Tag Archives: Egyptian military

Introduction to Conflicting Interests in Egypt: Political, Business, Religious, Gender, Popular Culture. By Sherifa Zuhur and Marlyn Tadros.

10 Jul

Here is the Part I of the Introduction to Conflicting Interests in Egypt. It’s not in the actual book (don’t know a polite way to comment on this, so I won’t) … but it should be!

Conflicting Interests in Egypt: Political, Business, Religious, Gender, Popular Culture. By Sherifa Zuhur and Marlyn Tadros.

Lewiston, N.Y. and Lampeter, Ceredigion, Wales, 2017.


This book explores aspects of politics, protest, security and culture in post-revolutionary Egypt. These resulted in conflict among various interest groups in Egyptian society an the breaking down of the social foundation of politics. Two long-time observers and scholars of Egypt’s politics and culture collaborate in this book.

Sherifa Zuhur and Marlyn Tadros

Egypt was one of the earliest centralized political entities of the ancient world. To all who study politics, it is held up as an example of a society, which unified around the need to manage its resources. Small communities coalesced under two distinct Kingdoms of Lower Egypt in the Delta and the red desert land of Upper Egypt. When these two united and were symbolized in the Pharaoh’s double crown, the nation reached an important point in its survival and development.
Spiritual and temporal life were subordinated to a system of authority whose monuments still inspire awe and wonder. Thereafter, an incredible mosaic of Pharaonic, Islamic, Mediterranean, African and western cultures continue to be expressed in Egypt and felt and seen in every lifestyle from the poorest to the most exclusive. For reasons explored in this book, the revolution of January 25th 2011 seems to have eroded the ability of different interest groups in this society to ally, if not unify with each other.
In Amam al-‘arsh, (Before the Throne) Nobel prize winning novelist Naguib Mahfouz tries the leaders of Egypt before the court of Osiris, the sun god. One by one from the Pharaohs to Anwar al-Sadat, their contributions and their shortcomings or damages to Egypt are presented and judged.1. Part of the extraordinary breakthrough of the revolution of January 25, 2011 was due to a desire for justice and to lessen the power of a single autocratic ruler to govern his country and oppress his populace. A body of scholarship shows that feudalism, authoritarianism, political violence create their own culture, so one way of explaining the current dilemma is to blame the patterns and pre-existing structures of the ‘deep state.’ Another avenue is to explore the conflicts among and disappointments of the general public.
Rather than directly judging Egypt’s current government on its policies and strategies, we aim in this book to expose the fissures that divide Egyptians today – that emanate from them, as well as from the failures of leadership. Indeed it seems at this moment in history, that peoples’ consciousness and interests are irrevocably dividing them – immigrants and host nations, nationalists and globalists, the religious and the secular, poor and wealthy, formerly colonized and former colonizers. Despite these divisions, there remains a creative current of satire and madcap humor, which Egyptians wield to more clearly define the failure, or the as-yet unrealized promises of Egypt’s revolution. The woes of the security state, the manipulation of the media, the plague of violence against women, and the fundamental distrust of various factions for each other are apparent.
We explore the rise of Occidentalism, or Egypt’s obsession with the west and its influence, which corresponds to the west’s utilization of Orientalism. In so doing, we uncover various conspiracy theories which Egyptians believe about the revolution of January 25, 2011, the coup of July 3, 2013 and each other. We delve into the problematic use of conspiracist thinking in explanations of Egypt’s political shifts, and how these relate to Occidentalism, and the long-standing tensions between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Coptic minority. Some of the conflicts we uncover are masked by Egyptian’s resort to songs and tropes of national unity, which are actually very fragile or even illusory – “we are one hand.” An example is the friction between the Islamists and the Coptic Christians in Egypt that worsened over the years due to the failure of the state to protect its minority citizens.
Dr. Marlyn Tadros, human rights defender and one of the earliest promoters of social media in Egypt, describes the use of Egyptian humor on social media as the revolution evolved and she explores broadcast media’s impact on political dissent. . Humor and satire in the Egyptian context have been used as a form of dissent, and as a weapon against oppression. If the ‘street’ is ill equipped to accept democracy, perhaps humor will bridge that gap because humor challenges people’s previously held notions. Satire therefore reflects the evolving psychology of the masses as well as indirectly affecting and enhancing people’s cognitive consciousness. As such, it may challenge authority as in the case of the Egyptian revolution where it has revealed a pattern of eroding distrust towards the authorities.

