Gamal Abdel Nasser is widely regarded, among Egyptians and historians alike, as the best president Egypt has ever had. Nasser was so loved that when he attempted to resign in 1967, his constituents wouldn’t allow it. An outpouring of public support coaxed him back into office. Now, 40 years after Egypt’s victory over Israel in the Yom Kippur War, revered Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is the most powerful figure in the once-great nation — and with good reason. His charisma and firm leadership style bear a clear resemblance to Nasser’s, making him a suitable candidate for the country’s highest seat.
Deposed President Mohamed Morsi promoted el-Sisi to minister of defense in August 2012, helping catapult the general into the spotlight. Less than a year later, el-Sisi and his army ousted the cruel Muslim Brotherhood leadership because it had “failed to meet the demands of the Egyptian people.” Anti-Morsi advocates were overjoyed, and el-Sisi became a national hero seemingly overnight.
In the months following the coup, el-Sisi has been quick to remind the Egyptian people that his actions as general — deposing Morsi, and urging mass demonstrations, utilizing fatal violence to silence Brotherhood opposition — have been in the best interest of the Egyptian people. Although it is comforting to accept el-Sisi’s justification for his behavior, the cynical explanation for it is more probable — his decisions were made in his best interest. El-Sisi may have been quietly vying for the presidency all along, and while that is an impossible notion to verify, it cannot be dismissed.
However, el-Sisi’s intentions matter little in discussing his merits as a general and potential president. El-Sisi, like Nasser, was raised poor. Both rose to power through hard work, and both stood steadfast in the face of pushback from the Muslim Brotherhood. Like Nasser, el-Sisi has proven effective at cultivating nationalism. Egyptians are once again proud to proclaim their love for the country. El-Sisi’s speeches are confident yet deliberately tactful. He has quickly become the voice of a battered republic.
If el-Sisi chooses not to run for president, he will remain general of the army and a chief player in the Egyptian government. His high political standing is unlikely to diminish soon. If he chooses to run, his centrality in Egyptian politics will feed his unrivaled legitimacy. No opposing candidate would stand a chance, as he is too prominent and too revered to lose. The largely Egyptian Coptic Church has expressed support for el-Sisi, and so have countless leading political activists. Although el-Sisi isn’t unanimously backed, the support he has garnered is considerable. Decades removed from Nasser’s reinstatement, the Egyptian people, after enduring much tumult in recent months, have made their opinion known again. They want el-Sisi for president.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Oct. 8 print edition. Omar Etman is a contributing columnist. Email him at [email protected]