Tahrir Square on January 25, 2014 said everything you need to know about what others have said about Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
Egyptian families descended on the square en masse, ostensibly to celebrate the third anniversary of the January 25 uprising, when Egypt deposed a former military man who had been president for 30 years.
They armed themselves with Sisi paraphernalia: Abdel Fattah masks, Abdel Fattah stickers, posters declaring him “lion of Egypt.” A couple got married underneath his image, both in full bridal outfits.
Sisi himself is a man of few words, but that vacuum has been more than filled by others in recent months as expectations rose that the newly appointed field marshal would announce his candidacy for the presidency. Egypt has been assaulted by a slew of paeans to the defense minister since June 30, when Egyptians took to the streets in huge numbers demanding the removal of former President Mohamed Morsi.
Some of these tributes seem to suggest that Sisi’s appearance on the scene was a matter of fate.
“Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s name lit up the darkness. He was called upon at a supreme moment in history; a kind of mysterious rendezvous with destiny. He was a hero like no other! He aroused attention without exhausting it. Nothing that touched the common run of mortals made any impression on him,” wrote actress Lubna Abdel Aziz breathlessly in state-owned newspaper Al-Ahram.
Former presidential candidate Amr Moussa was clear. “We will make him run [for the presidency if he decides not to],” he said in December 2013.
Addressing Sisi directly in an Armed Forces-organized seminar, the formidable deputy head of the Constitutional Court Tahany al-Gabaly said, “the people chose you before June 30, and now they are demanding that you nominate yourself to the presidency.”
Business tycoon Naguib Sawiris said that without Sisi Egypt “will face disaster,” while dentist turned writer Alaa al-Aswany described him as a “national hero.”
Elwy Amin, professor of Islamic jurisprudence at Al-Azhar University, compared Sisi to Tarek ibn Ziyad, the Muslim general from whom Gibraltar derives its name and who led an army into Spain. Amin said that Tarek ibn Ziyad saved Islam and North Africa, and Sisi “saved us from the Brotherhood.”
The hero theme continued with writer Dandarawi al-Hawari, who, writing in Youm7, described Sisi’s nomination as a “necessity.”
“The majority of Egyptians see Sisi as their legendary hero, their savior who can be captain of the ship, who can lead it wisely to a safe port, away from internal and foreign hazards,” he said. “Sisi is the man, the hero that we cannot say no to.”
The resilient Mostafa Bakry, a figure who has survived two regime changes thanks to his fluid political positions, is currently involved in the Masr Baladna campaign that is supporting a Sisi bid for the presidency. Bakry assured us that Sisi “is a stranger to flattery” and will not choose his team on the basis of flattery if elected president.
“The country needs a macho man, a man, a strong leader. There is no one in front of me now, who I have tested, who I know … who I realize is a patriot and can stand up to America and this conspiratorial terrorist alliance except this respectable military leader who belongs to the Egyptian people, Sisi,” Bakry said.
Television demagogue Tawfik Okasha has flip-flopped on Sisi in a spectacular way.
In August 2012 when he was appointed to replace Hussein Tantawy, Okasha accused Sisi of being, “a Muslim Brotherhood member in disguise” and alleged that his wife wears the niqab. He also said that if the army had allowed its men to grow facial hair, Sisi would have grown a beard (as a sign of piety).
Okasha then gradually began to warm to Sisi, in his Okasha way. In September 2013, the Faraeen channel presenter gave Sisi an ultimatum to “rid Egypt of the fifth column or else.” He did not specify what the else was.
After June 30, Faraeen produced a 20-minute documentary called “Two Men” describing how Okasha and Sisi “saved Egypt from the January 25 revolution.”
The savior theme has been a recurring motif.
Writing in Al Arabiya, Abdalla Schleifer said that, “for most Egyptians, ‘Sisi’ is another way of spelling ‘stability’.”
Actress Ilham Shaheen told Al-Wafd that she “feels safe” with Sisi and has “big hopes” that he’ll nominate himself for the presidency.
Journalist Ghada Sherif took it even further and in a spectacular display of emotion written in the vernacular declared that Sisi “just has to wink” and people will take to the streets for him.
“We adore both him and his spokesman,” Sherif said.
Sisi is a youthful looking 56, and much has been made about his alleged effect on women. Abdel Aziz would seem to corroborate this. “In the full vigor of his prime, he exudes a magic charm, afforded to a select few. His physical appearance — and appearance counts — is flawless,” the actress wrote, and then mentioned his “swelling reservoir” of love for Egypt and God that “sealed the deal.”
“His bronzed, gold skin, as gold as the sun’s rays, hides a keen, analytical fire within,” we were told.
Even former Prime Minister Hazem al-Beblawi, at the Davos Economic Forum, invoked Sisi’s looks while dismissing criticisms of Sisi’s potential presidency by pointing to his popular support, particularly from the ladies.
“Don’t forget he’s a handsome man!” Beblawi chuckled.