North Africa, West Asia

Sisi’s men: anticipating the coming regime

The challenge Sisi will face, will be in keeping his outer circle intact, a challenge which will be the main determinant behind his policy-decisions.

Hesham Shafick Carla Gazal Aya Nader Mohamed Nabil Mohamed Adel Mohamed Soliman
19 December 2013

When Egyptians voted for Morsi, they had quite a good idea that they were voting for the Muslim Brotherhood, and choosing them over and above the ‘NDP-military coalition’ of Ahmed Shafik. However, only specialists could have guessed the influence figures like Essam Sultan, El’Awa, Ayman Nour, Hesham Kandil, Emad Abdel Ghafour, Amro Elleithy and Samir Morcos would exert in Morsi’s state. Theoretically, such figures are referred to as ‘the regime’s periphery’. Yet in practice, the so-called periphery might exert more pressure on the leadership than the core.

Thinking the implications of such things through consists of a qualitative and a quantitative component. The qualitative component is that it is easier to say “No” to your friend than to say it to your political-partner. The loyalty of Khairat El Shater was never in doubt since he and Morsi were in exactly the same boat. The case is different with Emad Abdel Ghafour, who rose to even more prominence after the MB lost the backing of the Al Nour Party. On the quantitative level, this periphery representative of the right-wing Islamists had a wider pool of representation than many of Morsi’s fellows in the MB. This can be explained by a simple mathematic calculation.

Assume that the Muslim Brotherhood’s total influence in the ruling coalition - consisting of MB, Islamist right, Islamist left, secular liberal, left, and technocrats - is 80% (which is fairly huge); divide over 20 members of the Supreme Council of Guidance; this gives us an average of 4% influence for each member (of course it won’t be distributed evenly, so some Supreme Council of Guidance members will have more than 4% and others will have less). On the other hand, if the Islamic right is only represented by Abdel Ghaffour, and it holds only 5% of the total influence exerted on the President by the regime, this gives Abdel Ghaffour more comparative influence over the average member of the MB’s supreme council of guidance (5:4). Failing to drop this into the equation, the Egyptian people found themselves ruled by people who never ran directly (like Morsi) or indirectly (like MB) for an election.

In order not to be trapped in the same way again, it is important to highlight men who are most likely to have the ear of the coming president – Abdel Fattah El Sisi. But first, we have to describe the parameter of this circle. As we mentioned above, we are more concerned with the second-degree circle, as it is of higher influence and more diversity. As was obvious in his ‘ousting speech’ on July 3, El Sisi is not a typical military man wedded to unilateral decision-making. On the contrary, he acted then as a typical diplomat might, talking to all the possible major stakeholders before making his decision, and surrounding himself with a variety of public representatives who include religious figures, revolutionary figures, youth figures, old regime figures, and even representatives of political Islam. In this diverse coalition, the centre of the circle is Marshall El Sisi himself, who fully controls the mechanisms for ruling on the ground and maintains fair relations with all (the contesting) actors of the coalition. The core circle is definitely his military generals, the people with him on the same boat, who will either win together or lose together. He seems capable of exerting control and leadership over them, with the hierarchical culture of the military making his job easier. The challenge he will face, however, will be in keeping his periphery circle intact, which will be the main determinant behind his policy-decisions.  

Our team has been gathering information from people who work in close proximity to Marshall El Sisi and the current regime, and in the following introductory list, we will highlight and analyze the influence of what we may label as the two arms of Sisi rule – one arm that exerts Sisi’s control over the public, and another that ensures his control over the instruments of governance.

Exerting control over the public

Hamdeen Sabahy

Very similar to Nasser, El Sisi has been forced into a position he did not really expect. His personal charisma has exposed him to leadership, yet he has had no in depth preparation for rising popularity or how to maintain it. What could make you more likely to remain popular than to re-incarnate a leader who managed to remain popular until 45 years after his death? The Sisi – Nasser analogy was first introduced by the MB – specifically by their official spokesperson Gehad El Haddad. Although Gehad proposed this analogy to the international public in order to mobilize them against Sisi, it was restated in a positive manner by Egyptian Nasserist writers and activists and has gained momentum.

Hamdeen Sabahy is the most famous Nasserist politician in Egypt today. Joining forces with Sisi, Sabahy has hailed the military position in the succession to Brotherhood rule in Egypt, the dispersal of the sit-ins, and the transitional programme. Given his broad popularity within the moderate left, plenty of roadmap confirmations and condemnations of the Muslim Brotherhood duly followed. Hamdeen’s position as centre left – somewhere between worker activists (Kamal Abu Eitta) and social democrats (Mohamed Abul-Ghar) is questionable. Yet proof for such claim is that they were all gathered around him in past elections in which he was the third runner up with 5 million votes. Another response might be, “If not Hamdeen, who?” 

