Despite the weekend’s bloodshed with reports of more than 100 violent pro-Morsi Muslim Brotherhood supporters dead and hundreds more wounded, which had some Western leaders whining, General Abdel Fattah Al Sisi remains the most popular figure in Egypt.
“People of Egypt, political parties, where are you?” asked Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a former Muslim Brotherhood leader on Al Jazeera today. “How can it be that there is no reaction condemning this massacre and mourning the people who died? I don’t know what is wrong with Egyptians.”
Online WSJ With dozens of Islamist protesters dead and hundreds wounded, this weekend in Egypt was the bloodiest since the army overthrew President Mohammed Morsi earlier this month. Egyptians were not surprised by the violence: The man behind Mr. Morsi’s ouster, Gen. Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, had all but promised the crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters.
In days that followed the July 3 coup, news reports suggested that “the military” was running the country on an interim basis until elections could be held. It has since become clear that Gen. Sisi is firmly in charge, and his intentions are less clear.
In a lengthy, televised speech on Wednesday, Gen. Sisi called for nationwide rallies on Friday to give the armed forces a “mandate” to combat “violence and terrorism”—a synonym for the Brotherhood. In issuing the threat, Gen. Sisi instantly brought to mind Gamal Abdel Nasser, another adventurous Egyptian army officer who led his own coup, against King Farouk in 1952. Nasser ushered in a dictatorship that would last until 2011. In 1954, Nasser rounded up and tortured thousands of Brotherhood members. Many Egyptians worried that history was repeating itself.
On Friday, Gen’s Sisi’s supporters turned out by the hundreds of thousands in many cities. Nearly all of the country’s television channels, including privately owned ones, devoted their coverage to the pro-army rallies. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Mr. Morsi’s supporters gathered in an eastern Cairo suburb, Nasr City, where they have held a defiant vigil for over a month. In the early hours Saturday, when some of the protesters attempted to expand the area of the sit-in, security forces opened fire. The Brotherhood insists that the attack was a “premeditated massacre.” The security forces contend that the Islamists were armed and “created a crisis.” So far, the army and Gen. Sisi have remained silent.
Pro-Morsi supporters say they are “prepared to die for the cause.” Buh Bye!
In the weeks since Mr. Morsi was removed from office, Gen. Sisi has been the country’s most popular figure. State-run media regularly compare “the field marshall of the people” to larger-than-life Egyptian leaders like Anwar Sadat and even Ahmose, the pharaoh who expelled the Hyksos invaders from the country 3,500 years ago.
Even after Saturday’s bloodshed, the media largely echoed the official line blaming the Muslim Brotherhood, not Gen. Sisi’s rallying cry against the Islamist group. But in throwing over Mr. Morsi, Gen. Sisi is largely responsible for alienating Islamists, who account for at least a quarter of the population. On Friday, as pro-army crowds gathered, the government added fuel to the fire by filing criminal charges against Mr. Morsi for collaborating with the Hamas militant group during the 2011 Egyptian revolution.
Gen. Sisi has promised that he has no desire to rule. But many find it hard to believe that he will head back to the barracks after seizing the heights of Egyptian political life. And with hundreds of thousands of supporters chanting Gen. Sisi’s name in Tahrir Square, the little-known general is increasingly looking like Egypt’s king rather than its kingmaker.
At 58, Gen. Sisi is a former head of the military intelligence services and the youngest member of the military council that ruled Egypt after the Hosni Mubarak regime fell two years ago. The general studied at the U.S. Army War College and the Defense Academy of the United Kingdom. He was a military attaché in Saudi Arabia and was one of the Egyptian military officials who coordinated antiterror efforts with the U.S. after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Gen. Sisi, it turns out, was one of a handpicked few that Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi—Gen. Sisi’s long-serving predecessor—groomed to become the army’s future leaders.
Ousting the president and bringing the army back into politics was a risky move that Gen. Sisi couldn’t have taken unless he had solid support inside the institution. It appears he did. “It was not an individual decision. He had the blessing of his mentors and the ‘core leadership’ of the army,” another army source told me.