Protesters cheer with drums near a poster of army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as they gather for a mass protest to support the army in Tahrir Square in Cairo, July 26, 2013.  (photo by REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih )

The General Sisi I Know

Author: almasryalyoum

I don't recall ever having hesitated before writing something as much as I have now.

SummaryPrint The editor-in-chief of Al-Masry Al-Youm, Yasser Rizq, provides perspective on Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and the lead-up to the ouster of Egyptian President Morsi.
Author
TranslatorTyler Huffman

Whenever I picked up my pen to write about the people's revolution, which I had predicted in verbal statements and writings and which was inevitably approaching  … and about the anger of the masses who saw the glow of the flame before they heard the sound of its explosion … and about the army taking to the streets for a second time — something I knew was definitely coming — to prevent chaos, protect the nation and its security, defend the people and preserve the joints of the state from crumbling …

Whenever I began to write about the end of a miserable and blind regime, which I had warned many times was deaf and did not hear the warning bells ringing as it pushed the country toward the path of destruction … and about the demise of an organization I had once believed in, despite its desire for power and greed … It will no longer be — as it once was — a voice of opposition in the history of the nation ...

Every time I went to write about a past that was rejected by history itself … and about a future that appeared fraught with risk and danger … my pen guided me to write about a man who had once evoked many questions among Egyptians, was sometimes puzzling, yet later became the focus of their dreams and the source of their admiration. 

I first met Defense Minister Maj. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi 28 months ago, a few weeks after the Jan. 25 revolution. At the time, he was director of military intelligence. I met him during a special meeting that also included three senior leaders from the armed forces and three prominent intellectuals. This was the first time I got to know him personally, despite the fact that I had worked as a military editor for 25 years. During that period, I became acquainted with most leaders of the armed forces. 

During the meeting, talks focused on the secrets and details of the army's role in supporting the Jan. 25 revolution. We also discussed the road map for the first phase of the transitional period, which aimed to build [the state] by laying the foundation. It began with parliamentary elections and ended with the constitution, and the rest is history.

That day we came out of the meeting enthralled by the personality of this young leader. He was calm, cultured, religious, level-headed, articulate and full of pride for Egyptian nationalism and the deep-rooted military establishment

Later, I learned that this young leader was the first member of the armed forces to predict the popular revolution against the regime of former President Hosni Mubarak. He wrote a report that included his position regarding the repercussions of the events, which [in his view] would lead to a popular uprising that would oust the regime. He submitted the report to Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi in early April 2010. Tantawi asked him: "At that time, what do you think we should do?" He replied: "We will support the people's uprising and will not fire on a single citizen."

In his report, Sisi predicted that the uprising would occur in May 2011, based on information that indicated Mubarak might retire on his 83rd birthday, transferring power to his son [Gamal Mubarak]. Yet the revolution came 13 weeks before this date, for two reasons: the parliamentary elections at the end of 2010, and the Tunisian revolution

At the time, I wrote a story about the great leader Tantawi and the young Gen. Sisi, without referring to their heroism. 

In the following months, I met with Gen. Sisi on many occasions. As the end of the transitional phase approached, our contacts increased. Among leaders of the armed forces, there was nearly a consensus that Gen. Sisi would become the commander in chief [of the armed forces]. This would come following the expected retirement of Tantawi and Chief of Staff Sami Anan, when power was handed over to the president-elect. 

Early on in the presidential campaign, Gen. Sisi asked me my expectations regarding the results of the vote. I said to him: "It's too early to say for sure, but the course of the campaign thus far indicates the possibility of a runoff between Amr Moussa and Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh." This was a few weeks before the famous debate between the two. Sisi replied: "And what about Dr. Mohammed Morsi? In my opinion, he'll be one of the names in the runoff." I was shocked, for Morsi had been the replacement of [the Brotherhood's original candidate] Khairat al-Shater. Opinion polls at the time put Morsi as the least popular of the five strongest candidates. However, I hid my surprise because I knew the accuracy of Gen. Sisi's predictions. 

