Bashar Assad, whose political future, personal fate and the power he uses to survive are expected to keep us busy, is not the man of the year. The man of the year, with the more intriguing potential, is Egypt's strong man. General al- Sisi appears, so far, to be a Robin Hood who took matters into his own hands in order to declare war on the villains.
Forcefully and willfully, al-Sisi marked his target: Leading the Muslim Brotherhood to disintegration. The very vicious ones, the movement's leaders, were thrown into prison. He is putting the medium-ranked "brothers" in order through tanks in the squares, and shutting down television channels – led by al-Jazeera – which are inciting an ongoing secular-religious war in Egypt.
The Islamists' embitterment is easy to detect. They will swear that the general who matured right under their noses fooled them big time. When the ousted president gave al-Sisi a triple mandate as the minister of defense, commander-in-chief of the Egyptian Armed Forces and head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, Morsi was certain that he had made the right decision, that he had chosen "one of us."
Sisi, who takes the liberty to quarrel with President Obama, took it upon himself to design the face of Egypt, which is recovering from three revolutions in less than two years. And when the charismatic general fights on the streets, and the Egyptian interior minister escapes an assassination attempt, he has no patience for nonsense about democracy. If the bearded guys got Egypt in trouble, they lost any faith al-Sisi had in them.
And so, Egypt's man of the year came from behind the scenes – and from behind sealed sunglasses, which give him the aura of a 'rais' (leader) although he has sworn he will not run – to bring calm. Two weeks ago, while his pictures hung on every building and talk shows discussed the national savior, al-Sisi swore he had no dreams about the presidency palace. People say he would rather run Egypt from the lowest profile. They also say he is a man of big surprises, and that he will get on the political wagon at the last moment. If he does, he'll win. Egypt's millions are used to admiring the army.
The man of the year's schedule is bursting. A war on terror in Sinai, which is drawing to a war against Hamas. Quite a difficult headache with the collapsing economy. Drafting a new constitution. Parliament elections. And the most complicated problem: That Egypt will remain in control of the sources of the Nile. And we haven't forgotten about the relations with the wide world, and creating an image – God knows how – that conveys stability. Convincing investors to return, bringing tourists, maintaining a safe passage through the Suez Canal. Pulling harder at the ropes being woven on the way to settle the score with the "brothers." Running the huge economic empire of the Egyptian army: Building contractors establishing residential neighborhoods, schools, welfare services, clubs, supermarkets, bakeries, fields for agricultural products, a safe present for compulsory soldiers, a pampering future for career officers.
Over the weekend, I chanced upon two articles in the American TIME magazine. In one of them, a senior commentator argues that "Egypt no longer matters" and advises the administration to cut its aid to the collapsing country. The second article explains why Egypt has never been more important, casting hopes on al-Sisi to guide it, now of all times, towards regional leadership. The truth, as always, lies somewhere in the middle.
It's important for us to have a stable Egypt, so that it maintains peace. The important thing for General al-Sisi is to get Egypt out of the hole. With all reservations and leaks against him in Israel, it's important to remember that al-Sisi is first of all an Egyptian patriot. Let him work. If he succeeds, we'll present him with the bill.