This Egyptian writer is way, way too excited about the country’s military leader

October 24, 2013

An Egyptian woman kisses a poster of General Abdel Fatah al-Sissi in Cairo. (KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Ever since the days leading up to Egypt's July 3 military coup, an extreme form of secular nationalism has been rising there. In all countries, and particularly in this one, ultra-nationalism can sometimes lead to worship of the military and popular organization around a strong, centralized ruler. Egyptian nationalists are prone to both in the case of Gen. Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, the former defense minister who led the coup and is no Egypt's de facto leader.

There have been many shows of Sissi worship in the last few months; see these photos of the pro-Sissi posters, banners and other sorts of iconography that have popping up around the country, of which this banner is my favorite. But a column today in Al Ahram Weekly, a sub-section of Egypt's most widely read newspaper, seems to take Sissi-mania to its unnerving if logical conclusion. Here are a few snips:

He stands straight and tall, impeccably attired and starched from head to toe. His freshly washed countenance and youthful zeal shield a Herculean strength and nerves of steel. He wears the feathers of a dove but has the piercing eyes of a hawk. During our thousand days of darkness, dozens of potential leaders pranced and boasted, to no avail. The leader of the people should combine a love of country, a deep faith in God and the desire to serve the nation’s will.

... Whatever else is going on in the rest of this vast universe, this much is certain — Al-Sisi has captured the imagination of all Egyptians, if not all the world.

It concludes:

Yes, the Eagle had landed.

His bronzed, gold skin, as gold as the sun’s rays, hides a keen, analytical fire within. He challenges the world not with bellows and bravura but with a soft, sombre reproach, with an audible timbre of compassion.

There is almost poetry in his leadership, but the ardour of the sun is in his veins. He will lead us to victory and never renounce the struggle, and we will be right there at his side.

The column, by writer Lubna Abdel Aziz, casts Sissi as a global hero and savior for the July 3 coup. The language might be unusually overheated but the core message here is actually not so uncommon: of deifying praise for military rulers, condemnation of the Muslim Brotherhood as fifth-column enemies of the state and vociferous approval of not just the July coup but the ensuing crackdown on pro-Brotherhood protesters that claimed hundreds of civilian lives. Acclaimed Egyptian novelist Alaa al-Aswani raised eyebrows with an August column that was seen as endorsing state violence and advocating an absolute fealty to the military, as many secular Egyptian writers have been doing. So the above column might be over-the-top, but it's far from an uncommon view of things.

In August, as Egyptian nationalism hardened, worried Egypt-watchers warned that the country's "liberals" were becoming unwitting pawns in the military's efforts to retake control. Some even compared the ultra-nationalism to the rise of fascism in 1930s Europe. Columns like this one from Al Ahram are a reminder that these attitudes are only deepening.

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Max Fisher | October 24, 2013