Geopolitics

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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Society

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel

-Essay-

BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.


Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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