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.
The Guardian‘s editorial board is similarly worried:
[Sisi] has begun to adopt a special tone of intimacy, that of the leader in deep discussion with his people, which suggest he sees himself in the line of descent from Nasser. …
The Egyptian army’s overweening sense of entitlement is an aspect of the country’s political pathology. An army that has seen no combat for a generation and faces no serious challenge from external enemies nevertheless absorbs massive resources, enjoys marked privileges, and arrogates to itself special political rights. Egypt should be reducing the influence of its military, not reinforcing it. But, in the immediate future, the decisions of the army, and what are probably now its rather nervous civilian allies, are critical. They must release Brotherhood leaders, find a formula for the rehabilitation of Morsi and a framework for talks that the Brotherhood can accept. Otherwise there will soon be more blood on Cairo’s pavements.
But John Beck sees signs that the military’s recent authoritarianism will soon erode popular support for Sisi:
“I think, it’s clear that the issue is the role of the military in politics. Sisi is very much at the forefront in the process of undermining the democratic process,” says Maha Azzam, an associate fellow on the Middle East and North Africa program with the Royal Institute of International Affairs. “I think as each day passes… it’s becoming less credible to stand by what is becoming clearly both a coup and a military takeover and a return of the old regime,” she added. “There’s no grey. You either stand with the military takeover… or you stand against the coup.”
More and more Egyptians may be falling into the latter camp. The Salafist Nour Party — a former ally of the Muslim Brotherhood which then supported the military’s ouster of Morsi — said in a statement on Wednesday that the call for protest “foreshadows civil war.” Other, more secular groups who welcomed Morsi’s ouster also saw Sisi’s announcement as a move designed to provoke violence and create an excuse to impose curfews and increase the military’s hold on power. “We are stuck in the middle between military and fundamental authoritarianism,” says Bassam Maher, an activist and NGO worker.
He added, that while many “revolutionary” activists are becoming increasingly suspicious of Sisi’s motives, they have been reluctant to stand against the military directly because they do not wish to be thought of as aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood or other Islamist groups, which they also oppose. Many activists describe themselves as paralyzed and conflicted about opposing the army’s recent moves.
(Photo: Opponents to deposed Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi hold portraits of Egyptian army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as they demonstrate at Itihadiya main street in Cairo on July 26, 2013. Hundreds of thousands of anti-Morsi protesters gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and around the Itihadiya presidential palace in response to Sisi’s call for Egyptians to show their support for a security clampdown on ‘terrorism’. By Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images)