Readings — From the February 2014 issue

Now You Sisi

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From a video of senior Egyptian army officers at a meeting held by General Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, leaked last October by the Islamist website Rassd News Network; the meeting is thought to have occurred around the time of the December 2012 constitutional referendum, seven months before the coup that deposed President Mohamed Morsi. Omar is an officer identified only by his first name. El-Sisi, then minister of defense, was appointed first deputy prime minister last August. Translated from the Arabic by Ahmed Ould Meiloud.

OMAR: You know the armed forces in any country are the main pillar of national security.

GENERAL ABDUL-FATTAH EL-SISI: True!

OMAR: In any one of these countries there exist red lines protecting this entity from the media.

SISI: True!

OMAR: We have enjoyed these protections for the past fifty years. The situation was stable. But because of the revolution, and as a result of the chaos, these lines unfortunately got blurred. The people became emboldened and the media became especially brazen in its attacks on us, on the ground that we got involved in the political process. Now that we have stepped out of politics and come back to our barracks, we need Your Excellency to reemphasize these red lines in a more advanced fashion — in a way different from under the old regime. I don’t think we can now prevent anyone from talking. We need a new method to deal with the media or to bring it to our side, defining new red lines on a respectable and pragmatic basis. In my view, the media in Egypt is all dominated by twenty to twenty-five individuals. We can establish with these individuals some sort of dialogue or negotiation in a way that allows us to entice or intimidate them.

SISI: I know the entice part, but you need to explain to me how to intimidate.

OMAR: It is important for most of these people to be cooperative with the armed forces or to meet with the spokesperson of the armed forces. At the same time, waving the red card indicates to these people, even if they don’t fully cooperate, there is some pressure, thus forcing them to exercise self-censorship. We need a team to work with these people in secret on an individual basis. When these people are meeting together their language becomes markedly different from their language “behind closed doors,” as the saying goes. Even if we bring to our side only ten or twenty percent of them, that will be of great assistance to us. A million posters on the streets saying “The army and the people act like one hand” cannot compete with the message that a headline or an article in a newspaper could effectively convey.

SISI: Omar, the situation that the revolution created has broken all the restraints with respect not only to the army but to the entire state apparatus. The country has been dismantled, and it is being reassembled afresh. You live this situation and you will see its impact on you. You will not be able to contain it fully and go back to the way you used to live, the state where no one would ever mention your name.

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