Together, the authors, who are both longtime advocates of women’s rights as well as democracy, expose the horrendous new use of violence in public against women during and following the January 25, 2011 revolution. Tadros sees the use of rape and harassment as a shocking denouement for a society in which women have struggled so hard to move into the public sphere and attained professional respect despite many constraints in social attitudes and unfair legislation. Whether under the armed forces’ [SCAF’s] brief but decidedly momentous rule following the ouster of President Mubarak, under the religious regime of the Muslim Brotherhood, or under the subsequent current military regime, violence against women persisted with varied manifestations. Zuhur explores how Syrian refugee women who arrived in Egypt were also subjected to similar violence. The authors explored the justifications given for public violence against women and the perceived political gain from women’s victimization, as well as questioning the cultural and social implications of this violence.
Dr. Sherifa Zuhur, who has written widely about Islamist movements in and outside of Egypt, provides the background and analyzes the state’s response to the insurgency in the northern Sinai peninsula, which worsened in August of 2013. She provides a cameo of an ultra-supporter of the Sisi movement, Sama al-Masri and the sarcastic popular tropes, including anti-Americanism, that al-Masri utilized on private video channels. Al-Masri interestingly draws on Egypt’s dance and music traditions.
Zuhur writes about the role of Egypt’s big businessmen, and the question of whether or not a counterrevolution has occurred. Zuhur relates the outcome of trials of ex-President Mubarak and his allies, associates, and relatives. She also questions the role of the military in response to those who ask “who really rules Egypt today?” Tadros shows the manipulation of the public by prominent media personalities who thus further the goals of the security state-within-the-state.
The volume provides coverage of a tumultuous and contested time in Egypt’s history, a crucial period when its revolutionary dreams could be manifested, lost, or salvaged only in part, as the country attempts to stay afloat economically. The quest for less authoritarianism, more justice and freedom appear as complicated as ever.

1. Naguib Mahfouz, Amam al-‘Arsh (Cairo: Maktabat Misr, 1983).

From One Historian of Egypt to Another: Political Comment and Teleology

18 Apr

In response to Khaled Fahmy’s latest post. (Dr. Fahmy is a historian at the American University in Cairo in the Department of History)

As a a scholar of nineteenth century history, you may term yourself a scholar of ‘modern’ Egypt in the academic sense (in academia, contemporary historians cover the present and recent past, modern historians of Egypt usually cover the period from Napoleon’s invasion to the turn of the century, or beyond) but why — other than demonstrating your command over your own period of expertise — do you believe that institution-building of the nineteenth century is a blueprint for what transpired during and after January 25, 2011? And why insist so specifically that Egypt’s military have NOT saved the country from the sort of bloodletting that Syria’s military engaged in (that is certainly the bottom line)? A contemporary historian would be compelled to admit that the human toll (deaths, torture, imprisonment, death by starvation, refugee numbers) resulting from Syria’s revolution is immensely higher than in Egypt, in absolute numbers and proportionally.

You wrote:

السيسي ومستشاريه مقتنعين فعلا بكده، ومعاهم قطاع كبير من الإعلاميين ال نجحوا في تصوير ٢٥ يناير على إنها مؤامرة من ناس مأجورة بايعة البلد ومش هاممها لو مصر بقت زي سوريا.

لكن الحقيقة غير كده.
Not only do you insist on this point, but you claim it is Field Marshall al-Sisi and his advisors who came to this conclusion, whereas in fact, this idea is asserted by vast numbers of people who would have preferred a civilian candidate if there were a viable one as well as individuals who haven’t yet decided who to support.

You return to Mohammad Ali Pasha’s period to speak of Egypt’s achievements in vaccinating against smallpox and teaching medicine. Then you rightly condemn the current disastrous situation in health care given the epidemics of hepatitis and bilharzia. I too studied with a biographer of Mohammad Ali Pasha, Afaf Lutfi al-Sayyid (Marsot). However, her use of these examples of early state development was usually to point out how Great Britain had de-industrialized and discouraged Egypt’s growth and development. Even that is besides the point at present.

