With eye on top job, Egypt's el-Sisi focuses on populist policies

With an eye on the presidency, military chief turns attention to domestic issues, say insiders

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 January, 2014, 10:40pm
UPDATED : Friday, 17 January, 2014, 10:40pm


Having secured victory in a referendum on a relatively liberal constitution that he championed, Egypt's military chief is turning his attention to the country's overwhelming array of problems - from health and education to government subsidies and investment, insiders said.

Behind closed doors in his Defence Ministry office, General Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi has been poring over thick files on domestic issues such as education, social services, subsidies and investment, said the insiders.

The revelations offer the latest indication that el-Sisi is planning a run for president, capping a stunning transformation for the 59-year-old officer who started in the infantry. He was widely seen as an obscure and acquiescent subordinate a year and a half ago when then-president Mohammed Mursi promoted him to defence minister in what has since emerged as a colossal politicalmiscalculation.

In swift succession, el-Sisi threw Mursi in jail along with hundreds of his Islamist cohorts and his Muslim Brotherhood has been declared a terrorist group and membership of it banned.

El-Sisi’s populist power is derived from his ability to instil optimism, joy and pride in the hearts of many Egyptians

El-Sisi remains an enigma: Little is known about his private life, other than he is married with four children.

Although there are few credible public opinion polls in Egypt to know for sure, el-Sisi appears to have struck a chord through a combination of cunning moves and a personality that offers something for everyone.

"It appears that el-Sisi's populist power is derived from his ability to instil optimism, joy and pride in the hearts of many Egyptians," Adel Iskandar, an expert on Arab affairs who lectures at Georgetown University, said. "The Muslim Brotherhood, the January 25 [2011] revolutionaries, and anyone who opposes the country's current trajectory must contend with this new fact."

It was evident this week that many people voted for el-Sisi as much as for the new charter. Many, particularly women, kissed posters of the general after casting their ballots or chanted: "El-Sisi is my president."

The Muslim Brotherhood won each of the five elections held since the revolution that deposed autocratic leader Hosni Mubarak in early 2011. Consequently, there was an anti-democratic veneer to the July 3 coup and the government's subsequent actions .

At the same time, however, el-Sisi seems to have tapped into widespread, genuine outrage at how Mursi ran the country, making it more Islamist during his year in power and contradicting promises of an inclusive society.