Yasser Rizk, the former board chairman of Akhbar Al-Youm press organisation, has released a book on the occasion of the 11th anniversary of the 25 January 2011 Revolution which led to the ousting of Hosni Mubarak from power.
According to Rizk, a military correspondent for more than 20 years, The Years of Khamaseen: Between the Anger in January and Salvation in June, tells the story of the period between the 25 January Revolution which led to the removal of Mubarak from office and the overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013. (Khamaseen is the annual sand storm which hits Egypt, the Arabian Peninsula and Syria, Lebanon, , and Palestine in March and April.)
“They were the most dramatic three years in Egypt’s modern history,” says Rizk.
“As a journalist and an eyewitness, I was keen to record firsthand memories of the tumultuous events and expose secrets which very few know.” The book, he adds, “is less about recording the history of Egypt during a very critical period than showing future generations how they were about to lose their country to an irresponsible group.”
The volume is intended to be the first part of a trilogy about Egypt’s Second Republic.
“After throwing off the rule of the Mohamed Ali family in July 1952, Egypt was officially declared a republic on 18 June 1953. On 25 January 2011 this republic came to an end and after a two-year transitional period a new republic was declared on 30 June 2013, when the Egyptian people revolted to force the Muslim Brotherhood regime out of office,” says Rizk.
The first of the book’s seven chapters chronicles “the fall of the first republic”. The uprising against the Mubarak regime in February 2011, says Rizk, was no surprise to the Egyptian army.
Rizk reveals that in April 2010 — a year ahead of the revolution — Mubarak’s minister of defence Mohamed Hussein Tantawi received a classified report from Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, then chief of Military Intelligence, warning that public discontent against the ruling regime was rampant. The report referred to corruption and Mubarak’s grooming of his son, Gamal, as his successor as the main reasons for the simmering discontent, and noted that, after almost 30 years in power, Mubarak had lost interest in governing Egypt.
According to Rizk, Al-Sisi’s report informed Tantawi that “after the death of his grandson last year (June 2009) President Mubarak lost interest in power and on his 83rd birthday on 4 May 2010 he intends to resign from office and call elections which see his son Gamal succeed him.” The report warned that the planned inheritance scenario will face two obstacles, “mass public protests and rejection by the Armed Forces”.
Al-Sisi’s report predicted that the police would be unable to contain the outpouring of public anger and that the army would be called in, an event for which “we should prepare for from now”.
The uprising Al-Sisi expected on Mubarak’s birthday in 2011 came four months early because, says Rizk, “of the rigging of parliamentary elections in November 2010, and the outbreak of the Tunisian revolution which led to the overthrow of president Zein Al-Abidine bin Ali on 14 January 2011”.
As presidential correspondent for Al-Akhbar newspaper between 1989 and 2008, Rizk had covered Mubarak’s foreign visits and press conferences. “Mubarak used to get annoyed whenever he was asked why he had not appointed a vice president,” writes Rizk. “Then, after his son Gamal entered politics in 2000, whispers began about an inheritance project, and Mubarak had refused to name a vice president. As a result, Tantawi and the then chief of [General] Intelligence Omar Suleiman met with Mubarak in early 2009 to warn him of such a course.”
Ignoring the warnings, and following the death of his grandson in May 2009, Mubarak allowed his son Gamal to act as a caretaker president.
Rizk’s first chapter also repeats the theory that the 25 January uprising “was an American conspiracy”. “The first step in this direction,” he writes, “came when US president Barack Obama delivered a speech in Cairo University in June 2009.” Rizk cites Obama’s own book, The Promised Land, as providing evidence for how Washington pressured Mubarak to allow the speech to be delivered at Cairo University, and subsequently step down in 2011.
The second chapter, “The First Transition”, spotlights the growing political role of Al-Sisi.
“Even though I had served as a military correspondent for 23 years, my first meeting with Al-Sisi was in March 2011, a month after Mubarak’s resignation,” writes Rizk. He was struck by how “Al-Sisi was keen to show himself to journalists not only as a senior military officer but also as a national leader.”
The third chapter, “The Republic of Mirage and the Group of Treachery”, recounts how Al-Sisi reacted when the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate Morsi was elected president in June 2012.
“When Morsi was officially declared the winner, I called Al-Sisi by phone, asking for a comment,” writes Rizk. “I asked Al-Sisi whether he thought Morsi would be able to free himself from the Muslim Brotherhood’s tight grip and the control of its supreme guidance office. Al-Sisi’s answer was very significant: he said the question is not will he be able, but whether he really wants to free himself from the group’s control.”
The third chapter deals with Morsi’s appointment of Al-Sisi as minister of defence. “Al-Sisi was completely unaware that it was Tantawi who nominated him to be his successor,” writes Rizk.