While miracles are needed today, in both the sphere of public health, and reform of the judiciary (as you also point out), I don’t see why we must infer that the transitional government, or the one to be elected will necessarily be any worse than the Mubarak government which brought public health, the judiciary, and if I might add, the security sector and public education to their current sorry states, and which led to the violations of human rights alluded to here along with castigation of the military for retaining control over its own budget:

ولما كنا بنهتف ضد العسكر وبنقول “يسقط يسقط حكم العسكر” ما كناش بننادي بتسريح الجيش ولا بهزيمته. إنما كنا بنطالب بحقنا في إننا نتدرب بجد لما نتجند، وإن تجنيدنا ما يبقاش لحساب الهانم مرات البيه الضابط، وإن الجيش دوره ينحصر في الدفاع عن الحدود وما لوش دعوة بمحطات البنزين ولا بصوابع الكفتة، وإن ميزانية الجيش تبقى خاضعة لرقابة المجلس التشريعي علشان الناس تبقى عارفة فلوسها رايحة فين، وإن ضباط الجيش يعرفوا إن دي أموال البلد مش عرق الجيش، وإن ما فيش أي حد يحق له إنه يعذب المواطنين المصريين في المتحف المصري أو أي متحف تاني، ولا يكشف على عذرية البنات المصريات ال نزلوا يطالبوا بحقهم في حياة كريمة، ومؤسسات تخدمهم، وبلد محترم يحترمهم.

People might assume from the above that the military still conduct virginity tests, (they were partially outlawed. http://www.cnn.com/2011/12/27/world/meast/egypt-virginity-tests/) and while it is a shame that Samira Ibrahim’s case against the military failed, is that surprising in the context of disastrous treatment of detainees and prisoners for the last decades? How am I to understand the fact that you single out the military in the latter part of your essay, suggesting that they are ill-prepared to undertake any of the nation’s needed reforms and not the security forces of the Ministry of Interior for what you write is your inability to “be safe in our homes”?

Somehow the impression is given that Egypt is about to elect a military government, and not a civilian government. Why would a ‘modern historian’ choose to give such an impression?

Let’s return to this inaccurate insistence that Egyptian history runs in a unidimensional pattern. The military is not an individual. That numerous motivations may be at work in an organization, is a given. But this is no secret. There is no need to go on insisting that the praetorianism of the Egyptian state is as it was in the 19th century, or the 1950s and ’60s. And there are many aspects on which you are silent — for instance, the U.S. role in promoting the Muslim Brotherhood into seizing its political opportunity post-Feb. 11, 2011. It is likewise popular in many circles to discuss self-serving aspects of the military’s decision, exaggerating their stability and economic holdings.

From all this we don’t gain any new understanding of the two revolutions of 1/25/11 and 6/30/13, mostly because you discounted the phenomena of civilians acting en masse and populism.

In the years I lived and taught in Egypt, I heard many quasi-scholarly discussions begin by asking “Why don’t Egyptians rebel?” and involving grotesque Orientalist assessments of the Egyptian character. I answered by looking at the various theories of revolution we had developed up to that time from Marx to Ted Gurr’s argument in _Why Do Men Rebel_, and concluded that eventually Egyptians would rebel, as they did. This supposed passivity should no longer be part of the currently pressing question of “what did Egyptians gain/what will they gain from the revolution?” Neither should we remain mired in an externally-defined and teleological question, “why do Egyptians assent to the military”? While certain Western journalists obsessively resort to this trope, just as they or their editors love to include the word ‘Pharoah’ in their article titles, you, as a scholar must certainly must be able to discern that it is ahistorical to project consistency from one era (or decade, or period of a few years) onto another. And it is far too soon to conclude “the revolution has failed” or that the military will always dominate.

Here are Khaled Fahmy’s comments in full:
يمكن فعلا الواحد لازم يشرح بديهيات الأشياء.

