Islamist or Nationalist: Who is Egypt's Mysterious New Pharaoh?
By Dr. Raymond Stock, Writing Fellow, Middle East Forum
Reviewed by James L. Abrahamson, contributing editor
An author and twenty-year resident of Egypt, Raymond Stock undertakes to answer key questions about General Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, Egypt’s de facto new ruler: “Is he a person of high principle, or a lowly opportunist?” “[I]n a land which has known five thousand years of mainly centralized, one-man rule, where will he lead the troubled, ancient nation?” How should the U.S. “react to al-Sisi's removal of Egypt's first ‘freely elected’ president” and subsequent “bloody crackdown on Morsi’s group”?
The U.S. has, so far, been reluctant to call al-Sisi’s actions a “coup” and “cut-off all of our aid to Egypt” and risk losing “favored access to the Suez Canal, maintenance of the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty and crucial bi-lateral security cooperation against international terrorism.” Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood’s “peaceful demonstrators,” whom the U.S. should never have supported, “have been busy burning scores of Christian churches and schools along with hundreds of Christian businesses while attacking other citizens, museums and public buildings.”
Relying on a thesis that al-Sisi wrote while a student at the U.S. Army War College, Robert Springborg asserts that the general intends to restore not democracy but a hybrid regime that combines Islamism and militarism, and other authors stress his religious conservatism, not radicalism, and his nationalism. In that, they compare al-Sisi to Gamal Abdel-Nassar and Anwar al-Sadat, who also cooperated with Israel and had no use for the Muslim Brotherhood. Adding to the uncertainty, al-Sisi has begun to flirt with both Russia and China and express disappointment with the U.S. Stock speculates that al-Sisi’s purpose may well be to promote Egyptian prestige, assert full sovereignty, and boost his country’s Middle Eastern influence.
Stock believes, however, that the several more immediate presidential actionsrather than a long view—prompted al-Sisi to overthrow a president who had: Favored Tarek al-Zomor, whose group assassinated al-Sadat; made Adel Mohamed al-Khayat, the group’s leader in its campaign against Mubarak, the governor of Luxor; advocated a new caliphate based on Jerusalem, which risked a “war to the death” with Israel and an end to Egypt’s independence; and attempted to “turn Egypt into a one-party Islamist dictatorship.
In the end, a pious and patriotic general may have acted because he “loved Egypt more,” too much more to tolerate presidential behavior likely to cause civil war. Only time will reveal whether al-Sisi is more nationalist than Islamist and will guide Egypt to stability as a flawed “democrat in uniform” in the manner of the generals who once ruled Turkey and Pakistan. At the least, the Muslim Brotherhood will not rule Egypt for now.