CAIRO — Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi visited North Sinai on July 4 in the wake of the Sheikh Zuweid terrorist attack and the assassination of Egypt’s Attorney General Hisham Barakat. During the trip, Sisi wore his military uniform. Following the visit, social media activists on Twitter and Facebook started discussing his wardrobe choice using the hashtag #military_uniform. Some users expressed support for Sisi’s visit to the site of the terrorist attack in uniform, believing that seeing it boosts the morale of forces serving in Sinai. Others, however, objected to the move, saying that Sisi’s return to wearing the military uniform after having taken it off before the presidential elections shows that Egypt is still under military rule.
The fact that Sisi went back to wearing the military uniform he had sported for 45 years is not news to the Egyptians. Since the July 23, 1952, revolution, they have been accustomed to seeing presidents with a military background reappear in their uniforms, except for former President Mohamed Hosni Mubarak. President Mohamed Naguib wore his uniform during his rule after the 1952 revolution, and so did President Gamal Abdel Nasser in the first days of his rule. Anwar al-Sadat did the same during Egypt’s war against the Israeli occupation of Sinai, and he kept wearing the uniform even after the war, until he drew his last breath.
Sisi wore his uniform during the visit to North Sinai for the first time since having taken the reins of the country 16 months ago.
Abdel-Moneim Said, chairman and director of the Regional Center for Strategic Studies in Cairo, told Al-Monitor, “Sisi did not wear the honorary military suit but the field combatant uniform, for two main reasons.”
According to Said, the first is symbolic and a result of the “desire of the president to salute the soldiers who are serving in Sinai and facing rampant terrorism there. According to military traditions, only a military commander clad in the armed forces’ uniform can salute the soldiers in appreciation of their efforts to combat terrorism — not only in Sinai, but across Egypt.”
In his speech to the soldiers and officers during his visit to North Sinai July 4, Sisi cited this reasoning, saying, “Just to be clear, I had to wear this uniform to express my appreciation and respect for the job you are doing. The fate of Egypt and its people are in our hands.”
Said added, “The second reason prompting Sisi to wear the military uniform stems from his desire to appear as a military leader among his soldiers in North Sinai, which is the battlefield of fighting terrorist groups.”
Al-Monitor interviewed Maj. Ihab Abu Aysh about this incident. Abu Aysh commented, “This visit carried a message that Egypt is at war against terrorism," and "the president, who is the high commander of the armed forces, is entitled to do so as per the Egyptian Constitution in times of war, for President Anwar al-Sadat wore his military uniform in the Oct. 6, 1973, war.”
He noted, “The president’s appearance in military uniform among the officers and soldiers boosted their morale. His presence as a higher commander in the battlefield also counters the argument that only low-ranking officers and soldiers die in the confrontations with terrorism, while higher commanders and army leaders work in their ivory towers, far from terrorist threats.”
Abu Aysh added, “Sisi’s visit to North Sinai in military uniform carried a message to Egyptian society that there is interest in Sinai’s incidents. It also showed foreign countries that Egypt is at war against terrorism and that the situation is under control with the nearing inauguration of the Suez Canal.”