إحنا فعلا رددنا هتاف “الشعب يريد إسقاط النظام”، وقولنا بعلو صوتنا “يسقط يسقط حكم العسكر”، وطالبنا بقوة ووضوح بضرورة إعادة هيكلة الداخلية. بس هل ده كان يعني إننا كنا عاوزين إننا نسقط الدولة ونجيبها الأرض؟ هل كنا عاوزين فعلا إن جيشنا ينهار؟ هل كنا بنطالب بتحطيم جهاز الأمن وإن البلد تبقى مفتوحة سداح مداح؟

السيسي ومستشاريه مقتنعين فعلا بكده، ومعاهم قطاع كبير من الإعلاميين ال نجحوا في تصوير ٢٥ يناير على إنها مؤامرة من ناس مأجورة بايعة البلد ومش هاممها لو مصر بقت زي سوريا.

لكن الحقيقة غير كده.

أنا ما أقدرش اتكلم عن غيري وأدعي إني عارف كل واحد نزل وهتف ليه ضد النظام والداخلية والجيش. ممكن أتكلم بس عن نفسي.

أنا دارس لتاريخ مصر الحديث، وشايف إنه تاريخ مشرف وجميل. شايف إن إحنا كشعب وكبلد عرفنا نحقق حاجات كثيرة، وبنينا دولة حديثة بمؤسسات حديثة. أنا بأدرس تاريخ المؤسسات دي، تحديدا: الجيش والقضاء والشرطة والمستشفيات (وبشكل أقل الصحافة والنقابات والجامعات). المؤسسات دي هي ال أعطت لمصر الريادة في المنطقة. ريادة مصر على جيرانها مش نتيجة السبعة آلاف سنة والأهرامات ومينا موحد القطرين والكلام ال بيرددوه في الإعلام والمدارس.

الريادة في العصر الحديث سببها إننا بدأنا في بناء مؤسسات الدولة الحديثة قبل جيراننا بماية أو ماية وخمسين سنة على الأقل.

لكن المشكلة إن المؤسسات دي فيها خلل جوهري: المؤسسات دي بتخدم نفسها مش بتخدمنا إحنا كمواطنين.

يعني مثلا: الداخلية مش بتحميني كمواطن لكنها بتمتهن كرامتي وبتعذبني في الأقسام والسجون. ونتيجة لإن ضباطها عارفين إنه لا رقيب عليهم فده خلاهم يهتموا بمصالحهم، ويتراخوا في الارتفاع بمستوى مهنتهم، ونتيجة ده كان تدهور مهارتهم في التحقيقات الجنائية، والنتيجة المنطقية لكل ده هو شعوري أنا كمواطن بعدم الأمان في بيتي.

القضاء نفس الحاجة. أنا دارس تاريخ القضاء المصري الحديث وطالع لي كتاب عن الموضوع ده كمان ثلاثة شهور. القضاء ده كان فعلا شامخ. بالميم فعلا وبجد مش تريقة. إنما ده كان من ماية سنة. النهارده القضاء ترهل وتراخي وتدهور. ما فيش فكر جديد، ولا عدالة ناجزة، ولا رقابة على القضاة. المحاكم منهارة، والعدالة بطيئة، والأحكام جائرة، والناس حقوقها ضايعة.

المؤسسات الصحية نفس الحاجة. أنا برضو دارس تاريخ المؤسسة دي. تاريخ ناصع، مشرف، يخلى الواحد فعلا يفتخر بيه. مصر كانت أول بلد في المنطقة تقوم بحملة ناجحة للتطعيم ضد الجدري، وكانت أول بلد في المنطقة تنجح في القيام بإحصاء عام ودقيق للسكان (سنة ١٨٤٨)، وكانت أول بلد في المنطقة تفتح مدارس طبية (القصر العيني) تدرّس الطب بناء على تشريح الجثث (مش كتب الأقدمين). والنتيجة: القضاء على الأوبئة من كوليرا لطاعون، إنخفاض معدلات الوفيات بين الأطفال، ارتفاع متوسط سن الوفاة، وتحسن ملحوظ في الصحة العامة. إنما ده كان برضه من ماية سنة. ده الوقت مستشفياتنا مرتع للمرض، شهادات الطب بتاعتنا مش معترف بيها في العالم، ومنظومة الصحة العامة منهارة، المرض بيفتك بصحة الناس: أغنياءهم وفقراءهم، والدولة بإهمالها هي ال بتتسبب أحيانا في نشر الأمراض والأوبئة، وخير مثال على ذلك مرض الكبد الوبائي ال كان من أهم أسباب انتشاره هذا الانتشار الرهيب استخدام إبر غير معقمة في مستوصفات وعيادات حكومية في الثمانينات في إطار الحملة القومية وقتها للقضاء على البلهارزيا.

