I have just received an advance copy of a landmark book that will appear in France in January 2023: Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi: The Egyptian Bonaparte. Its subtitle reads: “His ambitions for Egypt, his allies and enemies, and his vision for the region.” The author is the French journalist and expert on Middle East Affairs, Roland Lombardi.
Not only is this the first work on the Egyptian president, who has become a prominent figure in international relations, to be published abroad. It is a unique attempt to offer a faithful portrait of the man without falling prey to the biases, preconceptions and fallacies with which the Western media has surrounded him. Lombardi is intimately familiar with the Arab world and contemporary developments in the region. As luck would have it, he was in Egypt when the 25 January Revolution took place. He had been working on his PhD thesis. Two years later, he saw for himself the millions that marched to demand the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood and, subsequently, he saw the nationwide appeal to Al-Sisi, then defence minister, to run for president.
Lombardi explains in the introduction that this book is not a biography but rather a profile of a leader whose ambitions for Egypt were similar to Napoleon Bonaparte’s ambitions for France after the French Revolution. In this framework, he discusses Al-Sisi’s vision for the Arab region as a whole and notes how Al-Sisi turned his attention to Arab affairs as soon as he became president. The Arab Gulf countries provided crucial support for his regime as he struggled to bring Egypt back from the brink of catastrophe. Egypt also played a key role in Palestinian affairs and Lombardi covers Egyptian mediating efforts and their success in brokering the Israeli-Hamas ceasefire, bringing an end to Isreal’s assault on Gaza last summer.
A particularly significant chapter covers the question of human rights and freedoms which, as Lombardi points out, is directly related to Al-Sisi’s battle against terrorism and the progress he achieved in restoring security and stability to Egypt amid the turbulent and chaotic sea that surrounded it on all sides. Lombardi observes that all historic leaders who rose to power in the aftermath of the anarchy of revolution needed a strong hand in order to steer their country back to stability.
Hopefully, the Egyptian Ministry of Culture will invite the French journalist and historian to the next edition of the Cairo International Book Fair, which will coincide with the publication of his book abroad. His profile of the Egyptian president merits broader attention and discussion at home.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 15 December, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly