President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is no stranger to flattery. The lead up to his election was characterized by memorable catch phrases, such as, “Don’t you know you are the light of my eyes?” and, “The nation is an embrace.”
As he marks a year in office, this rhetoric has continued into his presidency, often accompanied by pleas and demands for popular support. Regarding matters of national security, however, Sisi has been unyielding, with no sentimentality for those who he alleges pose a threat to the country.
Here are a few memorable instances in which Sisi demonstrated both his firmer and softer sides over the past year.
A bouquet of roses
Kicking off his presidency, Sisi paid a visit to the survivor of a mob sexual assault in Cairo’s Tahrir Square as she celebrated his inauguration; a move that several rights workers criticized as a publicity stunt.
“Don’t be upset,” he reassured her. “We will get you your rights.”
Handing her a bunch of roses, Sisi told her, “The most important thing … Egypt cannot be without you.”
Digging the Suez Canal
In August 2014, Sisi gave an emotional speech as he inaugurated the new Suez Canal project.
“This is all so this little boy has a future,” he said, pointing at a young audience member, “and this little girl. So they don’t say we neglected them.”
He went on to explain that expressing love for one’s nation shouldn’t be by words alone, vowing to achieve all the goals promised for the canal through investment from the people.
“And you’re going to pay means, you’re going to pay,” he said, prompting nervous laughter from the audience.
Sisi then took on a more assertive tone as he addressed the Muslim Brotherhood, asserting that he would only allow “a group that isn’t compatible with us to live among us, if they do not harm us or our country.”
“Do you want me to say that again? he said. “By god, we will not allow anyone to destroy Egypt while we’re here,” stressing three times that doing so “would not be with words.”
Stand by me
Following a series of terrorist attacks targeting military checkpoints, which claimed the lives of at least 29 last January in Arish, Sisi emphasized the need for people’s support in confronting terrorism.
He asserted that the Muslim Brotherhood’s philosophy is either ruling Egyptians or killing them.
“But you refused … So, we said we’d be killed instead of you,” he said, referring to the military’s role in fighting terrorism on behalf of the people. His voice got louder, as he explained that he doesn’t care about anyone except Egyptians. “I am willing to stand against the whole world, but you have to be with me,” he said, “otherwise I can’t.”
Long live Egypt
At the closing ceremony of the Egypt Economic Development Conference last March, Sisi wouldn’t start his address until the group of young people who helped organize the event joined him on stage.
Amid applause, giggles and selfies, he said, “Now you know why I didn’t want to start without them next to me.”
“I want to talk about my country,” Sisi began. “People thought my country died, but no, God created Egypt so it can live.” His speech triggered chants of, “Long live Egypt,” followed by “Long live Sisi,” to which he interjected: “No, long live Egypt and nobody else.”
Speaking about political change over the past four years, Sisi said Egyptians brought about this change, in January 2011 and June 30. “If they want to bring about change again, they will,” he said, prompting objection from audience members who yelled “No!” He continued, “But I will never wait until this happens.”
The love between workers and their president
Despite a new ruling that public sector workers who strike will be forced to retire early and increasing crackdowns on dissent, Sisi gave a speech charming workers on Labor Day. “This look of love in your eyes means the whole world,” he said. “If I lose this look, I will leave right away.”
He also asked them and all Egyptians to give him a mandate to confront terrorism, asking them to advise friends and colleagues against disruptive behavior.
When chants erupted with, “We love you Sisi,” he reiterated, “Love is not with words.”
Addressing Egyptians living in Germany, Sisi boasted about his ability to recognize the truth. “God made me a physician,” he proclaimed. “I diagnose, I see the truth, this is a gift from god.”
He even suggested global recognition for this “gift.” “All the experts, politicians and even philosophers, are starting to see that what we’re saying is clean and honest; there’s no agenda behind it.”
During a joint press conference with Chancellor Angela Merkel on the same trip, Sisi wouldn’t allow himself to be put in the hot seat over Egypt’s human rights record, namely the mass death sentences handed to hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood members.
“If you value human life, do not think that we don’t do the same,” he said. “Listen carefully … On July 3, there was a statement issued that did not harm one Egyptian citizen.”
He explained that there was a chance for “everyone” to join a new political phase, asserting, “we didn’t need to get into violent confrontation with one another for two years.”
Culminating his first year in office, Sisi reflected on his time as president and offered apologies for any mistakes he may have made.
Speaking at the inauguration of 39 new development projects, Sisi apologized to lawyers for the recent incident at Farskor police station in Damietta, when a police officer used his shoe to assault a lawyer from the Court of Cassation, causing severe injury to his left eye.
Sisi stressed the isolation of this incident, refusing to recognise any systematic campaign against lawyers, as many have claimed.
He apologized to “every Egyptian citizen that has been subjected to any wrongdoing, in my capacity of being directly responsible for anything that happens to Egyptian citizens. And I say to our sons in the police force, or any governmental institution, that they should take care, because they are dealing with human beings. Their jobs require them to bear the burden [of pressures].”
Despite the widespread support Sisi still enjoys, there have been voices of dissent in recent months. Media and judges have been critical of Interior Ministry abuses, political parties have lamented the delays in parliamentary elections, and civil society in Egypt and overseas have criticized the recent crackdown on NGOs and the Muslim Brotherhood. Amid this current political climate, Sisi will need all the charm he can muster.