I have three comments on the statement made by Field Marshal Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi in which he announced his intention to run for presidency and I hope people accept this with an open heart. If anyone wants to accuse me of being too hasty because a presidency announcement is no place to present a programme and platform, I will not argue with them, but despite this, I found that his statement was contrary to all thought and expressed the limits and horizons of his vision and I believe that that deserves to be observed and discussed.
Also, I will not argue with those who saw positive signs in the statement, but I consider such signs to represent the aspect of the “cup being half full”, and I believe that the statement lacks some matters that, if addressed, can make the cup completely full and will make the situation better, if not ideal.
My first comment is that in his statement, Field Marshal Al-Sisi was concerned with talking about regaining the prestige of the state and rebuilding its branches. He also spoke about the economic crisis, unemployment, production and the hard work required to meet the needs of the people. These are all undoubtedly important points, but I noticed that he did not mention two main points; freedom and democracy on one hand, and social justice on the other.
It is true that freedom was mentioned once, as well as democracy, but the talk about concern was dominant, thus paling the talk about the dream in which freedom and democracy holds the main position, and the statement did not refer to the issue of social justice. If someone were to say that Al-Sisi focused his speech on ordinary people in order to reach their hearts, that may be true, but it is not enough because satisfying the needs of the people is really important, but their ability to exercise freedom, the establishment of their governing system on the foundations of democracy, and their conviction in the fact that they are progressing towards the achievement of social justice is just as important, if not more. I am afraid that the focus on satisfying the needs of the people is affected by the atmosphere of the alliance between Egypt and the countries supporting it, which opens the door to the policy of meeting demands and satisfaction, meanwhile completely shutting the door to freedom and social justice.
My second comment is that in his statement, Field Marshal Al-Sisi focused on Egypt as a place, but I found nothing in his speech about the status of Egypt. We can say that he spent a lot of timing talking about the Egyptian Egypt, but he said nothing about the Arab Egypt. He told us about Egypt as a country looking forward to recovering and advancing, but did not mention anything about the country working to progress the nation and lead its renaissance, the role played by Egypt throughout history, given its geography. This vision, which is preoccupied by Egypt as a place and missing the status of the country, seemed more pronounced in his speech about the challenges facing Egypt. He limited such challenges to the internal issues that concern any reformer and any normal state, but these issues must be different when it comes to the largest Arab country that used to occupy the position of the leader of the Arab nation at one point.
Time has proven that when this country was broken and became smaller, the role of the nation broke with it. In addition to this, the driver’s seat in the Arab world remained vacant and no one was about to fill it. The extent of dispute grows even larger when we talk about the “Mother of the World”, and Al-Sisi’s dream of someday becoming “as big as the world”. This is of course a beautiful dream, but we have yet to see any manifestation of this vision that he presented to us while on the verge of running for presidency.
My third comment is somewhat connected to the second, as in the statement made by Field Marshal Al-Sisi, which remained confined within the limits of the Egyptian place and geography, and which showed no sign of depth or affiliation with the Arabs, he addressed the issue of terrorism and said Egypt was threatened by terrorists. He added that he will continue to fight terrorism every day, not only in Egypt, but in the entire region.
This last comment struck me in many ways. On one hand, it struck me because it was the only sign in the entire statement in which he referred to the role Egypt will play outside its borders and, on the other hand, because he did not say Egypt will play this role in the Arab role, rather in the “region” which raises two questions. First, what other countries is he referring to as “the region”, could it be Israel or Iran? On the other hand, I am concerned about the nature of the terrorism he referred to.
I was struck because Al-Sisi was keen on saying this during his candidacy statement which he made one day after attending the inauguration ceremony of the first rapid deployment force in the history of the Egyptian military (the celebration was on Monday, March 24 and the statement was delivered on Tuesday, March 25). During the force’s graduation ceremony, Field Marshal Al-Sisi said that it will carry out special tasks inside Egypt and abroad.
The idea of Egypt’s role in combating terrorism in the region was ruled out by Egypt early on, when it was proposed after Sadat signed the peace treaty with Israel in 1979, as it was said at the time that after the war against Israel ended, Washington proposed that Egypt focus its military plans on combating terrorism in “the region”.
It is worth noting that during that same year, immediately after the Islamic Revolution in Iran, a rapid deployment force was formed to secure the Gulf oil and the Indian Ocean. Finally, I noticed that the announcement of the formation of the Egyptian rapid deployment force was made a month after the joint military exercises with the Emirates were held for the first time in the history of the Egyptian military and I am not sure if there is any relationship between the military exercises that took place in late February and the formation of the aforementioned force in late March, but it is worth giving attention to and observing.
Translated from Al Shorouk newspaper, 31 March, 2014
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.