Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, like previous rulers of Egypt, is a former high-ranking military officer legitimised by vote. However authoritarian his image is, it reassures many Egyptians, who have had three years of staggering instability.
Sisi, however, took vows before his predecessor the democratically elected Mohammed Mursi, the only civilian who has held the presidential mitre, when he was appointed head of the army and minister of defence. If the Islamist head of state was confident Sissi would do as he was told, he misplaced his trust.
The general soon delivered an ultimatum, that Mursi grant protesters’ demands. They were appalled at the Muslim Brotherhood’s governance.
On 3 July last year, Sisi removed Mursi by force and assumed all his powers.
Eleven months of bloody repression followed, in which some 1,400 people were killed, justice was arbitrary, any guarantees were off. Fifteen thousand people were imprisoned and more than 500 Muslim Brotherhood members were condemned to death for forcefully voicing their opposition.
This rule by iron fist galvanised Sisi’s popularity. He was born in the same neighbourhood of Cairo in November 1954 as nationalist leader Gamal Abdel Nasser. Sissi was a woodworker’s son who joined the army and rose through the ranks.
An old neighbour recalls: “We think Sissi is both well-intentioned and disciplined. He is a man of the people with wide experience in the field. He’s an army man. He was a regional chief and also boss of the information services. It’s quite normal that he is president.”
Sisi was expected to win the election. His inner circle asked him to run. Sissi traded his uniform for a civilian suit and wore a smile.
He said: “Egyptians are a very patient and great people. Remember, it’s a 7,000-year-old civilisation. As long as there’s hope, that proves to be justified in real terms, they are ready to be patient.”
The former field marshal himself has said they will have to wait 20-25 years for a real democracy. It is less certain whether the Egyptians will be as patient waiting for restoration of a viable economy, that is so badly adrift.