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Sisi’s student paper lifts lid on Egypt’s new regime

Text by Mehdi CHEBIL

Latest update : 2013-08-11

The Washington-based Judicial Watch foundation released on August 8 an academic paper penned by Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi during his 2006 studies at the US Army War College. The paper reveals the strongman’s views on democracy in the Middle East.

One month after the ousting of Egypt’s first freely elected president Mohammed Morsi, an American pro-transparency group has obtained a 2006 academic paper penned by Egyptian army chief Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

The document gives clues to to the secretive personality of Egypt’s new de facto ruler - and his troubled relationship with Morsi.

Written by the leader of the July 3 coup during his time studying at the US Army War College, the 11-page essay presents the author’s views on democracy. The document also helps explain why Morsi appointed Sisi military chief last year instead of more senior and better qualified candidates.

“Ideally, the legislative, executive, and judicial bodies should all take Islamic beliefs into consideration when carrying out their duties”, wrote the student Sisi in 2006, while warning that democracy in the Middle East “may bear little resemblance to a Western democracy”. Musing about the Caliphate of early Islamic history, Sisi also argues the importance of a non-secular form of government that should respect people’s religious beliefs.

What several experts described as Sisi’s “radical views” must have been music to the ears of a freshly-elected president from the Muslim Brotherhood. Sisi’s adherence to conservative and Islamic values helped tip the balance in his favour in August 2012 when Morsi appointed him Minister of Defence.

But speculation over a possible alliance between Egypt’s new military chiefs and the elected Islamist leaders was firmly put to rest when Sisi seized the mass anti-government protests as an opportunity to overthrow Morsi.

Closet Islamist or Mubarak-era diehard ?

In retrospect, several pro-Islamist statements in Sisi’s academic paper appear tragically ironic. The brigadier-general, who complained in March 2006 about “religious leaders (…) often sent to prison without trial (sic)”, has since overseen the brutal killing of over 200 pro-Morsi protesters since July 2013. Since the July 3 coup, Egyptian security forces have also jailed officials linked to Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood while the deposed president himself is being held incommunicado.

Still, this dramatic about-face is almost foreseeable when reading thoroughly Sisi’s early paper. Eric Trager, expert of Egyptian politics at the Washington Institute, wrote in Foreign Policy Magazine that the views expressed in the thesis echo the Mubarak regime’s argument against democracy, ie, favouring “stability” over the risks of liberalising the political system.

Sisi already showed contempt for ballot box legitimacy in his essay, going so far as to argue that there are “valid reasons” for autocrats to be wary of "relinquishing control to the public vote”. Sisi cites “security concerns both internal and external” and the necessity “to educate the population” as the foundation for these beliefs. After the coup, the education argument was recycled by some liberal leaders, who blamed their repeated electoral defeats on Egyptian voters’ “lack of education”.

However, one of the most prophetic parts of Sisi’s academic paper is when he highlights the threat posed by security forces “loyal to the ruling party” rather than to the government: “If a democracy evolves with different constituencies, there is no guarantee that the police and military forces will align with the emerging ruling parties”. As Morsi found out on July 3, electoral legitimacy doesn’t necessarily translate into loyalty from the state security apparatus.

Date created : 2013-08-10

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