The President in Waiting

The stars are aligned for the rise of General Sisi to the helm.

All that stands between him and the presidency, it seems, is his own choice whether or not he wants the job. News reports are stressing the absolute conviction that he will soon resign, or be involved in a cabinet shuffle, as a first step towards his imminent rise.

He could choose to become an Egyptian Sewar ul-Zahab, the Sudanese General who led a coup, became interim president, then fully resigned power to an elected civilian government.

He could choose the path of General Musharraf, opting to hold for as long as possible the dual roles of head of state and army.

If he does, he might become a watered down Idi Amin, which is basically a Musharraf but without any of the economic boom and with a heavy baggage of human rights abuses.

He could pull a de Gaulle, refraining from public life and waiting for politicians and the masses to beg him to come back and control the ensuing chaos, because the country is so bereft of any real leadership.

The choices are endless, and history of the world is loaded with generals-turned-rulers, some good, some bad, some ugly. Take your pick. Who do you think Sisi will most closely emulate?

Anyway, the proverbial stars in favour of Sisi include his substantial popularity among the masses. Not only did he take decisive action in favour of the anti-Brotherhood campaign, but he was also able to appeal to public sentiments through his rhetoric of a grand Egypt, politically and financially independent, relevant on the world stage, and adamantly adherent to the ideals of social justice and equality before the law.

That his rhetoric remains at the level of, well, rhetoric, gains him favour of international and regional players, as well as local interest groups. Hence the GCC welcomes in, Washington concedes to, and Jerusalem sigh in relief at, Sisi’s possible presidency. Local interest groups of relevance include the business class who want someone to restore security even if at the expense of freedoms, the authoritative families of rural Egypt who wish to see their influence restored, the security agencies who want to continue playing a major role in the country’s foreign and domestic politics, and the putatively virtuous middle class which worries more about access to high-end coffee and haute couture than freedoms and equality.

If that wasn’t enough to propel him straight to presidential palace, he also has the advantage of an empty playing field. In a country in which every politician has been tarnished one way or another by the events of the past three years, people wary of voting for a man in uniform look around  for people they can put their faith in and find none.

So what keeps the general from reaching for the stars? I can’t think of anything.

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