Thursday, 8 August 2013

General Sisi as the next Colonel Nasser.

'Sisi has pledged stability as a central plank of the military-led government he will shepherd towards elections in nine months' time, he has also tapped into themes that Nasser used to enshrine his legacy as one of modern Egypt's most celebrated figures.

"Despite 40 years of painting a bad portrait of Abdel Nasser, whenever there are bad times, people always conjure up his image," said a Nasserist activist and leader of a political bloc that champions his tenure. "Sisi has not got the same hold on the Egyptian consciousness. Not yet."

In his public appearances since the 3 July coup, Sisi has mirrored Nasser's key messages of nationalism, scepticism of western intentions, Arab dignity and strong leadership. The latter has been seized on by a broad swath of the Egyptian public that has struggled in the chaos of the revolution that brought down Hosni Mubarak's presidency in January 2011.'
General Sisi is trying to play on his image as another Colonel Nasser who is protecting the Egypt's national interest against the Muslim Brotherhood, a strongman who will resist Western demands and pursue economic policies that benefit 'the majority' of  'the people'.

One continuity is that Sisi follows Nasser in being product of the Military Academy set up by Egypt's first authoritarian reformer Mehemet Ali back in 1811 and which made the army the core of the Egyptian state. But that is, of course, as true of Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak.

Another continuity with the Arab Spring of 2011 is that the 1952 Revolution was followed by two years of political turmoil and squabbling over who got the economic spoils and conflict with the Muslim Brotherhood which was made illegal in January 1954 just as it is being crushed again in 2013.

The big change in 2011-2013, of course, is that the Egyptian army does not contain an overt sympathisers with the Muslim Brotherhood and has not made a revolution whose goals its leaders are arguing over. The Egyptian army exists comfortably in co-existence with the old regime before 2011.

Even so, the 2011 uprising suceeded primarily in only removing Mubarak and in demands for a new constitution agreed by parliament and a president with proper checks on his power. All that has happened is yet another grubby post-revolutionary power feud with the Muslim Brotherhood.

The 1952 was a revolution in that it made Egypt independent of British control removed the monarchy and led Egypt between 1956 and 1970 to depend upon the USSR for aid and military and technical assistance. The complete failure to defeat Israel in the 1967 war only confirmed the failure of the experiment.

Ever since Anwar Sadat moved towards the USA and peace with Israel, the Egyptian army has never again sought to challenge Israel. The military was trained with US help and expertise, under Mubarak's rule too after 1981, to preserve Egypt from 'instability'.

Evidently, General Sisi follows in the footsteps of Sadat and Mubarak. However, despite the 1.3bn funding the US has given to the army since 1979, Egyptian generals have often argued that this is not such a great deal as it once was with increasing prices.

Throughout the 2000s Egypt has started to look towards other powers to provide arms such as Russia and China, leading to Washington upping its arms sales in order to retain its regional influence. Not least when Sino-Egyptian trade has risen throughout the period.

It is not inconceivable that Egypt under another military leader might not try to gain a measure of independence by playing off rival suitors such as the US and China against each other. As for the democracy promised by the Arab Spring, this looks likely to be sacrificed in the interests of  'stability' and security.

For neither the West nor the Gulf States or China are going to take the risk of going against the Egyptian army or what it deems is the proper course for the nation. There are too many lucrative arms deals to lose. None want instability in the largest oil producing regions to the east or disruption on the Suez Canal

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