أما الجيش فحدث ولا حرج. الجيش المصري كانت له صولات وجولات، غزى السودان والجزيرة العربية وكريت واليونان والشام وجنوب الأناضول، وحقق انتصارات مدوية. لكن ده برضه من أكثر من ماية سنة. جيشنا الحديث سجله سجل هزائم وانكسارات. وأي هزائم وانكسارات!! ١٩٦٧. أنا ما عنديش أدنى شك إن من أهم الأسباب (ومش كلها علشان ما حدش يقول لي طب وأمريكا وموازين القوى والصهيونية) ال ورا هذا السجل الشائن للجيش المصري الحديث هو غياب الرقابة الشعبية عليه. أنا مش قصدي إن تبقى فيه مناقشة عامة للخطط العسكرية، إنما قصدي إن الشعب، بمجلسه التشريعي، وصحافته، ورأيه العام، ومجلس وزراؤه يبقى له دور رقابي على أداء الجيش. يعني أنا كمواطن مصري اتجندت وخدمت في الجيش (سنة 1986) عندي شكوك حقيقية في الجاهزية القتالية للجيش، لإني بصراحة ما شفتش أي علامة جوه الجيش لقوة قتالية محترفة. كل ال شفتهم ضباط ورتب وفلوس ما لهاش آخر، لكن كل ده مالوش علاقة بالحرب، ولا بالتدريب، ولا بالمناورات ولا بالتحضير لأي قتال من أي نوع، اللهم إلا إذلال المجندين ومسح كرامتهم. وبعد إنهاء خدمتي كل ال شفته من الجيش طرق وكباري ومطاعم وشركات ونوادي ومحطات بنزين “وطنية” وناس بتهلل وتقول تسلم الأيادي. طب والتدريب؟ والتسليح؟ والعقيدة الجهادية بتاعت المؤسسة دي؟ دي أسئلة مش مسموح لينا إننا نقرب منها، مع إنها أسئلة مهمة ومحورية وتخص أمن وسلامة المواطن خاصة إننا عايشين في منطقة من أخطر وأدمى مناطق العالم.

ده تحليلي أنا. أنا لما نزلت يوم ٢٥ يناير والأيام والأسابيع والشهور التالية كنت بأنزل مش علشان عاوز أجيب الدولة دي الأرض. بالعكس. أنا نزلت مع أصحابي وزمايلي ال أظن كانوا بيشاركوني حسرتي على البلد علشان ما كانش هاين علينا التدهور ال شايفينه حوالينا والخراب ال أصاب مؤسسات البلد.

إحنا لما كنا بنهتف بإسقاط النظام ما كناش عاوزين نسقط البلد، إنما كنا عاوزين نسقط النظام الّ خرّب البلد.

لما كنا بننادي بضرورة إصلاح القضاء كنا بنطالب بتحقيق العدالة وبإنهاء الفساد ال بيرتع في صفوف القضاة، وإن المواطن يبقى من حقه الحصول على حقوقه المغتصبة بسرعة وكفاءة ويسر.

لما كنا بننادي بضرورة إعادة هيكلة الداخلية كنا بنؤكد على حقنا في الشعور بالأمن في بيوتنا، وفي نفس الوقت بحقنا في إننا منتعذبش في الأقسام ولا إننا نتهان على إيد أي ضابط شرطة معدّي في الشارع.

ولما كنا بنهتف ضد العسكر وبنقول “يسقط يسقط حكم العسكر” ما كناش بننادي بتسريح الجيش ولا بهزيمته. إنما كنا بنطالب بحقنا في إننا نتدرب بجد لما نتجند، وإن تجنيدنا ما يبقاش لحساب الهانم مرات البيه الضابط، وإن الجيش دوره ينحصر في الدفاع عن الحدود وما لوش دعوة بمحطات البنزين ولا بصوابع الكفتة، وإن ميزانية الجيش تبقى خاضعة لرقابة المجلس التشريعي علشان الناس تبقى عارفة فلوسها رايحة فين، وإن ضباط الجيش يعرفوا إن دي أموال البلد مش عرق الجيش، وإن ما فيش أي حد يحق له إنه يعذب المواطنين المصريين في المتحف المصري أو أي متحف تاني، ولا يكشف على عذرية البنات المصريات ال نزلوا يطالبوا بحقهم في حياة كريمة، ومؤسسات تخدمهم، وبلد محترم يحترمهم.