Mahmoud Badr

For the 30th of June movement (coup/revolution/convolution) to have legitimacy, this required public support. This public support does not have to be 100% real. Hayek’s voting paradox asserts that winning parties in even free and fair elections are often those that appear to be winning. Tamarod played this role. Collecting 22 million signatures and mobilizing 33 million people on the streets are just false claims that are so false they were not even intended to be believed. Yet, as an Egyptian saying has it, “there can be no smoke without a fire.” People will never believe that the Egyptian streets could carry 33 million persons, but will assert that millions were there. Similarly, showing up in a group of young people meeting with El Sisi before the coup, then meeting with international actors before the dispersal of the MB protesters, not only gives a sense of legitimacy to those actions, but also make the floor seem open to other youth movements who might wish to be embraced by the new regime (an offer the MB failed to make).

Badr's popularity and political legitimacy gained momentum following the mass-protests of 30 June 2013, calling for the withdrawal of confidence from the president. Being a media producer himself, he could represent himself rather brilliantly as the sole leader of Tamarod while the media on the other hand presented Tamarod as the sole legitimate youth movement – an analogy here with Nasser’s Arab Socialist Union. Thanks to Badr and Badran (Egyptian Student Union President and a member of Tamarod) respectively, the “political roadmap” had a youth component when they joined the 50-member Constitutional Committee responsible for amending the (suspended) 2012 Constitution.  In addition, after the ousting of Baradei – an icon of the January 25th revolution – Badr became ever more crucial as the “revolution-icon” bearing the blessing of June 30th.

Aly Gomaa

The MB’s rhetoric of  “conspiracy against Islam” has made a comeback after a one-year vacation. If Sisi were to be forced into an Ataturk profile, this would be the turning point at which he will lose the Egyptian public. Thus, Sisi was very determined to show his proximity to religious leaders including the Grand Mufti, the Azhar Sheikh, Al Nour’s party leaders, and Pope Tawadros.

By a process of elimination, it is obvious that Aly Gomaa is the person most likely to represent Islamic appeal within the ruling circle. The Al Noor party is neither accepted within the secular masses, nor popular within the religious masses. It is rational to exclude Al-Azhar Sheikh, Ahmed El Tayeb for his clear affiliation to Mubarak’s regime (being an NDP political committee member) and his extremist position against the revolution in Mubarak’s era. Gomaa prevails as a preacher widely accepted by the masses, professional in tailoring fatwas, and non-affiliated to any particular political group. He had also praised the goals of the 25th January revolution.

Gomaa's winning move was his popular attack on the MB in a military conference. In a conference on August 18 attended by interior minister Mohamed Ibrahim and several military generals, he directly urged El Sisi, “Hit them as hard as you can", declaring, "Religion is with you, Allah is with you, His messenger is with you, the believers and the people are with you. Paradise is for those who kill them. They do not deserve Egypt and we are ashamed to call them Egyptians. We need to cleanse our country of this shame."

Whether he is a religious puppet, or acting on his own beliefs (or maybe both?), Gomaa has always favoured military heads of state and their right to dispose of those who do not support them: yet he has also maintained reasonable ties with the conservative majority.

Ahmed El Moslemany

Hamdeen, Badr, and Gomaa are considered key opinion leaders (KOL) within their respective constituencies; Moslemany is not. In technical terms, Moslemany is a media technocrat. His role is to create KOLs like those mentioned above. His more important role is to lead the attack against KOLs who deviate. His attack against Baradei after his resignation as VP was highly effective. His attack on Tantawi on his 2-million viewers’ show, ‘First Edition’ on Dream TV, launched Sisi’s rise in popularity as military chief.  As President’s Adviser, he even initiated more courageous attacks against international papers and figures in the international community. Although those attacks are regarded as jokes on social media, it seems quite convincing to the ordinary Egyptian citizen that the Guardian is a Qatari-backed newspaper or that Obama has an MB brother.  

Moslemany has worked for Sisi as media adviser ever since he was the Chief of Military Intelligence; then adviser to Sisi as a military chief. After the covolution, his position as the President’s media adviser was inevitable. Given his success in keeping media in-line with Sisy’s agenda, together with his low-profile and wide-ranging connections, he is expected to remain in position after the handover. What makes us more certain of this is the high level of investment in the presidency’s media department.

Control over the machinery of government

Abdel Moamen Fouda

Some policy scholars - “executivists” - argue that the top leaders are not the key policy makers but middle management or the bureaucracy. If this theory is true, then Fouda is the perfect proof of it.

This military general had been the Grand Chamberlain of the Presidency, since the time of Mubarak. The SCAF then came in and out, Morsi came in and out, but he is always there. They are all visitors to him and his huge bureaucracy of military and civil officials. The reason for his presence over this long period is not very special. It is simply that each actor left him as a hand-over agent from the actor before. Also, his position is fairly logistical and has little to do with politics. Dealing with him in person, he has a very decent straightforward personality that makes him appealing to any leadership, and he is strong enough to keep the presidency intact.

