North Africa, West Asia

General El Sisi and the red sword

General El Sisi sincerely believes that he is engaging in a holy war, either in the name of God or the name of the Egyptian “people”, which now does not include the Muslim Brotherhood or any person who rejects the coup.

Amr Osman
17 December 2013

In a recently released sound clip of an interview with General Abdel Fattah El Sisi, Egypt’s Minister of Defense and current de facto leader, the interviewer (the Editor-in-Chief of al-Masry al-Youm Egyptian newspaper, Yasir Rizk) asks the General if he had ever dreamt of leading the Egyptian army, to which El Sisi replies by asking, “The leadership of the Egyptian army, or something bigger than that?” The General then begins to talk about part of what he describes as “a long history of dreams” that he always believed in, but, for reasons that he does not disclose, has stopped talking about since 2006.

Among the important dreams that he mentions in this context is one with the late President Anwar El Sadat of Egypt (1970-1981). According to El Sisi, Sadat told him that he knew that he [Sadat] would be Egypt’s president, to which El Sisi replied by saying that he, too, knew that he would be Egypt’s president. In another dream, the General was told that he “would be granted something that nobody had been granted before [him]”. In perhaps a related dream, the General is wearing an “Omega watch with a huge green star on it”. When asked why he had that watch that nobody else had, he said: “This watch is mine. It’s Omega and I am Abdel Fattah [his first name].” “I have linked Omega with ‘internationality’ with Abdel Fattah,” he explains.

A megalomaniac mentality that glorifies political power and material wealth is evident in these dreams, which also demonstrate that the General has had an old ambition and a real desire to “sit on Egypt’s throne,” in Rizk’s words. Arguably, the only viable way for him to do this after the January 2010 revolution was to use the army itself to create a cult of personality around himself. That he has done by exploiting public anger against the Muslim Brotherhood (but we may wonder now what role he may have played in creating and fomenting that anger) to topple President Mohamed Morsi (who had appointed him as Minister of Defense) in a military coup on 3 July, 2013. This was followed immediately by an incredible campaign of scandalous sycophancy that has reached the nadir of an Egyptian journalist offering herself and other Egyptian women as “slave girls” to please the new leader.     

But perhaps the most revealing of the General’s dreams is the one in which, according to himself, he once saw himself carrying a “red sword with ‘There is no God but Allah’” inscribed on it. The significance of this dream is evident. The sword is a tool for killing, and the red color on it indicates that it has already been used for this purpose. What is crucial here, however, is that the sword has the well-known Islamic testimony to God’s oneness on it. In other words, the sword was used in the name of God to kill his opponents. It is a holy war, then, where murder, including mass murder, is not only justifiable, but even meritorious as sanctioned by none other than God Himself.

It is this same mentality that searches for justification for mass murder that led General El Sisi, a couple of weeks after the coup, to call on Egyptians to give him a “mandate” to deal with “potential violence and terrorism” so that he can use it to kill thousands of his people in the name of the rest of the people, which he has in fact been doing since his coup. Nor is it surprising that Egypt’s former Mufti, Sheikh Ali Gomaa, following in his footsteps was able to openly call on the Egyptian army and police to target the hearts of the “filthy” Egyptians who rejected the military coup. Unsurprisingly, Gomaa said this to an audience that included General El Sisi himself.  

Obviously, General El Sisi sincerely believes that he is engaging in a holy war, either in the name of God or the name of the Egyptian “people”, which now does not include the Muslim Brotherhood or any person who rejects the coup.

At the moment, a significant segment of Egyptian society is the target of this holy war which does not only include the Muslim Brotherhood, but also anyone who opposes his coup and road map (many Egyptian activists – who are not related to the Brotherhood – have been recently detained, and remain in detention, for considering El Sisi's tactics a restoration of the Mubarak regime).

Two more observations can be made. The first is General El Sisi’s unrelenting willingness to use lethal force to suppress his opponents. His decision to disperse the sit-ins in Cairo mid-August while knowing that thousands could be killed (which did actually happen) is the best demonstration of this. Listening to any of the sound clips that were released in the past few weeks of the same interview (the parts that were released were obviously meant to be confidential), it is also difficult not to be struck by the incredible banality of the way the General thinks and expresses himself.

The kind of mentality that dominates El Sisi’s regime – which dominated the regimes of Saddam Hussein, Colonel Gaddafi, and the Assads in Syria, to name a few Arab dictators – can only survive by creating enemies. When internal enemies are done with, external enemies are created, and El Sisi will summon up and deal with that enemy in the same way he now deals with his internal enemies. 

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