Since the ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi on July 3, Defense Minister and Field Marshall Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has made various appearances, in which he addressed the nation with phrases that have shaped a certain discourse in post-June 30 Egypt.
One of the most memorable speeches, that triggered fervent applause as well as satire, was one he gave on the fortieth anniversary of the October 6 War. He gave an emotional speech that was replete with promises, hopes, and slogans.
“Don’t you know you are the light of our eyes?” Sisi asked Egyptians, referring to the “special bond” between the people and the Armed Forces. This phrase has been the source of both pride and ridicule for many on social media.
“We have always been taught in the military to remember how the people stood by us [following the defeat by Israel in the 1967 War]. Before you feel pain, we would die to prevent it,” he said, addressing hundreds of those who attended the anniversary celebrations.
He referred to the military-backed ouster of Morsi following mass protests as a “serious challenge,” because “protecting the people’s will and their freedom of choice is a very great and dangerous matter,” he added.
Sisi’s presidency has always been a subject of contention and concern, not only by Egyptians, but international news outlets as well.
In a rare interview, conducted by the Washington Post on August 3, just one month after Morsi’s ouster, Sisi remained elusive over his presidential bid. Answering a question on Egyptians’ perception of him as a hero and whether or not he would run for president as a result, Sisi said: “I am not a hero. I’m just a person who loves his people and country and felt hurt that Egyptians were treated in such a way. Egyptian people were crying in their homes. Heroism comes only from mutual sentiments. It’s not an epic deed that has been conducted.”
For the second time in the interview, Sisi was asked about his presidency, and his answer seemed even more indirect: “I want to say that the most important achievement in my life is to overcome this circumstance, [to ensure] that we live peacefully, to go on with our roadmap and to be able to conduct the upcoming elections without shedding one drop of Egyptian blood.”
“But are you going to run?” a Washington Post reporter asked. “You just can’t believe that there are people who don’t aspire for authority,” Sisi replied.
“Is that you?” the reporter asked again. “Yes; it’s the hopes of the people that is our [hope]. And when the people love you — this is the most important thing for me. The pains and suffering of the people are too many. A lot of people don’t know about the suffering. I am the most aware of the size of the problems in Egypt,” he reiterated.
Commenting on increasing criticism of Sisi and the government for not yet dispersing protest camps by the Brotherhood in Rabea and Nahda, Sisi said that he was concerned about bloodshed. “Can we sacrifice thousands of people on the street just to evade criticism? I cannot do anything that would lead to bloodshed to evade criticism,” Sisi replied.
The two protest camps were dispersed 11 days later and claimed the lives of hundreds according to human rights organizations.
Expressing his anger towards potential aid cuts by the US administration, Sisi said that this is not the right way to deal with a “patriotic military.”
“I just want to emphasize that you are dealing with a person who is honorable, sincere, someone who has integrity. Someone who would not have respected himself if he didn’t do what he did [on July 3]. I could have just satisfied myself being Minister of Defense and turned my head away from the Egyptians and the problems from which they were suffering every day, and just left the Egyptian scene to boil. We changed places — the military and Egyptians. We wanted to give them comfort, to relieve their suffering, and take the suffering on our shoulders. We relieved their suffering and took it on our shoulders,” he told the Washington Post.
Yet, the most contentious statements that the recently-promoted military leader has ever said were part of videos leaked by Rassd News Network (RNN). In these videos, Sisi addressed various issues related to his views on the economy, the media and the judiciary.
In one of the leaked videos, that is said to date back to December 2012, Sisi addressed certain military leaders who were increasingly unhappy about the way the media was discussing military issues.
“The law does not allow publishing any news related to the Armed Forces, even a name in an obituary, without the approval of military intelligence. But the status quo created after the revolution removed all previous restrictions, not only for us, but for the entire state. The state is demolished and is now being reconstructed,” Sisi explained.
“We are trying to absorb [these changes] as much as possible. There is an upcoming parliament, and questioning [for military leaders] may take place. What will we do? How will you [military leaders] be affected by this,” he asked.
One of the military leaders indirectly criticized the performance of Armed Forces spokesperson Ahmed Mohamed Ali. “But Ahmed Ali is so attractive to women,” Sisi said, amid laughs from attendees.
The same officer was also concerned about the absence of any redlines for the media when discussing military-related matters, but Sisi replied that for these redlines to return, the Armed Forces must create “arms” inside the media.
“For one arm to be created, it takes time and effort. It takes a long time until you create suitable media influence. Are we working on this? Definitely. Are we achieving results? Better results. But we did not yet achieve what we are aspiring for,” he said.