by Dr. Reuven Berko
Many Egyptians voted this week for presidential candidate Abdel Fatah el-Sissi from polling booths set up in cities with large Egyptian expatriate populations, such as in Turkey and the United States. Exit polls indicated that Sissi garnered at least 90 percent of the overseas vote, ahead of the elections in Egypt at the end of the month.
Muslim Brotherhood demonstrators' street slogans -- "Hamas is in our hearts, Sissi is the son of a dog" -- have intensified since Egypt outlawed Hamas, and hostility among Islamists toward Sissi has escalated over Egypt's policy aimed at destroying Hamas' tunnel infrastructure, which was used to pass along the weapons, trade and cash that once drove terrorist activities against both Israel and Egypt.
But, despite the thrill of elections, Sissi hasn't given up on this issue. Speaking to the media these days, he has latched onto his efforts aimed at combating the Muslim Brotherhood's and Hamas' terrorist infrastructure. In a nuanced and somewhat alarming manner, Sissi declared that he would boost troop levels in the Sinai Peninsula for the sake of both Egyptian and Israeli security while making certain adjustments to the Egyptian-Israeli peace accords, which, according to the former Egyptian military chief, "Israel will understand."
Sissi is getting ready to get on both the national and inter-Arab political stage as the phoenix, the mythologically regenerative bird, Egyptian-style. The smiley general has appeared in public in civilian clothes as the a man who, as a child, adopted Gamal Abdel Nasser's character and vision. In recent interviews (both fascinating and worthwhile to watch), Sissi spoke in colloquial Arabic, evoked the spirit of Nasser, spoke of Egypt as "the mother of all Arabs," and touted social and economic rehabilitation as the heart of the matter. Strengthening inter-Arab relations was also integral to his vision for the future, as was finding a solution to the Palestinian problem under the aegis of modern "Mother" Egypt, which boasts positive, non-dependent relations with the West.
Meanwhile, Qatar's Al-Jazeera, which openly criticizes Sissi, has continued to incite the masses against the former general based on arguments that he seized power through a "stick-up" staged by a military coup against former President Mohammed Morsi and his legal government. Commentators on Al-Jazeera admitted that Sissi was leading in the early elections, but argued that overall voter turnout was 4 percent lower (than with Morsi). The station's spokespeople claimed that Sissi manipulated his supporters through the media, and that unsupervised polling has helped certain voters commit voter fraud, voting once abroad and, eventually, once at home.
Al-Jazeera commentators criticized Sissi's campaign costs, calling them unreasonable compared to previous elections. The Qatari news outlet "celebrated" Western monitor groups' doubts regarding their participation in monitoring the elections and their disappointment in deciding to monitor them at all.
In a sophisticated move that seamlessly blended with his elections strategy, Sissi led the Palestinians in ("successful") reconciliation efforts in Gaza, representing himself as the "supreme leader" over the Palestinian issue. He let a senior Hamas official, Mousa Abu Marzouk, join the process, and recently called on Hamas to restore its relationship with Egypt. Sissi pursued lenient policy over Egypt's tactical and intelligence relations with Hamas' top officials at the Rafah crossing, without giving up on his country's security interests on the Egyptian mainland and in the Sinai Peninsula.
On the eve of early elections, Sissi released a placating, conciliatory message to Hamas' patrons in Qatar (while Al-Jazeera's Egypt correspondents continue to languish in prison) -- a friendly trial balloon for his enemies among the Muslim Brotherhood at home (some of whom have been sentenced to death and will only be saved through his clemency).
It appears that Sissi's political stance has been coordinated with the U.S. actor sitting "in the back seat" of this complex "puzzle" aimed at forming a pro-Western, Sunni front with Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states on the one hand to counter Iran, and on the other to neutralize radical Islamists and their extensions, which continue to threaten both regional and global stability.
The "Sphinx's embrace" that Sissi has offered Hamas seemingly stems from his desire to override the group's military capabilities while attempting to include it as a political organization within the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Perhaps his ultimate goal is to empower the Palestinian Authority so it has the legitimacy to represent Gaza during peace negotiations with Israel.
The big question leftover is whether Hamas and its affiliate organizations will be willing to give up their military terrorist capabilities in favor of Egypt's patronage and unity with the Palestinian Authority.
Dr. Reuven Berko
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