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17 Apr 2019 00:00
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. (Andrew Caballero/Reuters)
Egypt’s general-turned-president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi who could stay in power until 2030 is an autocrat for some and symbol of stability for others.
The 596-member parliament stacked with Sisi’s supporters was due to vote Tuesday on amendments allowing the president to extend his current term by two years and stand for another six-year mandate.
He could as a result potentially remain president until 2030, and would also be granted greater control over the judiciary under the amendments.
The sweeping constitutional changes in Egypt where demonstrations have effectively been banned under Sisi come as months-long protests in Sudan brought down veteran ruler Omar al-Bashir.
In Algeria, president Abdelaziz Bouteflika was forced to resign earlier this month after mass protests.
Sisi, as a champion of stability, commands the support of Western powers.
United States President Donald Trump regularly lavishes him with praise, hailing him for doing a “great job” during his latest visit to the White House on April 9.
A former army chief, Sisi stormed to the presidency at 2014 polls winning 96.9% of the vote, a year after having led the military in ousting Egypt’s first freely-elected president, the Islamist Mohamed Morsi.
Whether people love or loathe Sisi, regard him as a bulwark of stability or as an autocrat, Sisi is the undisputed political force in Egypt.
Under Sisi, authorities have silenced all forms of political opposition in a sweeping crackdown on Islamists as well as secular and liberal activists.
Even prominent novelists, actors and singers who express the slightest criticism of Sisi’s rule have not been spared.
In the run-up to his 2018 re-election, he swept aside all token opposition parties, leaving him as the only real choice on the ballot paper.
The sole challenger was little-known Moussa Mostafa Moussa, himself a supporter of the president, who registered at the 11th hour, saving the election from being a one-horse race.
Sisi swept the poll with 97% of the ballots, according to official results.
Sisi, a former career army officer, was born in November 1954 in El-Gamaleya neighbourhood in the heart of Islamic Cairo.
He graduated from Egypt’s military academy in 1977, later studied in Britain and the United States, and became military intelligence chief under president Hosni Mubarak who was toppled in a 2011 uprising.
As Egypt’s leader, Sisi is often seen microphone in hand, presiding over public ceremonies.
Speaking in Egypt’s Arabic dialect, sometimes laughing in the middle of his own lengthy speeches, he projects an image of father of the nation.
He is fond of telling Egyptians that they are the apple of his eye, stressing he is there only to serve the people.
Sisi, regularly invoking stability as cornerstone to achieving prosperity, has made the fight against terrorism a priority.
He is seen by many Egyptians as the right man to lead the country after years of political, security and economic turmoil that followed the ouster of Mubarak.
A father of four whose wife wears a headscarf, Sisi is described by those close to him as a pious Muslim who does not miss any of the five daily prayers.
But he is also reported to have a strong sense of his own importance, with audio recordings leaked by Islamic-leaning media pointing to a big ego.
In one leak, Sisi recalls a dream about the late president Anwar Sadat, which he saw as an omen that he would one day become powerful himself.
In another, he tells of a dream in which he held a red sword inscribed with the Muslim declaration of faith.
Ironically, it was now-jailed Morsi who appointed Sisi defence minister and commander-in-chief of the armed forces in 2012.
A year later, Sisi ended Morsi’s turbulent year in power and cracked down on the Islamist’s supporters, with hundreds of people killed in weeks.
On one bloody day — August 14, 2013 — security forces killed more than 700 people in Cairo when they dispersed sit-ins by pro-Morsi protesters.
At the time, Human Rights Watch said the “mass killings of protesters” that day amounted to “probable crimes against humanity”.
Since Morsi’s removal, tens of thousands of his followers have been jailed, and hundreds sentenced in rapid mass trials condemned by the United Nations.
Sisi has also launched a military campaign against Islamic State group fighters based in the restive north of the Sinai Peninsula.
But so far he has been unable to quash the insurgency.
On the economic front, he has launched an IMF-mandated programme of drastic reforms that include cutting energy subsidies, introducing value-added tax and floating the pound.
Many secular and left-wing activists initially supported Sisi, but he has repeatedly been accused by international human rights groups of committing serious violations to silence dissent.
During his first presidential campaign in 2014, he said that “talking about freedoms” should not take precedence over “national security”.
Egypt needed “20 to 25 years to establish a true democracy”, he said.
© Agence France-Presse
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