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A year ago, President Morsi named a soft-spoken, deeply religious younger general to head the armed forces.
Fast forward one year, and now it is the general, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who appears poised to sweep aside the president.—Reuters Photo
A year ago, President Morsi named a soft-spoken, deeply religious younger general to head the armed forces. Fast forward one year, and now it is the general, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who appears poised to sweep aside the president.—Reuters Photo

CAIRO: When President Mohamed Morsi swept aside the ageing commanders of Egypt's military a year ago and named a soft-spoken, deeply religious younger general to head the armed forces, it was a demonstration that the military was now subordinate to Egypt’s first freely elected leader.

Fast forward one year, and now it is the general, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who appears poised to sweep aside the president.

At the time of his appointment last August, the choice of Sisi, 58, seemed to suit both Morsi and the younger generation of army commanders seeking promotion after years under older generals, like 78-year-old Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, Mubarak's defence minister for two decades.

The army had produced the autocrats that had ruled Egypt for the previous 60 years. It had run the country itself during the tumultuous 16 months after the revolution that toppled the last general to serve as president, Hosni Mubarak.

And it had seemed reluctant to hand power to Morsi until the new president briskly dispatched Tantawi and a host of other commanders into retirement.

Egyptians wanted their soldiers back in barracks, and the charismatic, chisel-jawed Sisi spoke like a man who would keep them there. Over the course of the next year, Sisi warned of unrest and political divisions, but repeatedly held firm in asserting that the army should not return to politics.

"The armed forces' loyalty is to the people and the nation," Sisi said in November when Morsi's supporters and opponents clashed on the streets over plans to introduce a new constitution.

Sisi finally ditched his refusal to pick sides on Monday, announcing a dramatic ultimatum that gave Morsi, the man who had chosen him, just 48 hours to agree on a power-sharing deal with his rivals.


A career military man, Sisi was groomed for a leadership role after serving in top roles in the command, intelligence and diplomatic branches of the armed forces.

Among his previous postings were a stint as defence attaché in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and command positions in the Sinai Peninsula which borders Israel and in the Northern Military Region which includes the second city of Alexandria.

“He had been carefully prepared for a high command position,” said Robert Springborg, an expert on the Egyptian military based at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.

Apart from his comparative youth among top ranking commanders, two other attributes made him a good fit for the Islamist Morsi seeking a new generation of military leaders.

In a military known for its secularism, Sisi is a devout Muslim, whose wife is said to wear the niqab full-body covering. And after a year at the US Army War College in Pennsylvania in 2005-2006, he was comfortable with the United States, which funds Egypt’s military with $1.3 billion a year.

“Insiders in the U.S. government and military were aware of him. He was a name that was mentioned when people talked about next generations,” said Springborg.

He had a favourable reputation among those who worked with him in the American military, although his course work was described as showing Islamist leanings, Springborg said.

“Islamic ideology penetrates Sisi's thinking about political and security matters,” he said, citing material Sisi produced while at the course.

Steve Gerras, a retired Army colonel who was Sisi's faculty adviser at the college, described him to Reuters as a serious student and pious Muslim, open to the United States and passionate about Egypt's future.

“He was a serious guy. He is not a guy who would go to a standup comedy show. But at the same time he would stop by – I mean every week ... His eyes were always very warm. His tone was very warm.”


Some liberals were initially wary of Sisi, especially after remarks he made defending the army’s practice – later disavowed – of conducting “virginity tests” on female protesters who complained of abuse.

Nevertheless, the army under Sisi has continued to enjoy widespread support in the country, arguably the only institution that has such favour.

According to a Zogby poll published last month, the army as an institution scored a 94-percent confidence level. About 60 percent of non-Islamists favoured a temporary return to army rule, while almost all Islamists opposed that.

Sisi has carefully nurtured public support for the army in recent days, sending aircraft to drop thousands of Egyptian flags on crowds of cheering protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square.

The army’s dramatic re-entry into politics was not inevitable, said Michael Wahid Hanna of the New York-based Century Foundation.

The army was not angling to get back in and rule, and Sisi in particular was not among the minority of hawks within the army leadership keen on reasserting such a role, Hanna said.

Egyptian military sources say Morsi’s call last month for foreign intervention in Syria was a turning point. Morsi’s Brotherhood went further, backing calls for holy war, rhetoric that alarmed a military that had spent decades hunting down radical militants.

“This doesn't mean that Sisi gives up on the idea that Islam should be a very important consideration in Egyptian national security policy, but this is not the way it's done,” said Springborg said.

