Sisi vows to safeguard Egyptian security

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When Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announced he was standing for Egypt’s highest office four years ago he said it would be his last day in uniform, a pledge symbolising his transition from military chief to president.

Last month, with another election approaching, Sisi was back in army fatigues when he visited a military base towards the end of a first presidential term rights groups say was marred by an unprecedented crackdown on dissent.

Sisi was opening an anti-terrorism centre in the Sinai Peninsula, where he told the army to use “all brute force necessary” to defeat an Islamic State insurgency threatening the stability he promised.

The rare appearance in uniform, which Sisi has worn a handful of times since taking office, was a reminderof his military background and the central role of the army and security forces under his leadership.
“I’m ready to put on military uniform and go out and fight side by side,” he told a conference in Cairo this month commemorating soldiers killed in conflict.

To his critics, the 63-year-old former intelligence general led Egypt deeper into authoritarianism than even former president Hosni Mubarak, toppled in 2011 after ruling for three decades under a state of emergency.

Rights groups say Sisi muzzled political opponents, activists and critical media, while courts passed death sentences on hundreds of supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood since he deposed the Brotherhood’s president, Mohammed Mursi, in 2013.

Tough economic reforms, backed by the IMF, halved the value of the pound and hit millions of poor Egyptians.

Sisi supporters say the measures are needed to keep the country stable as it recovers from political chaos and tackles grave economic challenges and the Islamist insurgency.

Ahead of the March 26-28 election, in which no credible challenger has been able to stand, Sisi warned anyone who threatened Egypt’s stability would be dealt with harshly.
“I will die before anyone messes with its security,” he said, adding the 2011 uprising, when the army stood by while Mubarak was forced out, would not be repeated.
“Be warned. What happened seven or eight years ago will not happen again in Egypt,” Sisi told an audience including his own defence minister. “It seems you don’t know me well enough.”
“I’m not a politician who just talks”.

MILITARY RULERS

Sisi is the latest in a line of Egyptian rulers drawn from the military only briefly broken by Mursi, who lasted a year before Sisi overthrew him.

Promising to work for “security, stability and development” after three years of turmoil, Sisi sought to project a new dynamism when he took office – holding cabinet meetings at 7 am and joining a cycle race on his first weekend as president.

The message was clear. The 30-year rule of former president Mubarak and the turbulence of Mursi’s brief presidency were over. The new president would get things done.

In another break with the Mubarak presidency, Sisi kept his wife and four children out of the spotlight to avoid suggestions he may have ambitions to build a political dynasty.

He promised to abide by a two-term constitutional limit for serving presidents a pledge which if honoured would be a first in Egypt’s modern history. His five predecessors were either pushed out, died in office or were assassinated.
“Building the state takes 16 to 20 years, I am trying to finish it in eight years, God willing,” Sisi said in November.

SISI’S GOAL

Born on November 19, 1954, Sisi showed signs of unusual discipline as a young boy, people in his old neighbourhood of Cairo said. While other boys played football or smoked, Sisi and his friends lifted weights made of metal pipes and rocks.
“Abdel Fattah always seemed to have a goal. He had willpower,” said Atif al-Zaabalawi, a dye worker who used to see Sisi in the capital’s Gamaliya district.

Neighbours say he came from a tightly knit religious family. A cousin, Fathi al-Sisi, said the future field marshal memorised the Koran. His father encouraged him to work in his shop every day after school.

He lived in a small apartment on top of a rundown building owned by his extended family. Although it was a relatively well-off family, Sisi sought to emphasise his connection with the struggles of ordinary Egyptians.
“I lived for 10 years with nothing in the fridge except water … and I am from a wealthy family,” he told a youth conference in Sharm el-Sheikh two years ago.

That remark was one of several critics mocked. His call for people to donate a pound a day to a development fund via their mobile phones, or a suggestion banks divert “loose change” from transactions to the fund, were widely ridiculed.

Sisi kept a low profile as Mubarak’s head of military intelligence and became the youngest member of the military council that ruled Egypt for 18 months after Mubarak resigned in February, 2011.

Mursi appointed him army chief and defence minister in August 2012, mistakenly calculating the military would let the Brotherhood pursue its Islamist agenda as long as its own entrenched privileges were safe.

Sisi captured little international attention until he appeared on television on July 3, 2013, to announce the removal of Mursi after vast crowds demanded he resign and to promise a new election which Sisi won by a landslide the following year.

Lacking the flamboyance or rhetorical skills of former presidents Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat, Sisi projects a calm and softly spoken persona and speaks only occasionally in public.

Pictures of Sisi are ubiquitous across Egypt and he has not publicly sought to limit the torrents of praise for him in state media.



In an unpublished segment of an interview with al Masry al-Youm daily leaked in an audio online ahead of his first term, he spoke of a vision that suggested he was destined to be a great leader.
“In a dream I had 35 years ago, I was raising a sword with the phrase ‘There is no God but God’ written on it in red,” he said. In another dream he met Sadat and told him: “I know that I will be president”.