We have seen the many faces of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi throughout the year, from absolute glee at the announcement of major national projects, to disappointment at institutions that don’t have his back and sternness in the face of terrorist acts.
And although Egypt’s leader still enjoys the perks of being loved and feared by most, as his novelty wears off in the second year of his presidency, he has also come under some criticism and faced the scorn of countless internet memes.
Below, we reflect on a few of Sisi’s best moments where he was hailed as the man bringing salvation to Egypt, and some of his worst moments where he was in the hot seat for recurrent state failures.
The inauguration of the Suez Canal
The image of the president riding in on a massive ship through the new extension of the Suez Canal on August 6 epitomized “everything-Sisi” as he was dressed in his military uniform and surrounded by massive, kitschy gestures of nationalism from planes drawing the Egyptian flag, to little children dressed in sailor outfits and even a mini-Sisi accompanying him on his ride.
During his speech at the inauguration ceremony, Sisi declared that the new Suez Canal extension was Egypt’s “gift to the world,” while the horn from the first vessel to cross the new canal playfully interrupted his speech.
The national project was hailed as the bright light at the end of the tunnel, and Sisi as the man bringing Egypt closer to a better future.
Hanging out with Putin
Sisi has been highly praised for his foreign policy acumen and for reigniting Egypt’s relationship with some of its old allies. The rapprochement with Russia is most significant.
In late August, the president made his way to Russia to meet with President Vladimir Putin where the pair agreed on bolstering economic ties between the two countries, building Egypt’s first nuclear power plant and enhancing military cooperation to fight terrorism.
The relationship between Sisi and Putin, both men with a a military background, has been compared to late President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s turn to the Soviet Union when Egypt’s relationship with the US also suffered strain in the 1950s.
Pictures of the pair walking around Russia, mingling with the locals and even sitting down for dinner reflected the strong relationship that had blossomed between them, with Al Jazeera even referring to their relationship as a “bromance” in an article in February.
Release of detainees
On the occasion of Eid al-Adha, and ahead of his planned visit to New York in late September, Sisi issued a presidential pardon to 100 imprisoned activists including Yara Sallam, Sanaa Seif, Hany al-Gamal, Peter Galal, Omar al-Hazeq and Al Jazeera’s journalist Mohamed Fahmy.
Privately owned Al-Shorouk’s main headline on September 24 labeled the move as the “president’s gift” but also notes that the move came immediately before the president’s trip to New York to take part in the 70th round of the General Assembly.
Three months earlier, Sisi had presented another “gift” this time on the occasion of Ramadan when he issued presidential pardons for 165 detainees held on cases related to the protest law.
The president’s decision was hailed as one that came from his concern over the future of Egypt’s youth.
War on corruption
In an attempt to distinguish his rule from that of former regimes, Sisi vowed to obliterate corruption within state institutions.
This war on corruption was highlighted with the arrest of former Minister of Agriculture Salah Eddin Helal on corruption charges just minutes after he officially announced his resignation in a spectacle in Tahrir Square that was eagerly lapped up by the media. At the same time Sisi held a meeting with head of the Administrative Control Authority Mohamed Erfan Gamal Eddin where he reaffirmed the importance of continuing to develop different axes through which to fight corruption, and to create an environment characterized by integrity and transparency.
Russian plane crash
Just as things with Russia were getting serious, the blossoming relationship entered shaky ground when a Russian plane crashed after leaving Sharm el-Sheikh airport on October 31, killing over 200 passengers.
Although Egypt stressed that that it was technical difficulties that caused the plane crash, Russia finally broke its silence on November 17 when the Kremlin declared that the crash was in indeed caused by a terrorist act. However, two months after the crash and Egypt is still “investigating” the cause while refusing to admit that it was a terrorist operation.
Meanwhile, in December, Egypt contracted the Control Risks firm to review and assess airport security in Cairo and Sharm el-Sheikh. Hisham Zaazou, minister of tourism, insisted the move had nothing to do with the Russian plane crash.
Sisi offered Putin his condolences but the relationship has not been the same since, as Russia has yet to resume its flights to and from Egypt.
Empty polling stations
The parliamentary elections were the third step in Sisi’s roadmap, announced in July 2013 after the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood. And although the man himself vouched for the elections as an important stage in Egypt’s transition to democracy, lack of interest in electoral politics led to nearly empty polling stations nationwide.
The president had called for a unified party list ahead of the elections in order to support Egypt’s national interests, a move which also backfired as the resulting list, For the Love of Egypt, continues to face criticism for seeking to monopolize the regime’s representation in parliament.
Accidental killing of tourists
Egypt’s shaky tourism industry was hit earlier by other deaths before the Russian plane crash. Eight Mexican tourists were killed in the Western Desert in mid-September when security forces mistook them for terrorists.
Mexico’s foreign ministry demanded an explanation, while Egypt did not offer anything concrete. The tension between the two countries was palpable when Mexico’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Claudia Ruiz Massieu met with Sisi and Egypt’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry a few days after the incident. Sisi was quoted as saying, “Egypt expects its friends in Mexico to understand the security situation that the country is going through, particularly regarding fighting terrorism.”
A picture of Massieu giving Sisi major side eye made for a number of Internet memes that highlight her contempt for his rebuke.
The downpours and floods that shook Alexandria in late October caused major public uproar at the government’s apparent failure to prepare for or contain the crisis.
Newspapers reported that Sisi held an emergency meeting, advising the government to take precautionary steps ahead of an upcoming crisis, with the coverage a clear attempt to deflect from criticism of the president — a headline in privately owned Youm7 newspaper on November 9, for example, read, “President intervenes himself…as usual.”
But later in December, weather conditions once again caused the death of at least 12 people in Alexandria and Beheira.