Secretive field marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi seeks to be Egypt’s president
Despite his popularity, the head of the army is not known for being a democrat
Egyptian army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who has been promoted to the rank of field marshal, fuelling speculation he is about to retire from the military and run for president. Photograph: Reuters
Three years after the “Arab Spring” toppled Hosni Mubarak, a secretive field marshal with a cult-like following is expected to announce his candidacy for the presidency of Egypt ahead of elections that he is expected to win easily.
Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has come under pressure to run from members of the public who reject the Islamist government he toppled last year, and from the armed forces, who want a president who can face down growing political violence.
He has calculated that he can win the votes of those who backed Mohamed Morsi for president in 2012 simply because he represented change from the era of former air force commander Mubarak, ousted in the revolutions that swept the Arab world.
But despite his current popularity, Sisi has no record as a democrat and has shown himself willing to use deadly force against those who disagree with him. Sisi has trodden a careful path to power since overthrowing Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected president, last July.
It’s the kind of measured advance he has made all his life, from his childhood in the dirt lanes of Cairo’s Gamaliya district, to the highest rank in one of the largest armies in the Middle East. On Monday, the presidency announced he was promoted to field marshal from general.
Friends and family speak of him as a man of few words and decisive action.“He loved to listen and carefully study what was said. After he heard many opinions then he would suddenly strike,” said his cousin Fathi al-Sisi, who runs a shop selling handicrafts.
“Abdel Fattah had one thing in mind: work, the military, rising to the top.”
The world knew little of Sisi before he appeared on television on July 3rd and announced the removal of Morsi after mass protests against the Islamist leader.
It was Morsi who appointed Sisi army chief of staff and defence minister in August 2012, perhaps his gravest mistake.
Military old guard
Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood leader, wanted a young general to reduce the influence of the military old guard who had served under the autocratic Mubarak before the 2011 revolution.
His reputation for being a pious Muslim may have also appealed to Morsi. But while Morsi appeared deaf to criticism, Sisi was tuned in to the rising discontent on the streets over the Brotherhood’s mismanagement. Eventually he issued an ultimatum to the man who appointed him – bow to the demands of protesters within 48 hours or the military will act.
Sisi, born on November 19th, 1954, honed his strategic skills in the shadowy world of military intelligence, which he headed under Mubarak. He was the youngest member of the military council which ruled Egypt for 18 months after Mubarak’s fall.
Western diplomats say Sisi has been weighing whether to stand for president with his usual caution, and only decided to run recently.
“I suppose in the back of his mind is the fact that once he takes off his military uniform he suddenly becomes more vulnerable. There is always the chance of another takeover,” said a Western diplomat.