The future of Egypt depends on the character of General Abdul Fattah Sisi. Is he someone competent and fair-minded who will follow through a consistent program? Might he give way to what we may call Putinitis, the incurable condition of siphoning off public money to himself? Experts are in the habit of writing off senior Egyptian officers as politically too inept to make a success of politics.
Or maybe too privileged. At the end of the Six Day War in 1967 I went down to Qantara to observe the Egyptian soldiers being ferried home after the hostilities. They travelled the short distance across the Suez Canal in small ferry boats, 50 men at a time. An Egyptian doctor was supervising their return. He had a big ledger in which he wrote down the names of each man passing in front of him, and asked for a signature. These soldiers couldn’t write, so they pressed a finger on to a pad and left the print next to their name. On the far side of the Canal was a military post. The grass was vivid green, well watered, and five officers were sitting out on it in deck chairs, with drinks in their hand. A wall of barbed wire enclosed the post, and behind it as far as the eye could see were the mothers of Egypt come to reclaim their sons — a throng of women screaming with distress but ignored by the officers in deck chairs. If the Muslim Brothers are dealt with like that, we are in for disaster.
And another glimpse: In old days I used to go to Cairo more or less annually. Drivers don’t usually respect traffic lights, and parking is impossible, so I always had a driver. Muhammad and I would go to Fishawi’s café, where Neguib Mahfuz was at a table writing his novels. We used to drink karkadeh, iced pomegranate juice. Even then, he predicted that in ten years the Muslim Brothers would take over the country and ruin would follow. It’s more like 20 years, actually, but he was right all the same. The last time he drove me to the airport he promised to give me pomegranates so I could have karkadeh in London. At the airport he slapped his forehead, he’d forgotten about them. About six weeks later, my doorbell rang, and there stood an Egyptian with a bag of pomegranates, and a message from Muhammad: These are for you not to forget me.