General el-Sissi’s Ties
The important ones are to the Brotherhood, not the U.S.

General Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi


Andrew C. McCarthy

The neoconservative Wall Street Journal’s monotonously Islamophilic celebration of the “Arab Spring” has become as comically predictable as the open-borders enthusiasm that colors its coverage of illegal immigration. A fine example is the paper’s profile of the general chosen by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s new president, to lead the armed forces.

The Journal is still stuck on the democracy-project dogma that free elections herald the birth of liberty, even as the Brotherhood tightens the noose in a nation whose population, by lopsided margins, keeps approving Muslim Brotherhood initiatives, electing Islamic supremacists, and telling pollsters that it would like to see Islam’s repressive sharia law strictly enforced. Thus, Journal’s story about General Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi runs under a headline assuring readers that Morsi has picked a defense minister with longstanding “U.S. Ties.”

The profile elaborates that Sissi has been working with the American military for three decades and even took a basic training course at Fort Benning, Ga., in 1981. He is, we are further told, well known to, and liked by, senior Obama-administration officials. The implication is clear: Sure, there are now some Islamists running the government, but don’t be concerned, because the Egyptian armed forces are still really in charge and they remain staunchly pro-American. As the report states, “U.S. officials expressed confidence that Gen. Sissi will maintain close ties with the U.S., which provides Egypt with $1.3 billion a year in military aid, and uphold Egypt’s peace deal with Israel.”

Happy ending, right? Depends on whether you keep reading. It is not until 15 paragraphs down, by which point most readers have already moved on, that we get to the most significant part of the report, which deals with the “ties” that actually matter — not to the U.S. military but to the Muslim Brotherhood:

Mr. Sissi’s appointment may also represent an ideal compromise between the secular-minded military old guard and Mr. Morsi’s Brotherhood. People with knowledge of the Egyptian military said Gen. Sissi has a broad reputation within military circles as a Muslim Brotherhood sympathizer, a rare trait in a military culture inured against Islamism. “Sissi is known inside the military for being a Muslim Brother in the closet,” said Zeinab Abul Magd, a professor at the American University in Cairo and an expert on Egypt’s military.

So to summarize, in the course of ousting the pro-American, pro–Camp David military junta that was running Egypt until last week, the leader of the anti-Western, anti-Israeli Muslim Brotherhood, who is moving quickly to take over the country, managed to install as chief of the military — Egypt’s most important institution — a Brotherhood operative. That’s the story. But that’s not the way “Islamic democracy” devotees would have you see it.

In reality, everything about the Journal’s report is misleading. Egypt’s military culture is not “inured against Islamism.” Its top tier of Mubarak loyalists may have been, at least as long as that perennial $1.3 billion in U.S. largesse kept coming. But as a whole — as an institution — Egypt’s army has always been rife with Islamists. That is because Egyptian society is decidedly pro-Islamist. The military, in which almost all men serve for one to three years, is a reflection of Egyptian society. That is why Egyptians so revere their armed forces. Obviously, Sissi’s rapid rise through the ranks despite being known as a Brotherhood guy is testament to the fact that being an Islamist is no obstacle to advancement in the army.

Furthermore, the Journal confuses exposure to the American military with being pro-American. For over 30 years, ever since the Camp David peace accord, our Defense Department has taken a leading role in arming and training the Egyptian armed forces. As a result, thousands of Egyptian military personnel have been through training by our commanders, including training at U.S. bases. Necessarily, this has entailed the training of some of Egypt’s most rabid Islamists. They are delighted to have this exposure because it is the world’s best instruction in military strategy and tactics. It makes these Islamists more proficient warriors, but it does not alter their ideology.