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The Man Who Toppled Morsi

Who is the officer who holds Egypt’s future in his hands?

4:40 PM, Jul 18, 2013 • By LEE SMITH
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Some analysts have noted that Sisi’s coup and his dragnet arresting hundreds of key Muslim Brotherhood members is similar to Nasser’s confrontation with the Brotherhood, but the similarities may go further. After all, Sisi is taking some of his cues from the same man who was Nasser’s brain, Heikal. A prolific author and former editor of Egypt’s flagship newspaper, Al-Ahram, Mohamed Hassanein Heikal is most famous for his close relationship with Nasser. Whether Heikal directed Nasser’s political moves, as the dean of Egyptian journalists likes to let on, or he merely witnessed up close Nasser’s decision-making process, his reputation as a great man is premised almost entirely on his history with Arab nationalism’s greatest hero. According to reports, Sisi met with Heikal regularly before the coup.  Egyptian sources say that Heikal wrote both Sisi’s speech giving Morsi a 48-hour ultimatum, and Sisi’s post-coup announcement.

“It’s not surprising Sisi would fall for someone like Heikal,” says Tadros. “Even 40 years after the death of Nasser, Heikal retains this aura of greatness around him—a great mind, a genius, someone who is well connected and knows the world and its ways better than anyone else. This reputation is undeserved but would appeal to someone like Sisi, whose experience of the world is very limited. Compare him to Mubarak and Tantawi. Many of these older officers were trained in the Soviet Union, so Mubarak’s distaste for socialism was based on living there and seeing what it was like. What we know of Sisi on the other hand is that he was a military attaché in Saudi Arabia and trained for a brief time in the United States. This is not a man of the world.”

Indeed, it is perhaps Sisi’s provincialism, his view of Egypt as the center of the world, as much as his ambition that led him to embrace Heikal. Nasser was the champion of Arab nationalism, but in his hands this ideological conceit of one great unified Arab nation was always an instrument for Egyptian national interests—often at the expense of other regional players, like Jordan and Saudi Arabia. In committing troops to fight alongside the republican forces during North Yemen’s 1962-1970 civil war, Nasser was engaged in a proxy war with Riyadh, a disastrous policy often referred to as Egypt’s Vietnam. With tens of thousands of troops in Yemen, Nasser found himself fighting on another front in June 1967, when Israel crushed Egypt, seizing the Sinai in six days.

If Sisi removed Morsi with the idea of righting the ship of state, he couldn’t have chosen a worse example than Nasser. “I don’t think this means Sisi will attack Israel,” says Tadros. “Though that might be a problem at some point. What it means for Sisi is Egypt’s return to a place of prominence. Because of our civilization—pharaonic civilization, Islamic civilization—Egyptians think that our country deserves to be ruled by someone with more of a vision that Mubarak or Morsi. Sisi fits into this narrative of an Egypt sure of its destiny and leading the region.”

The concern is that in Sisi’s view, it is the army that will lead Egypt, and Sisi the army.

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