On 12 August 2012 Morsi’s presidential spokesperson announced that Morsi had decided to send Tantawi and chief-of-staff Sami Anan into retirement, and had chosen Al-Sisi as the new minister of defence.
“The army was unhappy with Morsi’s decision to dismiss Tantawi, but at the same time it was pleased that one of their men —Al-Sisi — had been named as the new minister of defence,” writes Rizk. “On his way out from Al-Ittihadiya presidential palace, Tantawi told Al-Sisi: ‘You are very dear to me and you are the best to replace me as minister of defence… God bless you’.”
Chapter four, “The Beginning of the End”, recounts how public opposition to Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood placed Morsi and Al-Sisi on a collision course.
“The beginning of the end of the Muslim Brotherhood regime came on 22 November 2012,” writes Rizk, “when the Muslim Brotherhood pushed Morsi to issue a constitutional declaration placing his decrees beyond judicial review, even by the Supreme Constitutional Court.”
“On 12 December, Morsi asked Al-Sisi to mobilise the army to disperse thousands of citizens who had gathered around the Al-Ittihadiya presidential palace to protest against the constitutional decree. Al-Sisi’s response was ‘it is impossible for the army to do this’. Morsi then tried to pressure Mohamed Zaki, the current minister of defence and then leader of the Presidential Guard, to disperse the protesters. Zaki also refused, saying the role of the Guard was limited to protecting the presidential palace from infiltration.”
On 2 March 2013, four months after the start of protests against Morsi’s rule, newly-appointed US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Egypt and met with Al-Sisi.
“At the end of the meeting, Kerry asked Al-Sisi how he assessed these people [Morsi and the Brotherhood]. Al-Sisi’s response was “Game Over,” writes Rizk.
Chapter five, “The Fall of the Republic of Mirage”, contains an account of a 25 June 2013 confrontation between Al-Sisi and Khairat Al-Shater, the Muslim Brotherhood’s deputy supreme guide and de-facto leader of the group.
“On 23 June, an army statement warned that Egypt was facing civil war and that there must be dialogue between Morsi and opposition political forces, and that the army was willing to give a grace period of seven days for this dialogue to be initiated,” says Risk.
“On 24 June, Al-Shater and Saad Al-Katanti [chairman of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party] asked for a meeting with Al-Sisi and on 25 June it took place. Al-Shater talked uninterrupted for 45 minutes, at the end of which he threatened that Egypt would sink into terrorism and violence if the Muslim Brotherhood was forced from office. In response, Al-Sisi, with red eyes, shouted at Al-Shater, ‘What do you want, you want to either rule us or kill us? First digest what you have eaten before you ask for more food… You did a lot of damage to this country and made the people hate religion… You are the enemies of Islam and I will not let you terrorise people, and I swear that I will send to hell whoever shoots a citizen or comes close to a military installation.’ After moments of deadly silence, Al-Katanti asked Al-Sisi: ‘So what do you want?’ Al-Sisi replied, ‘I have sent three reports to the president about the current dangerous situation, asking him to solve his problems with Al-Azhar, the Church, the judiciary, the media, and public opinion before conditions spin out of control’.”
On the same day, 25 June, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) held an urgent meeting, after which they requested a meeting with Morsi. Morsi was asked to respond to popular demands by changing the government and the prosecutor-general ahead of 30 June, and to use a public speech scheduled for the next day, 26 June, to declare a period of reconciliation with the people. On the morning of 26 June, Al-Sisi held a two-hour meeting (between 11am and 1pm) with Morsi, asking him to do his best to use his speech to contain public anger. Morsi promised to do so.
The speech, scheduled for 7pm, was delayed by two hours. “As Al-Sisi and army commanders were listening to the speech, they knew immediately why it had been delayed. By the time Morsi finished his rambling address at 12pm, he had broken all his promises to Al-Sisi. Al-Sisi, who was taken by surprise, concluded the Muslim Brotherhood would never stop manipulating Morsi,” writes Rizk.
On 28 June, Morsi and Al-Sisi met for the last time. Al-Sisi presented Morsi with a strategic report.
“This was the fourth, and last, report to be submitted by Al-Sisi to Morsi,” writes Rizk, who reveals that “on 29 June, the then US ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson, accompanied by chief of the American Military Assistance Office in Cairo, met with assistant minister of defence Mohamed Al-Assar, and informed him that American law prohibits the US administration from offering any military assistance to a state which leads a coup against a legally elected regime.”
After receiving the message from Al-Assar, Al-Sisi said: “The American administration is mistaken if it imagines we will abandon the Egyptian people in return for $1.3 billion in American military assistance.”
The rest, as recounted in chapters six and seven, is history.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 27 January, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.