“General al-Sisi at the U.S. Army War College” by Sherifa Zuhur

1 Aug

I gave the following interview today to Evan Hill of the Economist. Originally, he said he would post it on his own website but I don’t think that’s happening now. Please see the end of this piece for some explanation.

–What was your role vis-a-vis General Sisi at the War College? Did you teach him? Which classes and when? Were there other Egyptian officers present?

I was a research professor of national security affairs (and later Islamic and regional studies) at the Strategic Studies Institute within the Army War College. The SSI is the Army’s think tank focused on strategy. My primary duties were research but a colleague had a stroke that year, so I took on more teaching duties. Al-Sisi was one of 38 or so International Fellows in the year-long Master’s program in strategic studies who along with 300 US Fellows are organized into groups of 12 or 13 (that’s called their Seminar). They meet in that seminar covering leadership, some military history, intro. to strategy, do a full-scale strategic exercise & take electives. I taught Regional Studies of the Middle East (different professors lectured) I gave 4 1/2 of the 10 lectures, also in a counterterrorism seminar in which General Barno and I were guest speakers, and in a course on the media (covering the Arab press). Observed al-Sisi in the Regional Studies course and his seminar and in a course on center of gravity (Clausewitzian) theory.

There was only one Egyptian officer per year. Sedky Sobhi, now Army Chief of Staff earlier. The year after al-Sisi, the Egyptian officer who I agreed to sponsor, complained that he did not want a “woman” to sponsor him.  So please don’t think I would hesitate to tell you something uncomplimentary if it were true.

Al-Sisi and the other Arab officers would sometimes delegate one of their number to respond if they objected to the discourse, tone or approach or other students’ comments. They often did this assigning the spokesperson to the most senior or experienced among them, or to the person who communicated best in English. Al-Sisi was the spokesperson on occasion. al-Sisi like his predecessor, Sedky Sobhi, made clear in his comments that he felt the U.S. had bitten off more than it could chew in Iraq and in the War on Terror as then conceived. He was more diplomatic, but less funny and more introspective than Sedky Sobhi. We had numerous extremely interesting discussions on the role of culture (as impacts women in the region), economics, conflicting national interests and he was interested in certain hot-button topics like Iran’s and Israel’s aims in the region as well as “American” topics like jointness (coordination of military & other governmental services).

Internat’l Fellows each have Barracks and community sponsors, seminar leaders and Strategic Research Project advisors. My sponsoree that year who I saw constantly was COL Taiseer Saleh, the nephew of Pres. Saleh and so I also saw al-Sisi socially with Taiseer and other Arab officers. Additionally, al-Sisi and his family attended our tiny local mosque, donated by the state of Qatar.

AWC is the most senior of the Army service colleges, the foreign officers selected are usually well thought of and well-connected in their own military. They are slated for advancement as was al-Sisi who rapidly climbed from about 2008 to regional commander of the Egyptian Army for Alexandria and the north, and then to director of Military intelligence & reconnaissance.

Q.–Were you able to get to know General Sisi at all? Did you have one-on-one discussions, meet informally outside of the classroom, or have any kind of interaction that would give a better sense of him as a person? Did he seem, as some Egyptian press accounts have put it, particularly devout?

I did get to know al-Sisi, then a Brigadier (1 star) general — I came to know the previous year’s Egyptian Brigadier Gen. very well & he was somewhat more vocal than al-Sisi, but what set me apart was being the only woman in SSI (the international officers were interested in our research center as the govt. has assisted in setting up some similar efforts in other countries)
and the only Muslim faculty member, ever, I guess up until then. That meant I was invited to some social events on our religious holidays and at the musallah, (small mosque). It meant also that I could not socialize in the guy-guy manner at such events, but I met his wife and daughter (and a cousin) and got a sense of the family. I also spoke with him at various parties and social events in the homes of other students and faculty.

