Amr Abdallah Dalsh / Courtesy Reuters A Sisi campaign banner along a highway in Cairo, May 22, 2014.

The Banality of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi

The Strongman in Historical Perspective

“I wish I was like Nasser,” Egypt’s new president, the retired field marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi told Egyptian journalists during a televised interview in early May, referring to the former president, Gamal Abdel Nasser. “Nasser was not just a portrait on walls for Egyptians but a photo and voice carved in their hearts.” Sisi’s comments seemed rather appropriate; his crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, his military background, and his apparent popularity have a distinctly 1950s feel to them. Yet Sisi is not Nasser. Nor is he Anwar Sadat or Hosni Mubarak, or any other formative Egyptian leader. Sisi is just Sisi. As much as the new president has been billed as a hero and a savior, his coming rule is likely to be banal.

It should be clear to virtually everyone, no less to Sisi, that it is far better to be field marshal and minister of defense than it is to be president. He is hemmed in by Egyptians’ demands, a collapsing economy, a Muslim Brotherhood that is bent on delegitimizing him, and opposition to his rule within the state apparatus. To make matters worse, Sisi has few political resources at his disposal. For a man who rode mythical throngs of 30 million to power in last summer’s coup, things were supposed to be very different.

To be sure, there were signs well before Sisi won virtually all of the vote in last month’s presidential election that his real popular support was not what the pro-Sisi

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