When Morsi won the presidency, I asked Gen. Sisi: "Do you think that Morsi is capable of breaking free from the control of the [Brotherhood], its guidance office and the supreme guide?"

His answer was of profound significance: "The question is not whether he is capable, but rather does he want this?"

Tantawi, hesitant in his decision to leave on June 30, 2012, retired at the height of his glory — a ruler handing over power to the elected president. He had not imagined that he would leave the task of writing the final page of his military career to President Morsi, who saw the day as a brilliant victory by the Muslim Brotherhood over military rule, which had lasted 60 years. 

On Aug. 12, 2012, Morsi issued a decree appointing Lt. Gen. Sisi commander in chief [of the armed forces] and minister of defense. He also appointed Lt. Gen. Sedki Sobhi commander of the Third Army Chief of Staff. The fact was that Morsi was putting his stamp on decision-making in the military establishment by choosing its new leader and new chief of staff. 

Ever since Sisi took over the leadership of the armed forces on Aug. 12, the Brotherhood's rumor mill began saying that he was a Brotherhood member — that his father, uncle and children [were Brotherhood members], and his wife wore a full-face veil. They said that he was a tool for the Brotherhood in Brotherhoodizing and Islamizing the armed forces. When I heard these rumors — both written and verbal — I scoffed at them. Sisi was as removed from the group's ideology as anyone could be. He, more so than Brotherhood leaders, understood the true nature of religion and moderate Islam. You could almost say that he embraced the principle of Egyptian nationalism, which the Brotherhood opposed. He believes that the people are both the leader and the teacher. This is not how the Brotherhood sees it, [in its opinion the people] are a herd to be driven, and a crowd that must submit [to Brotherhood authority]. 

The Brotherhood's aim [in spreading these rumors] was to make the Egyptian people despair about keeping their army purely nationalistic, free from the viruses of political affiliation and frequent lies. It seems that the Brotherhood leaders believe their own lies!

After Sisi took office, his primary concern was to restore the combat efficiency of the armed forces' units and formations — after they had spent 18 months in the streets and squares — and developing their armament according to a one-year plan. Sisi's main focus was on keeping the Egyptian army removed from the political game and partisan conflicts. He had hoped — according to what he told me — that the political forces would reach a consensus for the sake of Egypt's future. He hoped that the elected president would succeed in his difficult task, and that he would abstain from engaging in clashes with the pillars of the state. This was especially true after Morsi clashed with the judiciary, when he reneged on his vows to respect the Constitution and the law. He canceled the Supreme Constitutional Court's decision to nullify parliament, after only eight days in office. 

Morsi canceled the commemoration [ceremonies] for the [1973] October War victory, and the celebration that was held on this occasion was catastrophic by all standards. 

While the armed forces had been responsible for organizing the protocols of the ceremony, Morsi withdrew this authority from them and assigned the task to his Brotherhood minister of youth. Leaders from the October War ignored the invitation to this celebration, and [Morsi] filled the bleachers with members of the [Brotherhood-affiliated] Freedom and Justice Party. The assassin who killed the late President Anwar Sadat — the hero of the October War — sat on the main platform. The defense minister and leaders of the armed forces were far removed from the forefront of the scene, on the day that was meant to celebrate them. 

This celebration rubbed salt into the wounds of army members, who had still not recovered from the shock of the abrupt dismissal of Tantawi and Anan. The anger among the ranks of the armed forces reached a boiling point, and it seemed to everyone that Morsi considered himself to be commander in chief of the armed forces. 

Resentment increased in the days that followed, as the result of several events. A number of newspapers published reports that were disparaging toward Tantawi and Anan, and Brotherhood-affiliated websites rushed to publish anything that harmed their image. Then, Sisi was called to a meeting with the presidency to discuss how to secure the "million-man march" [that was called for by the Brotherhood on Oct. 12, 2012, to protest the acquittals in the "Battle of the Camels" court case]. It became clear that the purpose of the meeting was to dismiss the attorney general, and aimed at involving the army in the conflict between the presidency and the judiciary. 

