As a boy I was enthralled and amused beyond description to watch a puppet show for the first time in my life. Graceful movements of the puppets string-pulled from behind bewitched me. Today, a puppet show is under way in Egypt. And to say the least, we are neither entertained nor charmed. And in the country the puppet is Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, the military's commander in chief and the nation's current defence minister on whom the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has bestowed the rank of Field Marshal for dancing in perfection to the strings pulled from behind the curtains.
Puppet Sisi and eventual president of Egypt is a lion to his countrymen worthy of emulation by young men. Hundreds and thousands of young women in the country aspire to marry him. He is viewed by each and everyone outside Muslim Brotherhood and other revolutionary organisations as one who is above political fray and ultimate icon of patriarchy.
Therefore, when SCAF underscored his nomination for Egypt's president as a "mandate and an obligation" those who coalesced last June to bring back the regime of Hosni Mubarak breathed easy. In Sisi they found the puppet they had been looking for since Mubarak was ousted in 2011. Fall of Mubarak and the rise of Sisi proved a hoary English adage correct. The king is dead long live the king.
Ever since Field Marshal Sisi took over, imprisoned Mohamed Mursi, nullified the previous national constitution, invoked draconian anti-terror regulations, targeted anti-army and anti-coup demonstrations, killed hundreds and thousands of Muslim Brotherhood supporters and turned Egypt into a gaol nation throwing revolutionary activists, non state-controlled journalists and politicians who rose to prominence since the days of Tahrir occupation he has been trying to create a myth that he is omnipotent—the new pharaoh.
And more he tried to create this myth the more he betrayed the truth — Field Marshal and lionised Sisi is actually a puppet and a façade. Power that rules Egypt and Egyptians is not the Field Marshal but a ruthless social Darwinism of the Egyptians elites.
Joshua Stacher, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Kent State University and the author of Adaptable Autocrats: Regime Power in Egypt and Syria, has raised a question. How long can this myth rule Egypt? In exposing the truth about Sisi's candidacy Stacher says, anyone who claims to possess full political power in post-Mubarak Egypt is lying.
That might be hard to believe, given how large the military looms these days. But the vision of an almighty military — propagated by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, its supporters, and those desperate for stability — is a mirage. Soon enough, it will dissipate, revealing deep tensions in Egypt and dwindling options for what is often assumed to be Egypt's strongest institution.
And whatever is happening in Egypt now confirms a bizarre reality. The country is weakening; generals' control over the nation is gradually dissipating even as both murder of civilians and incarceration of dissidents have become indiscriminate. The Field Marshal's police and army are out on the streets of Egypt, day and night, eliminating even the faintest dissension.
And because the enterprise in Egypt, the biggest in the country, must go on.
Since 1952 the army in Egypt, more than being the protector of the country's territorial sovereignty, has grown into a massive enterprise controlling at least 40 per cent of Egypt's economy. With over thirty five companies and factories it runs and owns the army produces almost everything from flat-screen television sets, fridges, mineral water to processed foods.
It manufactures cars and has the monopoly of marketing rights of several products, runs hotels and restaurants, football grounds, controls over seventy per cent of Egypt's real estate business and owns over sixty per cent of land. It runs gas stations, maritime transport, and heavy equipment leasing companies. It has lately entered into partnership with overseas companies to diversify its range of business activities in generation of renewable energy, oil and gas etc.
"Officially it acknowledges generating $198m a year. The true scale is probably several times that figure."
That is the story of Egypt; the story why the country was so paranoid with Muslim Brotherhood, its first ever elected president Mohamed Mursi; the story behind why the army staged yet another coup and brought back the military dictatorship; the story behind why General Sisi has been propped up to be the puppet to save the enterprise, made Field Marshal and given a bit of long rope to crush resistance and opposition.
Mursi had to be removed because he belied the expectations the army had in him. The generals were alarmed at the manner in which he sought to undercut the enterprise the men in uniform were running. Tamarod protesters were allowed to turn the heat on Mursi and Brotherhood creating situation conducive for the army to step in and usurp power.
Former head of SCAF Mohamed Hussein Tantawi had disappointed the enterprise and he too needed to be cut to size. And by forcing Omar Suleiman, former chief of General Intelligence Service, to depart after an assassination attempt on him failed the enterprise eliminated yet another threat which was feared to galvanise into a major one.
To the enterprise Sisi was a natural choice who, in all respect and amiability, fit the bill to succeed Mubarak. Very carefully his machismo has been hyped to lionise his image. Fickle Egyptians ate the bait. Sisi has now become the most preferred presidential candidate and with it the enterprise of the generals has become the most important power player in Egypt's polity.
The author is the Opinion Editor of Times of Oman.