CAIRO — At a chocolate store around the corner from my home, one of the most popular items are boxes of chocolates decorated with tiny portraits of Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi. The head of the armed forces, defense minister and deputy prime minister who deposed President Mohamed Morsi on July 3rd is the object of hero worship and many quirky commercial tie-ins. The Tumblr feed “Where else have you seen Sisi today?” includes posters of him as “the lion of the Egyptian Army,” military-themed wedding parties and a Sisi sandwich.There are also calls to elect Sisi as Egypt’s next president. Sisi has so far issued coy demurrals, but a campaign called “Finish the job” is collecting signatures urging him to run. Most of the candidates in last year’s presidential elections have already offered their eager endorsement.In part, this enthusiasm is pure sycophancy. But not just.The public had soured on the military after the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, under the disastrous rule of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. But then it soured on the Muslim Brotherhood even more, and when following the June protests the military removed Morsi from power, the moment was treated like the end of a foreign occupation. Protesters waved flags — some had been helpfully airdropped by army helicopters — and army pilots drew hearts of smoke in the sky above Tahrir Square. Months later, children still stop to have their picture taken next to the tanks stationed on my street.The Egyptian Army hasn’t fought a war since 1973, and the U.S. Embassy judges that its capabilities have “degraded.” But that’s not the point. People don’t love their army because of how powerful it is, but because of how much they want to overcome their own feelings of powerlessness. To the great majority of Egyptians, the army is synonymous with the country, and supporting it is a way of wishing that Egypt will become all the things it currently isn’t: strong, independent and prosperous.Of course, this obfuscates some uncomfortable facts. Sisi isn’t a break with the past; he was the director of military intelligence under Mubarak and during the rule of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. The Egyptian Army — which is supposedly standing up to the United States — is, after Israel, the largest recipient of American aid. Having shaped the country’s economy and politics for the last 60 years, it is one of the institutions most responsible for Egypt’s corruption and decline.The new constitution — currently under discussion by a 50-person assembly appointed by the military-backed interim government — would give the civilian government zero oversight of the military budget. It would give the army leadership final say in the appointment of the defense minister. Worse, it allows civilians to be judged by military courts, in closed, rushed trials that would often take place without defense counsels.In recent weeks, dozens of Morsi supporters have been put on trial before military tribunals. The military recently accused an award-winning journalist who covers the Sinai of “publishing false information about the army.” The grounds for these arrests are often obscure or seem arbitrary. The most common charge — insulting or attacking military personnel — can stem from a mundane argument with an officer.Amid all the ambient chauvinism, few people are questioning the military’s actions or intentions. The Masmou “To Be Heard” campaign encouraged Egyptians to bang pots and pans every night during curfew hours to signal their opposition to both the Brotherhood and the military. The response to that call was decidedly muted.Protesters chanted “Raise Your Head, You’re Egyptian” after they toppled Mubarak. In the demonstrations this summer, many of them raised portraits of Sisi instead. But there’s a world of difference between celebrating your own initiative and glorifying yet another strong man.
Nearly two-thirds of Americans say President Barack Obama’s handling of foreign policy is either equal to or worse than that of predecessor George W. Bush, a new poll reveals.The results of a recent Reason-Rupe poll published on Tuesday this week suggest that a majority of Americans — 64 percent — consider the current commander-in-chief’s job performance with regards to international affairs to be no better than Pres. Bush, who kick-started wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq during his eight years in the White House.According to the results of the poll, 32 percent of Americans polled said Obama’s handling of foreign policy is worse than that of his predecessor, with 32 percent also saying it was “about the same.”