“It means he looks at the world from an Islamist framework so he would not want the whole project of Islamism to be destroyed and that's what is now in the offing because the Brotherhood has so mishandled things - Sisi probably feels to some extent betrayed by Morsi and the Brothers who have mishandled things so badly.”

Comments (44) Closed

AK Jul 03, 2013 09:52pm

Another Zia, feel for the Egyptian people,

mimi Jul 03, 2013 10:13pm

Why Islam is so incompatible with all things ? As someone rightly said "Either monarchy or anarchy suits Islamic nations" , give the power to modern day Pharaohs . This is the destiny of all Islamic countries . The real cause behind is Professionalism and Islam and muslims lack it . They only give their best towards religion .

Rao Jul 03, 2013 10:18pm

Your comment, ". Egypt-army-chief-turns-on-the-president-who-promoted-him" is silly. To any proud, patriotic soldier of that rank what comes first is the country and the well being of its people and not allegiance to some politician (Morsi) who became the President and abused the trust of people by trying to Islamize the society. People in Egypt wanted Bread and jobs and not Sharia!

Muhammad Ahmed Mufti Jul 03, 2013 10:28pm

Egyptians should learn from Pakistanis. To give democracy a fair chance, we tolerated world's most corrupt party in power for five years. Any form of democracy is better than allowing another Zia ul Haq for many years to come.

Agha Ata Jul 03, 2013 11:01pm

Another first freely elected leader and his Zia ul Haque. LOL History does repeat itself sometimes in a far country. I hope Sisi now announces election in the next 90 days. Incidentally has Morsi killed someone in the crowd, so far?

G.A. Jul 03, 2013 11:19pm

Soft-spoken Islamist general? Let me guess. He will take over Egypt and promise elections in 90 days but rule for eleven years all the while drowning the country in extremism. Sound familiar?

upkar gill Jul 03, 2013 11:51pm

history repeats itself, see the full muslim history ,son kills father to take throne musharaff throws sharif to take presidency now egypt.

Tamilselvan Jul 04, 2013 12:03am

Somehow this reminds of Bhutto promoting Zia who became one of the worst leaders of Pakistan, Sharif appointing Musharaf and we are seeing his destiny now and several other leaders of Pakistan promoting their buddies who came to bite them hard. Moral of the story. Keep religion and politics separate

Riz Jul 04, 2013 01:29am

De ja vu of Buttho and Zia!

Bharat Patel Jul 04, 2013 01:38am

So similiar to turkey. Doesn't know how important compromise really is.

Awais Jawaid Bangash Jul 04, 2013 01:47am

Pakistan 1958 - A certain Gen.Ayub Khan takes over and the whole nation welcomes him. Pakistan 2013 - After three more military regimes the whole Nation is still bleeding because of the mistake we made then. Hopefully the beautiful People of Egypt will not have to go through our agony.

HM Jul 04, 2013 04:26am

Same old story repeated......Zia & Bhutto, Nawaz & Musharraf.... etc. What is hidden inside is not on the face. "Don't trust them"

m Jul 04, 2013 05:20am

Wonder if he is related to Gen Zia-Ul-Haq

G.A. Jul 04, 2013 06:34am

That's a big hat. Do they really want him to be president?

Huzaifa Akhtar Jul 04, 2013 09:26am

This is bad for Islam. Muslim world should brace for worst times ahead.

Zak Jul 04, 2013 10:05am

Funny how military coup in this day and age is accepted if US backs it. Lesson for Nawaz- not push or meddle in army affairs by personal postings and hounding musharaf.

Ravi Jul 04, 2013 10:46am

Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, did a good job of displacing muslim brotherhood. as their only agenda was islamisation of egypt with no concern for economic or other major issues facing Egypt and country was edging toward civil war. I wish muslim brotherhood will not start taking revenge from army and public

Anees Jul 04, 2013 11:10am

The Bhutto and Zia of Egypt.

ahmedsaeedjan Jul 04, 2013 12:51pm

Good. It will put Nawaz Sharif in check for the rest of his tenure.

Mr.T Jul 04, 2013 01:25pm

Now the Era of Dictatorship will be started in Egypt, another face of general yaha, ayub, zia & mushraff...

Bea Jul 04, 2013 05:06pm

@AK: just come back from Egypt from my hols the people the common person the working class person want him gone food prices are very high plus no fuel and electric shortage its bad i have been going to egypt for nearly 20 years since i was a child i love that country what has happened is sad but i hope that the people of egypt get what they want what they got with Morsi was broken promises.

adeel Jul 04, 2013 06:51pm

@G.A.: yup

Limon Jul 04, 2013 07:40pm

@ahmedsaeedjan: never

Mustafa Jul 04, 2013 09:14pm


And your agenda is Hinduization.

