Who Is General Sissi and Why Does the Obama Administration Like Him?

Andy McCarthy blows away the claim that General Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, recently installed to head Egypt’s military, has connections with the U.S. in which we should take comfort. The Wall Street Journal made that claim in a profile of Sissi. So, to a lesser degree, has the Washington Post.

The claim is important because Sissi’s predecessor did have meaningful connections with the U.S. If Sissi does not, then our position in Egypt has diminished even more than we thought. And if Sissi’s real connections are with the Muslim Brotherhood, then the military cannot be expected to counterbalance the Brotherhood, as many have hoped it would.

McCarthy demonstrates that Sissi’s connection to the U.S. provides no basis for believing he will be friendly to our interests and non-hostile towards our allies, or that he shares our view of the world (to the extent that, under President Obama, our world view hasn’t shifted dramatically). The Journal cites Sissi’s training at Fort Benning, Georgia and his working relationship since then with the U.S. military. This may mean that Sissi has been influenced by U.S. views on matters such as military tactics and logistics. But it tells us next to nothing about his ideological sympathies. As McCarthy notes, Ali Mohamed — a high-ranking aide to Osama bin Laden who drew up the plans al-Qaeda used to bomb the American embassy in Kenya — was not only trained in the U.S. as an Egyptian soldier, he actually served in our armed forces.

During the Cold War, the running joke in countries like Ethiopia was that if you wanted to know where the sympathies of a new military dictator resided, just check where he received his military training. If he got it in the U.S., he was probably pro-Soviet; if trained in Russia, he was probably pro-American. Even if familiarity no longer breeds contempt to that degree, it certainly does not breed ideological harmony.

But with Sissi, we don’t have to guess about his sympathies. According to the Journal, Sissi has a broad reputation within military circles as a Muslim Brotherhood sympathizer. Indeed, he is “known inside the military for being a Muslim Brother in the closet,” according to Zeinab Abul Magd, a professor at the American University in Cairo and an expert on Egypt’s military.

Perhaps this helps explain why, under Sissi, the Egyptian military conducted “virginity tests” of female protesters during the revolution last year.

But how do we explain why, according to the Journal, Sissi is liked by senior Obama administration officials? Is it because these officials are unaware that Sissi is a Muslim Brotherhood sympathizer and have simply been charmed by the General? Or is it because his sympathies with the Brotherhood do not concern the Obama administration?

I don’t know. But we do know that the administration has persistently discouraged the military from acting to counterbalance the ascent of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. It seems likely, therefore, that the Obama-Clinton team is fine with the Brotherhood’s ascent, and that Sissi’s status as a closet (for now) Brotherhood man is of no concern to those in charge of U.S. foreign policy.

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