these dreams, which also demonstrate that the General has had a long standing ambition and a real desire to “sit on Egypt’s throne,” using Rizk’s words. Arguably, the only viable way for him to do this after the January 2011 Revolution was to use the army itself to create a cult of personality around him. This is exactly what he has been doing, and he has done so by exploiting the public anger against the Muslim Brotherhood (and we may wonder now what role he may have played in creating and fuming that anger) to topple President Mohamed Morsi (who had appointed him as Minister of Defence) in a military coup on 3 July 2013. This was followed immediately by an incredible campaign of scandalous sycophancy that even reached the point of an Egyptian journalist offering herself and other Egyptian women as “slave girls” to please the new leader.

But perhaps the most revealing of the General’s dreams is the one in which, according to himself, he once saw himself carrying a “red sword with ‘There is no God but Allah'” inscribed on it. The significance of this dream is evident. The sword is a tool for killing, and the colour red indicates that it has already been used for this purpose. What is crucial here, however, is that the sword has the well-known Islamic testimony to God’s oneness and unity written on it. In other words, the sword was used in the name of God to kill “His opponents”. It is a holy war, then, where murder, including mass murder, is not only justifiable, but even meritorious as sanctioned by none other than God Himself. It is this same mentality that searches for justification for mass murder which led General Al-Sisi, a couple of weeks after the coup, to call on Egyptians to give him a “mandate” to deal with “potential violence and terrorism” so that he can use this mandate to kill thousands of his own people in the name of the rest of the people, which he in fact has been doing ever since the coup. Nor is it surprising that Egypt’s former Mufti, Sheikh Ali Gomaa, was able to openly call the Egyptian army and police to target the hearts of the “filthy” Egyptians who rejected the military coup. Unsurprisingly, Gomaa said this to an audience that included General Al-Sisi himself.

It seems that General Al-Sisi sincerely believes he is engaging in a holy war, either in the name of God or the name of the Egyptian “people”, which no longer includes the Muslim Brotherhood or any person who rejects the coup. Thus, the target of this holy war at the moment is a significant part of the Egyptian population, because it includes both the Muslim Brotherhood and anyone who opposes his coup and road map (many Egyptian activists who are not related to the Muslim Brotherhood have been detained recently for considering Al-Sisi’s efforts as a restoration of Mubarak’s regime). Two other important observations can be added to this. The first is General Al-Sisi’s unrelenting willingness to use lethal force to suppress his opponents, no matter how many they are. His decision to disperse the sit-ins in Cairo while knowing that thousands could be killed (which did actually happen) is the best demonstration of this unremorseful brutality. The other observation is General Al-Sisi’s evident simple-mindedness, ironic and paradoxical as this may sound. Listening to any of the sound clips that were released in the past few weeks of the same interview (the parts that were leaked were obviously meant to be confidential) suffice to illustrate the incredible banality of the way the General thinks and expresses himself. (It is, in fact, remarkable that Al-Sisi’s predecessor, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, was his match in banality, although definitely not his match in megalomania.)

If we put these three elements together – the leader of a large and well-armed military thinking of himself as a holy fighter, somebody willing to do anything and everything to smash his opponents, and a personality characterized by simple-mindedness – we must realize that we are dealing with an extremely dangerous situation. The kind of mentality that dominates Al-Sisi’s regime – which also dominated the regimes of Saddam Hussien, Colonel Qaddafi, and the Al-Assads in Syria, to mention a few Arab dictators – can only survive by devouring enemies. When internal enemies are done with, external enemies will have to be created, and Al-Sisi will think of and deal with that enemy in the same way that he now deals with his internal enemies. Western governments that do not (want to) recognise the kind of army leader that General Al-Sisi is may not have to wait for very long to learn how catastrophic their current inaction towards him (if not implicit, indeed complicit, support of him) will turn out to be.

The author is a post-doctoral fellow at the Forum Transregionale Studien, Berlin. Another version of this article was originally published in the independent online magazine

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