For the first time since Morsi came to power, a statement was issued on behalf of leaders, officers and soldiers from the armed forces expressing their dissatisfaction with the insults directed at former [army] leaders. This was the first red flag for Morsi and the Brotherhood. 

Day after day, Morsi and the Brotherhood's errors compounded, while the people's economic and security situations deteriorated. Morsi's foreign visits became a source of embarrassment for the nation and a topic of ridicule among the masses. His actions ignored all established protocol and his conduct did not reflect that of a statesman. 

Yet the rift between the Morsi regime and the people occurred on Nov. 21, 2012, when he issued a constitutional declaration that went against all legal and constitutional norms and rules. He then issued an amended constitutional declaration on Dec. 8, in which he tried to deceive the masses, but failed miserably. 

Only three days after this declaration, hundreds of thousands of angry Egyptians took to the streets to surround the presidential palace and call for Morsi to step down. This was known as "Great Tuesday." Meanwhile, Morsi and his men were inside the palace discussing their futures in the event that Morsi left power.

However, the protests dispersed due to the stupidity of some of the political forces. They didn't realize that had they continued for a few more days, this would have been enough to oust Morsi. 

A day later, Sisi called for a meeting between the president and all political forces in the Air Force Olympic Village in the New Cairo district, in order to break the political impasse and reach a consensus. Before announcing this meeting, Sisi informed the president of his decision and Morsi welcomed it. 

Yet while those who had been invited were on their way to the meeting, they received urgent calls informing them that the meeting had been postponed indefinitely. Morsi — under pressure from the Brotherhood's supreme guide — had changed his mind and asked Sisi to cancel the meeting. 

A new year arrives, and with it more crises

On Jan. 30, 2013, Sisi met with students from the Military Academy. Within the walls of this historic educational and military edifice, Sisi sent a letter to the president and all political forces warning them of the possibility that the state could collapse. Then, Sisi met with Morsi and clearly said to him: "You have failed and your project is over!"

Two weeks later, Chief of Staff Sedki Sobhi made a surprising statement to a TV station in Abu Dhabi, saying, "The armed forces do not belong to a particular faction and don't practice politics. We have our eyes on what's going on, and if the people need us we'll be on the streets in less than a second."

On Jan. 17, a wave of rumors were spread online stating that there was an intent to dismiss Sisi. The armed forces' apparatuses traced these rumors and discovered that they were coming from websites belonging to the Brotherhood. The next day, a military source issued a strongly worded statement saying: "Dismissing Sisi would mean political suicide for the entire regime."

Thus, relations between the presidential palace and the Ministry of Defense were disrupted, after relations had previously been disrupted between the former and the judiciary, the media and the police; and even earlier between the presidency on one hand, and the political forces and the public on the other. 

In the last meeting between Morsi and members of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, on April 12, 2013, the president listened to a presentation given by military leaders on the deteriorating situation in the country. He also heard their candid views on his strange and suspicious positions regarding the Hala'ib Triangle [dispute] and the Suez Canal project. 

For the first time ever following a military meeting, the defense minister came out to speak along with the president, who stood among the leaders looking tense and confused, as though he was "concerned."

These days weighed heavily on the hearts of Egyptians, and at the end of April the Tamarod movement was born, marking the beginning of a new chapter in the lives of Egyptians. 

On May 11, Sisi invited a group of elites — including academics, intellectuals, media personalities, artists and athletes — to attend a "war inspection" ceremony by the Ninth Armored Division in Dahshour, southwest of Giza. This was the first time civilians had attended a highly sensitive military exercise.   

It was a wonderful day. Well-known artists, athletes and media figures mingled with the brave men of the armed forces. There were loud shouts of "the army and the people are one."

During the celebration, Sisi addressed the audience from the podium and then held discussions with the attendees. Renowned lawyer Ragai Attia asked him about the army taking to the streets. 

