Friday 7 February 2014

Al-Sisi: Egypt’s new Pharaoh or Caesar?

If William Shakespeare were following news of Egypt’s presidential machinations he might notice a familiar reticence to declare leadership of the people.

Egyptian Army chief of staff Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi reportedly told the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Siyasah that he “could not reject the demand” of the people that he should run for president. However, the military have claimed that Al-Sisi’s words were misrepresented in the 5 February report. Nevertheless, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has effectively given its public support to Al-Sisi’s undeclared candidacy amid calls that the “choice of the people” be heeded. SCAF promoted Al-Sisi to Field Marshall in January.

As Al-Arabiya News puts it “Despite his promise that the military does not seek to rule Egypt, he [Al-Sisi] seems primed to ascend to the position. If in power, his backers say his status as a national hero will help him rebuild the country.”

Maybe the history repeating itself is all Egyptian. Zahi Hawass, a former antiquities minister, told the 2 January Guardian newspaper that the upheavals mirror the century of chaos that preceded the accession of Mentuhotep II to the Egyptian throne in 2046BCE. "We need an elected officer – a strong man – to control the country. And in my opinion, Sisi is our only hope,” said Hawass. As pharaoh, Mentuhotep restored order to Egypt and Sisi is really Mentuhotep II."

Yet still some might hope Al-Sisi could be a Kleisthenes figure. Kleisthenes of late 6th century BCE Athens did not want his city state to revert to the bad old ways of political chaos. He won over the people by offering citizen rights to the masses – giving equality before the law, and importantly he weakened the power of factionalism that stifled progress. “Thus Athens went from strength to strength, and proved, if proof were needed, how noble a thing equality before the law is, not in one respect only, but in all,” wrote the father of history, Herodotus [The Histories (V:78)]

But if Al-Sisi does follow Caesar’s lead, who’s up for Mark Antony’s role? Former Luxor governor Major General Samir Farag, and former Assistant Secretary of Defence for Finance and Administration, Major General Mahmoud Nasr will be running Al-Sisi’s presidential campaign according to some reports.

Anyway, here are a couple of extracts from Act I Scene 2 of WillIiam Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar:

Flourish, and shout

What means this shouting? I do fear, the people choose Caesar for their king.

Ay, do you fear it? Then must I think you would not have it so.

I would not, Cassius; yet I love him well. But wherefore do you hold me here so long? What is it that you would impart to me? If it be aught toward the general good, Set honour in one eye and death i' the other, and I will look on both indifferently, for let the gods so speed me as I love the name of honour more than I fear death.

Was the crown offered him thrice?

Ay, marry, was't, and he put it by thrice, every time gentler than other, and at every putting-by mine honest neighbours shouted.

Who offered him the crown?

Why, Antony.

Tell us the manner of it, gentle Casca.

I can as well be hanged as tell the manner of it: it was mere foolery; I did not mark it. I saw Mark Antony offer him a crown; yet 'twas not a crown neither, 'twas one of these coronets; and, as I told you, he put it by once: but, for all that, to my thinking, he would fain have had it. Then he offered it to him again; then he put it by again: but, to my thinking, he was very loath to lay his fingers off it. And then he offered it the third time; he put it the third time by: and still as he refused it, the rabblement hooted and clapped their chapped hands and threw up their sweaty night-caps and uttered such a deal of stinking breath because Caesar refused the crown that it had almost choked Caesar; for he swounded and fell down at it: and for mine own part, I durst not laugh, for fear of opening my lips and receiving the bad air.


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