During and after the uprising Mubarak’s name stood for amorality, cynicism, duplicity, corruption, greed and opportunism. A few months after Morsi’s triumph at the polls, the same adjectives were being used to describe his rule, and soon it was being said that he was worse than Mubarak – a grotesque overstatement. The reality is that the Muslim Brotherhood, its supreme guide and its elected president were visionless sectarians, incapable of fulfilling the central demand of the uprising: ‘an end to the regime’. Morsi had no desire to unite the country by full-blooded democratisation: his ambition was to be an Islamist Mubarak. His drawling indolence and utter indifference to the needs of the country saw his unpopularity rise by the day. It wasn’t just urban liberals who turned against him. In mosque after mosque, I was told, and not by Sisi fans, ordinary believers stood up and challenged Brotherhood preachers after Friday prayers and khutba, accusing them of hypocrisy (a very strong condemnation in Islam) and of lining their own pockets.
The US ambassador, Anne Patterson (fresh from a stint in Pakistan), had hoped that Morsi would be an Egyptian Erdoğan, but quite apart from the fact that the model was losing his shine, the history and political dynamics of the two countries are very different. Snubbed by Sisi, attacked by the press for being ‘one-sided’ and partial to the Brothers, Patterson returned to Foggy Bottom in a huff. For the first time in years there is no US ambassador in town. The ‘international community’ isn’t too bothered: the Israelis are relieved that the military is back in power. Ever since Sadat opened the door to private investment the army have been good people to do business with in bad times, and like Morsi, the new saviour accepts that the peace treaty is sacrosanct. But the absence of an ambassador rankles with the Egyptians. It’s nine months since Patterson’s departure and the Egyptian Foreign Office is insisting that ‘diplomatic norms’ are being violated. More important than an ambassador is the military aid – $1.3 billion a year – and it has been partially frozen since the killings of Brotherhood supporters. In a message to Obama last week, Sisi put Washington’s rhetoric to good use, assuring the president that Egypt is ‘fighting a war against terrorism … The Egyptian army is undertaking major operations in the Sinai so it is not transformed into a base for terrorism that will threaten its neighbours and make Egypt unstable. If Egypt is unstable then the entire region is unstable.’
Obviously it would have been far better had Morsi been removed in a referendum rather than a coup, but the military decided otherwise and used the methods of the Arab Spring to hoist a new dictator to the presidency. General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a former head of the Mukhabarat, was projected as the saviour of the nation. His image, the stern baby-face under the designer dark glasses, is everywhere. Sisi on his own, Sisi’s image next to Nasser’s, milking popular nostalgia for the leader who instituted agrarian reform, created state-subsidised industries, free education, imposed severe restrictions on foreign capital, implying that this is his model. It’s a badly crafted lie. It will be business as usual under Sisi, as attested by the number of upper-class women having their Nefertiti necklaces reset to include an image of the new pharaoh. The well-orchestrated Sisi-mania industry makes sure that there is a little something for everybody. I couldn’t believe that in the popular markets cheap women’s underwear was for sale with Sisi’s face imprinted on the v-spot, until I saw a picture. Attempts to purchase a few dozen proved futile. They had sold out. Just for the record, I didn’t try the Sisi Mix Sandwich, the Egyptian Hero/Saviour of Egypt chocolates, or Sisi Is My President Male Spray Cologne. The Sisi bra, I admit, is quite fetching, but not this time. Why no Sisi nappies? What better way for new-born citizens to meet their leader?