The visit by President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi on Saturday 4 July to Egyptian troops in the Sinai Peninsula had a great impact on mainstream Egyptians. The visit followed an unprecedented attack on Wednesday 2 July by terrorist Jihadis in Sinai who used heavy artillery and advanced weapons against Egyptian security forces and army checkpoints in Sinai. The day of fighting ended with the army defeating the terrorists; 21 Egyptian soldiers and some 100 terrorists were killed. Army offensives against the Sinai terrorists did not stop throughout the following days.
The terrorists go by the name Sinai Province; their previous name Ansaar Beit al-Maqdis denoted them as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). Months ago they adopted the name Sinai Province when they pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS).
Two days earlier, on Monday 30 June, Egypt’s Prosecutor-General Hisham Barakat was killed by an Islamic MB-affiliated group that bombed his convoy. This apart from several terrorist bombings which targeted public facilities and the police, and which have become everyday occurrences Egyptians have learned to sustain.
The terrorist attacks were waged apparently to mark two years on the downfall of the MB regime that rode to power in Egypt on the wings of the 2011 Arab Spring uprising, and the ouster on 3 July 2013 of the Islamist president Muhammad Mursi who had taken office on 30 June 2012.
+Sinai under control+
Egyptian top officials responded to the terrorist attacks by confirming former declarations that the country was at war with the terrorists in Sinai, and vowing Egypt would “wipe out the dens of terror”.
President Sisi, who had been army chief before he resigned his post in the military and was elected Egypt’s president by a landslide in June 2014, visited the troops on Saturday 4 July in military fatigues, in his capacity as Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. Back in 2014 when he decided he would run for president, Sisi had addressed Egyptians for the first time in civilian dress saying he had taken off the military suit he had donned some 40 years ago for the sake of Egypt, and was giving up then also for the sake of Egypt. Obviously, his appearance last Saturday in military fatigues sent Egyptians the strong message that he was again the military leader who pressed the flesh with his troops.
“I have come to salute the heroes of the armed forces and to express my appreciation of them,” President Sisi said. “The terrorists attempted to declare an Islamic State in Sinai but the Egyptian military foiled their very big plan. No one can terrorise Egyptians or impose on them anything they don’t wish. To do so, they would have to reckon with the army, the sons of Egypt, first.” He stressed that Sinai was now under control.
Several civilians had been killed on Saturday, mostly caught in the crossfire. A woman and two children and two men died in their homes in Sheikh Zuweid. A roadside bomb killed a five-year-old child in Rafah. In his speech, Sisi saluted “every home, every mother whose child died a martyr or was wounded for Egypt”.
+Those military fatigues+
Stories of heroic acts by Egyptian soldiers, those who died and those who survived, were circulated on TV and online to a plethora of comments on President Sisi’s visit and words.
“Once again, President Sisi proves to everyone that Egypt is his first priority, whether as a politician or a seasoned military man,” wrote the columnist who goes by the pseudo name Ibn al-Dawla on the news site www.Youm7.com. “He undertakes his duty with courage, while other politicians flee the scene.” The columnist was obviously referring to politicians such as the leftist presidential contender Hamdeen Sabahi and the liberal Mohamed ElBaradei who both make a point of criticising President Sisi’s policies.
On her Facebook page, journalist Mervat Ayoub wrote that president Sisi never ceases to fascinate Egyptians with his dedication and courage. “He didn’t make his address from the presidential palace,” she wrote, “but went straight ahead to stand on the frontline among his troops and talk to them. As long as Egypt has a son like Sisi, she can be sure of always emerging triumphant.”
A number of youth with MB loyalties and those who claim Egypt should not have been ruled by a military man levelled criticism at the President for donning military fatigues. But these were in the minority; most bloggers appeared thrilled with President Sisi’s move. “To all who say ‘down with the military’, I say ‘may the rule of the military stand high’,” Gamal Saad posted on Facebook. “The military are our sons, brothers, and our flesh and blood; and they willingly sacrifice their lives for us. Egypt is at war, and this is the time when the military should be in action.”
Ibrahim al-Garhi wrote: “Egyptians like Sisi’s military fatigues. They elected him because of them.”
“We are proud of you, Sisi,” commented Shaaban al-Maghrabi. “May God preserve Egypt and protect you, Egypt’s son.”
The sight of Sisi displaying such courage brought on many memories. One blogger who signs as Hassan wrote: “Oh Sisi, your courage reminded me of the day 3 July in 2013 when you stood firm as a lion and practically deposed the MB Mursi who had played havoc with our lives. Today you stand in the same firmness and courage amidst your troops.”
On the online page of the Cairo daily ++al-Masry al-Youm++, a comment by Abdel-Islam read: “This is a man! A man who does not run away from difficult situations or flee in women’s clothes to save his skin.” The comment alluded to the MB Supreme Guide Muhammad Badie who in August 2013 exited the scene of the MB sit-in in the Cairo square of Rabea al-Adawiya in the full veil worn by Muslim women to flee the police.
Other comparisons were made with former president Mursi who never attended the funeral of 18 Egyptian soldiers killed by Jihadis in Sinai as they broke their fast in the month of Ramadan in August 2013. And when, on 14 May 2013, seven Egyptians security men were kidnapped in a dubious operation by Islamists, the then president Mursi asked that “mercy should be exercised with both kidnapped and kidnappers”, a request which drew the bitter ire of Egyptians.
+… And jokes+
It was impossible for the events to pass without the hallmark Egyptian scathing humour.
When al-Jazira declared that the Egyptian army had used excessive force against IS, Egyptians—who realised the IS attack was an act of war—raged at the comment with: “Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, the Supreme Commander of Excessive Force.”
Eng. [email protected]_cc1841 posted: “Please don’t use excessive force against terrorists, because al-Jazira gets the jitters.”
[email protected]_i.14m posted: “I am in excessive joy at the excessive smiles of the excessive forces of the excessive Egyptian republic.”
But the comment that went viral on social media addressed the Egyptian army: “For the love of the Prophet Muhammad, please coat the missiles with vaseline the next time you attack IS.”
5 July 2015