At the time, under Bush and in the USAWC’s War on Terror atmosphere, I suppose every Muslim who prays (not all do) or fasts is considered extremely religious & that’s where this comment came from. Just as the vast number of ordinary Egyptian Muslims are pious, so too was al-Sisi, but not more so than my husband or in-laws. Nothing extraordinary and such piety is not in contradiction with a belief (which al-Sisi expresses) that the military must be above politics. Unlike US officers, the Egyptian military can’t vote.

We were just beginning a dispute at the time at the college about whether we (Muslims) could have a larger prayer room which I was advocating; the college cha& in the library that fit 3 people). The above 2 persons argued that very few students prayed & the chaplain later launched a full-out attack declaring the Quran’s Surah 1 attacks Jews & Christians. Al-Sisi was observant, but did not try to preach to his colleagues or others or hand it religious materials (as some Gulf state Fellows have). But neither was he out to have a good time while in the U.S. which has been the case for some officers.

Al-Sisi’s daughter wore hijab; one of his sons was attending courses at Dickinson College. His children and his wife and some relatives who visited them were very lovely, friendly and religiously conservative. Ultimately, I think the suggestion of his piety was made in the press to assert that he would not have been chosen by the Muslim Brotherhood as Minister of Defense to replace Tahtawy had the organization not trusted him, because Morsi was first and foremost attentive to the aims of the Muslim Brotherhood (along with the Freedom and Justice Party. As an observer of the Egyptian Army, I’m not so convinced; he had already risen in the ranks and very probably this was more so the Army’s decision than the MB & F & J.

–What was notable about General Sisi, in terms of his areas of interest or particular acumen, or what he seemed to express particular approval or disapproval of, or affinity for?

al-Sisi was quiet, well-spoken, very well informed about certain issues in history and regional politics including Islamic history which some of the other officers were interested in as well. Far more so, of course than some of our American officers, however, they are also experienced professionals and have other skills and insights that interested him.

He was ready for debate but not aggressive. There were interesting interactions between him and other officers – for example the very bright Indian & Pakistani and certain European officers. Each year there was a challenge from the Israeli officer to the Arab officers – again, it depended personality if this escalated at all, and I recall the Israeli officer that year to have been rather bullish. In that year I was working on a project which was very critical of Mubarak and continued lack of political freedom in Egypt. I had the impression that al-Sisi did not disagree that Egypt should transition to a more fully pluralist state, but was also cognizant of all the difficulties that entailed for a population which had not ever participated (at that time) in an open election. He was quite interested the discourse on the War on Terror and what he and some International Fellows considered a far too sweeping attack on Muslim communities, and if you can imagine the response of some of the American officers, this sort of debate went on every day as the latter took to task the Arab officers for every failing of their societies.

That year I co-organized the Middle East conference at the War College and a tricky aspect was my invitation to Prince Turki al-Saud, then Ambassador to the US which I pushed for and some other faculty and directors tried to push back. Al-Sisi and the Arab officers were very helpful and grateful for the conference and that the Commandant supported that particular invitation (since there was a lot of Saudi-bashing at that point), even if they did not especially like some of our “experts” views, for example Dennis Ross, or others invited that year. These and other large events, including my former institute’s SSI’s conferences and the annual National Security Strategy conference were all eye-openers for al-Sisi, who along with his classmates also visited other installations in the U.S. and Hawaii.

Among the serious and more theoretical lessons stressed are that war, ie. military power is but one means towards an end implying the inefficacy of other means. And we taught a great deal about other instruments of power – diplomatic, informational and economic.

I worked that year with 4 American officers and another International on their Strategic Research Projects (which is what Robert Springborg wrongly refers to as a “thesis “ in his article. Ret. Col Stephen Gerras has said he was el-Sisi’s SRP advisor and his seminar advisor. Al-Sisi write seminar papers, and I saw a draft of his SRP. To explain: none of the students write a thesis of the conventional length for an MS. Instead they write this Strategic Research Project which is a maximum of 25 pp. (unless the advisor agrees to something lengthier). Usually it’s only 16 to 20 pp. The International Fellows must pass an English language exam and most do not, hardly any of the Arab officers pass the exam (but for the Jordanian, or Lebanese officers). If they don’t pass the exam, they are not actually receiving an MS in Strategic Studies and aren’t required to write an SRP. Many want to write one because all their peers are, but if their English scores are inadequate, I have had students prepare a power-point presentation and be graded on that, or present me an SRP in Arabic (which I insisted we translate) or a very short paper. That is what I think he wrote. Gerras is subject to restrictions by the College’s Office of Public Affairs (and I am not), so you can try asking him.

