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Egypt

Egypt In His Hands? Snapshot Of General Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi

The Egyptian Army Chief and Defense Minister had ordered the ultimatum to President Morsi, and then followed through. A portrait of Egypt's strongest strong man.

General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi
General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi
Véronique Kiesel

“Morsi isn't our president any more. Sisi is with us!”

These were the public cries for the unlikely new hero of Egyptian revolutionaries: General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, chief of the Egyptian Army and Defense Minister, gave off quite a stiff impression in his tight outfit, as he took his first steps on the international stage.

On Monday, when he ordered a 48-hour ultimatum for Mohammed Morsi, he became the central figure and the new symbol of strength in the political crisis Egypt continues to face.

During his televised speech on Monday, General al-Sisi had threatened that “if the people’s demands are not met,” the armed forces “would announce a plan and measures to supervise their application.” The army “will not tolerate and will not forgive anyone who avoids facing his own responsibilities.”

The remarks where cheered by the crowds in Tahrir Square. “The army has joined the people,” declared the opposition movement Tamarod, which has organized the recent massive demonstrations.

Back in late 2012, General al-Sisi had already tried to promote a national consensus during the crisis of the new Constitution, but the Muslim Brotherhood refused to negotiate. This time he showed more authority.

The 59-year-old general was virtually unknown to the wider public before being nominated in 2011 by Marshall Hussein Tantawi -- the army chief at the time -- as head of military intelligence within the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, whose mission was to handle the post-Mubarak transition.

He came to be seen as the symbol of this transition, notably in August 2012 when Morsi, just elected President, named him army chief and Defense Minister. He replaced Marshall Tantawi, the man who had served deposed President Hosni Mubarak for more than a decade. The Egyptian press has declared that the nomination of Al-Sisi at this strategic position was made “with the blessing of the Americans and the Saudis.”

American military school

Al-Sisi graduated in military science at the Egyptian military academy in 1977. As an infantry officer, he continued his studies at a British military school in 1992 and an American military school in 2006. It is not an unusual path for Egyptian officers, as Egyptian and American armies maintain very tight relations.

Since the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel of 1979, the yearly subsidy given by Washington to the Egyptian army has been $1.3 billion. As a further sign of his closeness with Washington, al-Sisi was Egypt's point man in working with American intelligence services in the fight against terrorism in the region. He was also a military attaché in Saudi Arabia under Mubarak's reign, and is said to still maintain excellent relations with the high dignitaries in the Gulf.

People had pointed out his affection for the Muslim Brotherhood when Morsi chose him as army chief: he remains a very pious man, his wife is veiled and his uncle, Abbas Al-Sisi was an important figure within the movement.

Still, Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi remains most of all a military man, a great admirer of former president Gamal Abdel Nasser, an army colonel who led the revolution that gave birth to modern Egypt.

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