Can a Myth Rule a Nation?

The Truth About Sisi's Candidacy in Egypt

Supporters of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Tahrir Square in Cairo, January 25, 2014.
Supporters of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Tahrir Square in Cairo, January 25, 2014. (Mohamed Abd El Ghany / Courtesy Reuters)

Anyone who claims to possess full political power in post-Mubarak Egypt is lying. That might be hard to believe, given how large the military looms these days. But the vision of an almighty military -- propagated by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), its supporters, and those desperate for stability -- is a mirage. Soon enough, it will dissipate, revealing deep tensions in Egypt and dwindling options for what is often assumed to be Egypt’s strongest institution.

On Monday, SCAF, the governing body of the Egyptian military, unanimously gave Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the military’s commander in chief and Egypt’s current defense minister, its blessing to run for president. (Indeed, it considers his nomination a “mandate and an obligation.”) Sisi, whom the interim president promoted to the rank of field marshal the same day, has yet to announce his candidacy. Still, most everyone has accepted it -- and his eventual presidency -- as a fait accompli, the final step in the military’s reconquest of Egypt and the country’s return to the days of former President Hosni Mubarak.

But that is not the whole story.

Last June, Mubarak supporters and some revolutionaries came together to oust elected Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. Since then, large parts of society have coalesced around Sisi as the personification of a renewed nationalist strain of Egyptian power. He is lionized in the state media and praised by figures from Mubarak’s defunct ruling party and crony capitalist networks. Much of the general population, outside of the Muslim Brotherhood and revolutionaries, view him as being above the political fray. Brides profess to want to marry him, and men project his masculinity to reinforce their patriarchy. And those clamoring for stability -- from media moguls to average Egyptians and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry -- talk of democratic roadmaps and upcoming elections while sweeping political reality under the rug.

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