(Here I wrote something about the originality of the SRPs, plagiarism, and the fact that the failure rate of the Fellows is zero – in other words, we could not and did not fail officers).

Here is an example of one of the best SRPs I supervised and by one of the only international fellows who qualified in the English exams. http://books.google.com/books/about/The_2006_Israeli_War_on_Lebanon.html?id=ucr8NwAACAAJ

Usually an SRP will reflect the officer’s sense of his own military’s position on an issue.

–What was your reaction when he was elevated by Morsi, and when he helped oust him? Was there any hint that General Sisi would ever play such a role?

He had already risen to a fairly elevated position in the Army for his age but was among a cohort who could be seen as not having been corrupted or too close to Mubarak and think that was the important consideration. I was surprised but not terribly so, because many other of our Internat’l Fellows have gone onto higher leadership positions in their countries. He had been fairly conciliatory to many groups this spring prior to Tamarrod and for example, tried to allay the fears of some groups such as the musicians and artists who then protested Morsi’s appointee as Min. of Culture.

I can’t say there was a hint that this was his idea when he was at the AWC which was only a year after the 2005 elections and the period when Kefaya became active. However, last fall when I was researching a piece on Egypt’s minorities since Mubarak’s fall, I interviewed people who already believed (and knew others of similar sentiments) the Army should take control given the disastrous direction signaled in the whole process of drafting Egypt’s constitution. Al-Sisi gave an indication that the Muslim Brotherhood had gone too far in February last year when he said that the political struggle between contesting forces could bring about “the collapse of the Egyptian state.” I don’t think this was meant, however as a warning of a takeover.
When al-Sisi responded to the demonstrations of 30th of June, he revealed some of his efforts at diplomacy with Morsi up to that point, on behalf of Tamarrod & 30th of June and the opposition parties which took place in June.

For now, there is no reason to believe that al-Sisi will dictate the actions of the current interim government except in the area of national security. Given the arms being confiscated, situation in the Sinai, and MB intransigence, this will be complicated. There was a denial that al-Sisi was interested in running for President, but every Egyptian President but Morsi has come from the military, and it would not be illegal for him to run. I don’t think that scenario is what the demonstrators of the 30th of June have in mind – rather his and their objectives are to carry out parliamentary elections & work towards a situation where political forces are better able to share power and cooperate instead of relying on the military for leadership.

As for al-Sisi’s call for the public to demonstrate, some have called this Peronism. But those demonstrating for al-Sisi included many liberals who see this temporary guardianship of the country as the only path towards democracy, and also many poor and underprivileged Egyptians who are not anti-military and who are actually very angry at Americans for dubbing this a coup rather than a popular revolution and rejection of ballotocracy.

My personal position is very complicated. I am eligible for Egyptian citizenship but can’t hold dual citizenship and also renew my security clearances. So with my Egyptian hat on I fully supported Tamarrod. As a scholar of Islamic movements, and particularly the Muslim Brotherhood (subject of my dissertation), I am however, not an advocate of their totalizing da`wah or mission. I had hoped the Muslim Brotherhood would behave more democratically while in power via the Freedom and Justice Party and President Morsi, but month by month since June 2012, it became very clear that was not the case.

I no longer have to ask permission of anyone at the Army War College to speak to the media, and my affiliation is the Institute of Middle Eastern, Islamic and Strategic Studies where I am director.

My understanding is that the Economist or Evan Hill only wished to print two comments from the material below – one about Gen. al-Sisi’s wife and daughters’ clothing, and the other about his perception of Egypt’s way forward. That’s fine, but if Mr. Hill thinks I’m not credible, I’d rather not add to the idea that al-Sisi is an “Islamist” because of his family’s dress styles. It sounded as if they thought I’m not qualified to say who an Islamist is or is not. And wish to adhere to the theory that al-Sisi is a Muslim Brotherhood backer as did Robert Springborg in his recent piece in Foreign Policy. I hope that’s not true.