AJ Jul 04, 2013 10:17pm

It just cannot happen without the consent of the West and the house of Saud on board. The State department had a telephone conversation with the general a day before the coup, it was not about what he had for breakfast! - the clamoring and whistle blowing after the fact is an eye wash giving an appearance of 'neutrality'.
I just hope the dissenting parties can open their eyes to what happened in Libya, Tunisia, and now in Syria. Do the Egyptians want to take their country in that direction even if it is sponsored from the outside? It is all about putting acceptable controls in place in these countries including Pakistan.

Imran A. Jul 04, 2013 10:47pm

That's why countries like Saudi Arabia don't have an army. They would rather pay Americans to protect them than have a general who will topple the royal family.

Parvez Jul 05, 2013 12:14am

This simply shows that there are two types of democracies. Obviously the Greeks got it wrong. :-) Jul 05, 2013 12:19am

Democracy meins you vote people follow. Give the 5 years and then if you do not like you remove But you give the 5 years things you do not like you change as next govt You do not do a coup. That makes the Democratic system fail. The people have to understand this. Or they will suffer like Pakistan in the long run Jul 05, 2013 12:21am

democracy means like a marrage the good and the bad and not just the good Jul 05, 2013 12:21am

I think the general turned trator to democracy. my openion

ahmedj Jul 05, 2013 03:37am

Egyptians are going through what we went 40 yrs ago. I wish Egyptians learn from our mistakes rather going through the process themselves. This general is today's hero but future generation will certainly condemn him. With the new regime in place the US will pump-in money with grants as they were doing with Husni Mubarak's government. The inflation will come down and people will give the credit to the military and the Army's proxy government will stay for another decade.
Sad for Egypt the only Arab nation which has pride in them to stare in others eyes.

Harris Mustafa Jul 05, 2013 05:19am

@Huzaifa Akhtar: why is everything about religion?

Harris Mustafa Jul 05, 2013 05:20am

@Awais Jawaid Bangash: And what did 5 years of so called democracy get you? Get real!

faiza g.r. bhatt Jul 05, 2013 07:21am


what Egypt will get is another Husni - an abhorable dictator. Ayub, Zia, and Musharraf are what are known as benevolent dictators.there is no comparison between the two kinds.

kristofer Jul 05, 2013 09:21am

@mimi: ...and how awfully wrong

Somesh Jul 05, 2013 03:40pm

Zia and Musharraf of Egypt.!

MSA Jul 05, 2013 04:09pm

@Zak: The urgent thing that Nawaz should do, is stop hounding Musharraf, and start taking care of the nation's problems. Do not be proud of majority win. Morsi also won by large majority, but he is toppled by his hand-picked General and majority of people.

The world has changed. I don't think, Nawaz is wise enough to read the wall.

Rao Jul 05, 2013 04:47pm

@Muhammad Ahmed Mufti: Don't be silly. That party prevented Pakistan from falling into abyss and gracefully accepted defeat. It also broke the back of the power of the army by slowing thousand cuts. The suggestion somebody would have done wonders is false.

AAA Jul 06, 2013 01:10pm

Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi did the write thing in deposing Morsi, the agent of anti Islamic Forces. To help in creating greater Israel, by helping the Foreign, murderers, looters who are fighting the legitimate Government of Syria. For his sins morsi should be hanged in public

Mr.T Jul 06, 2013 01:34pm

@faiza g.r. bhatt: That's what WE use to say about Pakistan too, what happens then ? did we get it ofcourse but in different face liaquat ali khan, bhutto, benazir, IK, but what people do vote for their on likes and dislikes not think of the country's benifits. Allah send us the leaders fulfill the prayers of people but when they came they been killed, or conspired by their own people. Even if Jesus came back and try to help us they probably say, Jeay bhutto, sada shair, jab tak soraj chand rahay ga, koun bachai ga pakistan...!!!

M R Khawaja Jul 06, 2013 05:40pm

@Rao: Sick minded comments do not deserve a reply.

M R Khawaja Jul 06, 2013 05:43pm

@Ravi: I am sure you belong to democratic group of people I thought only Americans can be you like democracy with your size and shape if not fit your size and shape change it you sick minded democrate.

SAEED KHAN Jul 06, 2013 08:22pm


AKMalick Jul 06, 2013 08:53pm

Mr. Morsi evidently overlooked Nawaz Sharif's experience. Nawaz S promoted a junior general Musharraf over other deserving senior generals. We all know what Musharraf did to Nawaz S.