The Making of Egypt's Presidents

Letter From Menoufia

A pro-government protester holds a poster of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Alexandria, January 2016. Asmaa Waguih / REUTERS

Even though he grew up poor and illiterate on a small farm at the end of an irrigation canal, Ahmed Fawzy knew from a young age that there was something unusual about his corner of the Nile Delta. During walks over a dirt track to Quesna, the district center, his father would point out the houses where various powerful politicians and military officials had been born. On Quesna’s outskirts, the landmarks would begin to come in thick and fast. “Prime Minister Ganzouri prayed here; [former Egyptian military chief Mohamed] el-Gamasy went to school there,” Fawzy, a 25-year-old mechanic, said in November, recounting his father’s encyclopedic knowledge of the area’s luminaries. 

Menoufia, as Fawzy’s home region is known, has produced four of Egypt’s last five leaders. Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak number among the governorate’s native sons; though their families migrated to Cairo before they were born, so do current President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and Adly Mansour, the head of Egypt’s constitutional court, who served briefly as acting president after the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi in 2013. Sedki Sobhi, the current minister of defense and one of Sisi’s potential successors, is a Menoufi, as is Ibrahim Mahlab, who served as Sisi’s prime minister until September 2015. The list of civilian and military figures who hail from this region is especially striking when you consider that Menoufia is Egypt’s seventh smallest governorate (out of 27) and its 11th most populous. “We breed presidents like other places make furniture,” Fawzy said, as a train barreled through Quesna’s small station. 

Egyptians elsewhere have noted this peculiarity, too, making the region the butt of countless jokes. “Are you Menoufi?” Cairenes sometimes ask in jest when accusing friends of miserly or cunning behavior. But Menoufieen tend to regard their governorate’s achievements with pride. They also have some ideas about its sources. “Education and faith,” said Mohammed Makarem, a licorice juice vendor who works a busy stretch of

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