Tue, Jan 21, 2014 - Page 9 News List

Egypt’s army chief said to be focused on nation’s problems

By Hamza Hendawi  /  AP, CAIRO

Having secured victory in a referendum on a relatively liberal constitution that he championed, Egyptian Armed Forces Commander-in-Chief General Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi is turning his attention to the country’s overwhelming array of problems — from health and education to government subsidies and investments, insiders said.

According to information offered by two insiders, senior army officers who work closely with al-Sisi, the military chief could be planning a run for president, capping a stunning transformation for the 59-year-old who started in the infantry.

A year-and-a-half ago, when then-Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi promoted him to defense minister in what has emerged as a colossal political miscalculation, al-Sisi was widely seen as an obscure and acquiescent subordinate.

Then, in swift succession, al-Sisi threw Morsi in jail along with hundreds of his Islamist cohorts, the Muslim Brotherhood was declared a terrorist group with membership in it banned and a carefully orchestrated personality cult appears to have been successfully engineered for the general.

Al-Sisi remains an enigma. Little is known about his private life, other than that he is married with four children. His daily activities and whereabouts are generally hidden from the public view.

Although there are few credible public opinion polls in Egypt to know for sure, al-Sisi appears to have struck a chord through a combination of cunning moves and a personality that offers something for everyone in a country that is highly polarized along religious and socio-economic fault lines.

“It appears that al-Sisi’s populist power is derived from his ability to instill optimism, joy and pride in the hearts of many Egyptians,” said Adel Iskandar, an expert on Arab affairs who lectures at Georgetown University, in a post on social media last week.

“The Muslim Brotherhood, the January 25 [2011] revolutionaries and anyone who opposes the country’s current trajectory must contend with this new fact,” he said.

STRONG SUPPORT

It was evident last week that many people voted for al-Sisi as much as for the new charter.

Many, particularly women, kissed posters of the general after casting their ballots or chanted: “Al-Sisi is my president.”

He had asked women to take their spouses and children to the polls, and the response was overwhelming, with women dominating lines outside polling stations in Cairo and other big cities.

A popular video on social networking sites hyped the sentiment.

“All of Egypt’s women listened to al-Sisi when he asked us to come out and vote... If he needs anything else, he only has to tell us and, God willing, we will not disappoint him,” a female voter said in the clip.

In al-Sisi’s neighborhood of Gamaliya, as in much of the country, he is regarded as a savior and a hero.

In a small alley where he once lived, an office bore this sign: “Headquarters of the campaign asking al-Sisi to run for president.”

A banner nearby declared: “The people of Gamaliya congratulate al-Sisi on his birthday.”

“He is a man that we will all follow, and not just because he comes from Gamaliya,” said driver Mahmoud Farouq, a father of four, who was sitting in a coffee shop.

Sohair Mohammed, a housemaid with two children, expressed her admiration.

“I adore him. I hope he becomes president. If he does not run for president, I may kill myself,” she said.

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