Gradually Fouda has simply grown “too big to fail”. Currently, he is the most experienced person in the presidency. He is also the only person besides Sisi who has served with all political leaders. Given this, he was promoted to Chief of Staff after June 30 yet still keeps his position as Grand Chamberlain. He is also highly important in his capacity as the liaison military officer heading the group of civilian President’s Advisers.

Kamal El Ganzoury

The ‘Bureaucratic dilemma’ as former Prime Minister Essam Sharaf put it, becomes ever more critical as it reaches the level of government. Ganzoury holds all the keys. Ganzoury is one of the longest-standing figures in the Egyptian cabinet, albeit either standing inside it or beside it. Being part of Egypt's political life since the early 1960s, he started off by being appointed economic advisor to the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa and then to the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. Several posts followed, among which were undersecretary of the planning minister in 1974 and director of the government's Institute of National Planning in the late 1970s. However, it was during the Hosni Mubarak era that Ganzoury's current image and weight was formed. He was appointed minister of planning in 1982 and then minister of international co-operation in 1984. He served as deputy prime minister from 1986 until 1996, and then prime minister from 1996 to 1999.

Overseeing the economic privatisation programme, starting huge national projects and putting grand future plans in place, he was nicknamed the Minister of the Poor. Yet working as he did without indulging the military, which usually monopolizes major projects, Ganzoury was dismissed and hushed up, up until the 2011 revolution.

Recommended by Abdelfatah al-Sisi personally, Ganzoury was appointed once again as a Prime Minister by the SCAF during the interim government that followed the revolution. Protesters rejected Ganzoury's appointment, arguing that he was far too old.

Surprisingly, and despite Egyptians opposing fiures from the Mubarak regime, elected MB president Mohammad Morsi also appointed Ganzoury as his economic affairs advisor. After Morsi's toppling, Interim President Adly Mansour issued a presidential decree appointing Ganzoury, for the third time, as presidential advisor for economic affairs.

Almost nobody in recent history has been deeply affiliated to the ruling military cycle as much as Dr Kamal El Ganzoury. Sometimes thanks to his experience, and sometimes merely for the sake of his good reputation, there is no doubt that Egypt's bureaucratic black-box can be found hiding under Ganzoury's bed.

Mohamed Ibrahim

After nearly two and a half years of streets empty of police, Egypt's interior minister Mohamed Ibrahim has resurrected that institution's former ‘glory’. Ibrahim was the key: in fact, it was all down to Ibrahim-Sisi’s coalition. For the very first time, the two ministers - of Defence and Interior - have appeared together in almost all major events, sometimes even “holding hands”. The military-backed police stormed Morsi's supporters’ protests, returned to its former habits with reference to demonstrations, and also returned strong and fierce to fill all their former security roles.

By re-establishing the police forces' presence alongside General Sisi's armed forces during the toppling of Morsi, the minister ended the everlasting strife over power between the military and the police, besides bringing back people's "respect" for the interior ministry and its men. It was not surprising that out of 10 random police officers (of different ranks) we surveyed, nine saluted Ibrahim.

Raafat Shehata

Last but not by any means least, General Raafat Shehata holds the strings of all of the above through one main key: information!

This 80+ year old man, former manager of the National Intelligence and current President’s Adviser for Security, derives his importance from being the holder of all the pre-2000s intelligence (when Sisi took charge of military intelligence) - a black box that he is willing to share with his student – Sisi – whom he has coached for over seven years.

The relationship between the military and the intelligence (even military intelligence) has been in the balance ever since the formation of this institution. The historical explanation is that the creation of the intelligence department by Nasser was intended to halt the enormous burgeoning of power of the military – as Nasser’s Office Manager, Samy Sharaf, put it. Later, Sadat also used intelligence to get rid of his military rivals. Mubarak’s trust of Omar Soleiman also made intelligence higher in importance (and prestige) than the men in uniform. Given this, who would be more willing to cooperate with the military leader - Marshall Sisi - than his old mentor and leader - General Shehata?


This is not an account of the most influential circle if El Sisi becomes president. As we mentioned earlier, the military will definitely play the core role with the majority of decision-making power. However, those individuals mentioned are holders of the highest concentrated decision-making influence, since each of them on his own represents a great portion of Sisi’s legitimacy stakeholders.

It is also very important to note that viewing Sisi’s regime through a comparable lens of analysis as that of the Muslim Brotherhood makes no sense. Think of the Muslim Brotherhood as a group of ‘brothers’ tied together through intermarriages, friendship intimacies, and business partnerships. But think of the Sisi regime as a group of co-workers coming from different backgrounds and with different stakes in the whole process of forming a ruling corporate body.  

Get to know them well; these people might shape the Egypt to come.

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