Sisi's response came as a disappointment to those who had imagined that the army would act on behalf of the people and in support of the revolution, and overthrow the regime in a military coup. 

Sisi had called on the political forces to come to an understanding, and said that the army taking to the streets (in a coup) would take the country back 30 or 40 years. 

As the leaders from the armed forces and the attendees were sitting down to lunch, I got up and Sisi approached me. He asked me for my opinion on his speech. I told that some people could take it the wrong way. The masses might imagine that the army has abandoned them, even if millions [of protesters] take to the streets. Also, the Muslim Brotherhood might think it is a green light for them to do as they please. I asked him directly: "Was that your intent?" He replied, "Of course not. … Our position is clear: We are with the people regardless of what they decide."

Before the guests left the dining hall, Sisi thanked them for their attendance. Then he said something that left them fascinated: "Don't rush things." He repeated himself, "Please, don't rush things."

While I was preparing to leave, I stood next to a prominent field commander and said, "The country is suffocating and the people are frustrated." Provokingly, I added, "If the people take to the streets, would you leave them prey to the Brotherhood's militias?" He responded, "We are at the disposal of the people." He then put him thumb over his pinky, gesturing the number three. He said, "Only three days in the streets … "

The pace of events in the country accelerated. The Tamarod movement received over 20 million signatures and set June 30 as the date on which the masses would take to the streets to overthrow Morsi. 

I was in London for medical treatment on [Sunday] June 23 when Sisi issued his resounding statement during a lecture held by the armed forces at Galaa Theatre. During this speech, he gave the political forces — and he meant Morsi, first and foremost — a period of seven days to come to an agreement to end the crisis before [Sunday] June 30. 

I learned that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces had met in a small meeting and agreed on this deadline. 

I saw Morsi's speech on Wednesday evening, June 26, in which he said nothing memorable, only antagonizing those he had not already antagonized. 

I returned to Cairo on Thursday night, June 27, and learned that Shater, the deputy leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Saad Katatni, the head of the Freedom and Justice Party, had requested a meeting with Sisi following his speech at Galaa Theatre. This meeting was held on Monday [June 24]. 

Initially, Shater spoke with a tone of reproach regarding the deadline given by Sisi. Sisi let him continue speaking for nearly an hour, as he sat there smiling and watching Shater's provocative speech. This caused surprise among one of Sisi close aides who knows him well. Shater warned that the Brotherhood was not capable of controlling its cadres or those of its allies — including political Islam groups and other armed factions — in the event that the tense situation persisted. These groups had already resorted to attacking military units in the Sinai and other regions. As Shater spoke, he moved his index figure as though he were pressing a trigger, and made noises imitating the sound of gunfire. 

Shater finished speaking and Sisi looked at him, saying, "Are you finished?" Sisi adjusted himself in his seat and became angered, with sparks in his eyes. He yelled at Shater: "What do you want? Finish digesting what you've already eaten before you start thinking about more food. … You've destroyed the country. … You've made people hate religion. … You're the worst enemies of the Islamic call, I won't allow you to scare and terrorize the people. I swear to God that whoever fires a bullet at a citizen or approaches a military facility will meet his end; him and whoever supports him."

Shater turned pale and began to stammer, trying to calm Sisi. Meanwhile, Katatni shrank into his seat. [Shater] said: "Tell us what you want?" Sisi replied: "We've told you what we want in three reports given to the president that speak about the danger of the situation and suggest solutions." He then gave Katatni copies of these reports before Katatni and Shater left his office. 

On this particular day, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces took a unanimous decision: If tens of millions of Egyptians take to the streets and squares to demand the fall of the president, the army will support them. Sisi told them that he would continue with his efforts to convince the president to submit to the demands of the masses, most importantly holding early presidential elections. 

The next day Sisi sat down with Morsi for two hours, trying to convince him to provide solutions in his speech that was to be given that evening, without anyone having to appeal to him. It seemed that Morsi was convinced, and he promised Sisi that his speech would contain these solutions and proposals. 

