Dear Field Marshal al-Sisi,
I know that you have taken off your uniform and are now a civilian and a candidate for the post of president. (Indeed your popularity is such that I have already described you in a previous column as defacto- president-elect). But, I am an American for all the many years I have spent in Egypt, and here (I am writing this in the course of a brief trip to the U.S.) the protocol as I remember it is that anyone who has held the rank of Colonel or above retains that rank as a title (retired, noted parenthetically) until displaced, by a higher title as when General Eisenhower became President Eisenhower in 1952.
But also because for so many Egyptians the source of your popularity is the calm but strong leadership you provided, in uniform, in the weeks leading up to the removal from office of former President Mohammad Mursi. In my own muted way as a foreign resident, I can appreciate and sympathize with the popular support you enjoy – aside from student rioters and in a far different category to those dissenting liberal intellectuals who strenuously opposed Mursi but now oppose you.
That public support is also clearly linked to the massive craving for stability, work for the unemployed, a decent minimum wage in all sectors, and the hope for a dramatic improvement under your forthcoming presidency of public services ranging from government hospitals to primary and secondary state education.
What has most recently fueled that misplaced sympathy for Muslim Brotherhood rule that still clouds too many minds here in Washington, is the second round of death sentences for MB activistsAbdallah Schleifer
The Arab-American political analyst Hussein Ibish has perceptively noted in a recent column that while the administration is beginning to revise its misplaced response to the July 3 corrective movement, many among the Washington policy community still curiously bestow “a misplaced aura of authenticity and legitimacy” upon Islamists in general and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in particular.
And it as if our Secretary of State John Kerry can only begrudgingly praise the new Egyptian constitution in the course of some very patronizing comments he made at the same time about the corrective movement, during his recent meeting with Egypt’s most able foreign minister, Nabil Fahmy.
What has most recently fueled that misplaced sympathy for Muslim Brotherhood rule that still clouds too many minds here in Washington, is the second round of death sentences for MB activists and their allies in the case of the murder of one police officer.
Those draconic sentences for over 600 defendants has stunned just about everybody I know in Cairo as well as those friends I have here in Washington, nearly all of whom sympathized with the military intervention last July. Foreign Minister Fahmy did suggest that when the judicial process had played itself out the end result will be “a proper decision in each of these cases.” His remarks hold out some hope to the friends of Egypt, for a significantly more judicious outcome.
Meanwhile I cannot comprehend the scandal, as the absence of an American ambassador in Cairo continues. There is something warped in too many influential minds here in Washington. And I am embarrassed for my country as an American in Egypt.
I would also hope that Egypt’s Gulf allies - who I know hold you in high esteem - could be prompted to provide still more funding so that Egypt can purchase the necessary additional fuel that will avert a scenario of still longer electricity cuts as we head into what will probably be another brutally hot summer. For those who cannot flee Cairo in the summer for the north coast or even the UK – and that means Egypt’s 99 percent - power cuts disrupt already very difficult working class lives. Field Marshal, those cuts were the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back of any residual popular support for Mursi outside of the MB and its violent circles of sympathizers, early last summer, but nearly one year ago.
Abdallah Schleifer is a veteran American journalist covering the Middle East and professor emeritus at the American University in Cairo where he founded as served as first director of the Kamal Adham Center for TV and Digital Journalism. He is chief editor of the annual publication The Muslim 500; a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute (USA) and at the Royal Aal al Bayt Academy for Islamic Thought (Jordan.) Schleifer has served as Al Arabiya Washington D.C. bureau chief; NBC News Cairo bureau chief; Middle East correspondent for Jeune Afrique; as special correspondent (stringer) , New York Times and managing editor of the Jerusalem Star/Palestine News in then Jordanian Arab Jerusalem.