Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will be the chief guest at India’s Republic Day celebrations in January, the Ministry of External Affairs said on Sunday (November 27). Prime Minister Narendra Modi sent a formal invitation to al-Sisi, which was handed over by External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on October 16.
Both countries are celebrating the 75th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations this year. This marks the first time that a leader from Egypt will be the chief guest.
Leaders of friendly nations have graced the Republic Day celebrations since 1950, when Indonesian President Sukarno was invited as the chief guest. In 2021, the rising cases of coronavirus in the UK prevented then Prime Minister Boris Johnson from visiting, while in 2022 the rising Covid cases in India led to the leaders of the five Central Asian republics cancelling their visit for the event.
Allegedly once described as the “favourite dictator” of former US President Donald Trump, here is how al-Sisi rose up through the ranks to lead Egypt.
According to an Al-Jazeera profile, al-Sisi hails from the city of el-Gamaliya and was raised in an alleyway that lies on the edge of the Jewish quarter of Cairo’s old city. A devout Muslim, he has spoken about the diverse composition of where he grew up.
He studied at the military academy in Egypt, and later continued his military training at the UK Joint Services Command and Staff College in 1992, also receiving a master’s degree from the US Army War College in Pennsylvania in 2006.
Over time, he rose to the position of head of Military Intelligence in Egypt. A BBC report states the then-general came to prominence in 2011 when he was named a member of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf), which took over running Egypt following the popular uprising that forced longtime President Hosni Mubarak to resign.
This was during the Arab Spring protests of 2011, during which many regimes in countries of North Africa and Western Asia were forced out, after holding on to power for decades. Mubarak had led Egypt since 1981 till his ouster.
In June 2012, Mohammed Morsi, a senior figure in the Muslim Brotherhood (an influential Sunni Islamist movement), became Egypt’s first democratically elected president. Two months later, he appointed Gen Sisi commander-in-chief of the military and defence minister.
But a year later, protests again broke out and al-Sisi gave an ultimatum to Morsi to follow the “will of the people”, otherwise, the military would take over. The coup happened in July 2013, followed by a violent crackdown on Morsi and Brotherhood supporters.
Al-Sisi then resigned from the military to contest elections in 2014 that he went on to win. He said he would work towards economic development foremost, after years of political instability in Egypt.
There are mixed views about his record, but at present Egypt is reeling from the effects of the pandemic-induced blows to tourism. The war in Ukraine has further led to a spike in inflation for the world’s largest importer of wheat – 80% of which comes from the war-torn Black Sea region, according to AP.
The use of force on protestors and the stifling of opposition voices have also led to criticism from human rights organisations, while the government has claimed to have done so in order to protect the country against extremist forces. In 2019, while awaiting a meeting with al-Sisi, then US President Donald Trump was reported to have said “Where is my favourite dictator?” by The Wall Street Journal. The White House declined to comment on this.
While al-Sisi was re-elected in 2018 and can run again in 2024, through recent amendments to the constitution, he may be allowed to stay on till 2030.