Yet, as usual, Morsi reneged on his promises. His speech was like those we have seen and heard in the past. 

Then came June 30. Tens of millions of Egyptians took to the streets in demonstrations and marches in squares throughout Egypt in a scene that was unprecedented in modern human history. 

The people were waiting for the armed forces to issue a statement, after the seven-day deadline expired. The statement, however, was not issued that day, it was released the next day and included a new 48-hour deadline. This renewed deadline refutes all allegations regarding the June 30 revolution that say that the army's intervention in response to the masses was a military coup. 

Had the army intended to stage a coup, it would have happened months earlier. There were many events and opportunities available [to stage a coup]. Had [the army] been determined to carry out a coup, there would have been no need for the first deadline. And had it wanted to exploit the massive demonstrations to oust the president, the army would never have given a second deadline, allowing Morsi and the Brotherhood to incite division between the people and the army. If Morsi had agreed to hold early presidential elections — or even a referendum on his presidency — the tables would have been turned on everyone.  

A Brotherhood leader called me on the evening of [Monday] July 1, after the statement was issued announcing the second deadline. While speaking to me, he downplayed the size of the massive crowds that took to the streets on June 30, and said that the 48-hour deadline was intended for the political forces, not the president. 

The day the second deadline was announced, Morsi met with Sisi and Maj. Gen. Mahmoud Higazi, the director of military intelligence. The president tried to win their favor, saying, "You'll get everything you want!" The two leaders replied, "All we want is to ensure the interests of the people."

Massive demonstrations broke out once again on Wednesday, July 3. At noon, I contacted Ahmed Fahmi, the head of the dissolved Shura Council, who I knew was one of the three last-minute mediators between the army and the president. I asked him about his meeting that morning with military leaders in the headquarters of the Military Intelligence Services, and about the president's reaction to mediation efforts. Based on what I heard, I realized that the president was determined to offer no more than the dismissal of the government and the holding of parliamentary elections. 

And the ingredients were in place from July 3 onward. The head of the Supreme Constitutional Court took over the management of the country's affairs, a new government was formed, and the road map was launched to choose experts to consider amending the 2012 Constitution.  

Meanwhile, the Egyptian street was threatened by terrorist activity, violent crimes and acts of intimidation. This was fed by calls on the part of instigators against the army, citizens and national unity, and by fantasies of turning back the clock and reviving those who were now politically dead, without the order of God and the people. 

A few days before Sisi gave his speech in Alexandria, calling on the people to take to the streets, I met with him in his office at the headquarters of the General Secretariat of the Armed forces. The meeting lasted two hours. 

He was just as I had known him — calm, confident, clear-minded. He spoke about the future of Egypt, while gazing in front of himself, as though he saw a bright and present danger. Sisi was filled with nationalistic feelings, to the extent that his eyes filled with tears when he heard the words "the great, free Egyptian people."

Sisi seemed firm as he clung to his determination and insistence on two things. First, he would not leave citizens prey to intimidation, nor would he allow the country to be a scene of terror. Second, he would not run for the presidency under any circumstances. He is content with the honor of serving as the general commander of the glorious Egyptian army, which he considers to be his ultimate goal. He is pleased that through this stance he sincerely serves the great Egyptian people, and hopes to meet God carrying his book in his right hand. 

As I left Sisi, he said to me, "Egypt is the mother of the world and, God willing, it will fulfill this role." I said to him, "God willing, as long there are sincere men in this country."

As I left, he gave off an air of dignity that reminded me of the extraordinary leader Gamal Abdel Nasser. 

EDITOR'S NOTE: Yasser Rizq is the editor-in-chief of Al-Masry Al-Youm. He previously worked at the state-owned Al-Akhbar for 30 years. 

Read More: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/politics/2013/07/sisi-egypt-morsi-ouster.html

Published Cairo, Egypt Established 2003
Language Arabic Frequency daily

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