THE BLOG

What El-Sisi Must Bring to Egypt

07/02/2014 12:29 GMT | Updated 08/04/2014 10:59 BST

Amidst great turmoil and continued social disruption, Egypt's army chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has declared his candidacy for president of the country. Much has been written about military leaders as heads of state, some of whom have been successful, some not so much.

Too often, military leaders are seen through only one lens, through their use of power and force. But the military teaches much more than this. And its lessons are worth a few minutes for Egyptians and the world to consider.

History is littered, of course, with examples of military leaders who thought power defines political leadership. They used the military and security apparatus with which they were comfortable to undertake repression and consolidate power. But qualities of military leadership at its best can offer much to the challenges Egyptians are facing as long as the socio-political realities on the ground are fully recognised.

Given the complex patchwork of problems in Egypt, genuine leadership is a pre-requisite for the political, social and economic solutions. When combined with a deep understanding of a nation's people, military experience can result in both pragmatism as well as popular leadership. Egypt needs a twenty first century version of Napolean's call that "politics is the art of the possible."

Military leaders offer a number of traits which when used well bring much to modern political leadership. First, great leaders are defined by their sense of vision and self-confidence, and their ability to use communication rather than force to persuade their citizens. Winston Churchill was the epitome of this sense of belief and resolutely sticking to the task at hand, adding his oratory to motivate and engage his people. Through focusing on the need to defeat the common enemy in the shape of Nazi Germany, he was able to unite a nation, and indeed a set of nations at a time of social and economic upheaval. Such leadership was forged on the fields of the Boer War decades before but the force of personality remained strong.

Furthermore, the military enables individuals to take a rigorous approach to planning, structures and decision making. A relentless focus on strategy can result in clear and well thought through outcomes. Although military leaders have been criticized in the past for being bound by hierarchies and tradition, the best leaders surround themselves with strong people and use a military approach in driving reform and setting the foundations for strong nations. For example, Bonaparte - though he invaded and controversially ruled Egypt -- set out the government, legal and educational structures that have defined the success of the modern French state. Saladin, one of the most famous military rulers in the Muslim world, backed up with popular support, was the central driving force in revitalizing Egypt's economy and reorganizing the organs of the state. They say all great military and political careers end in failure but there is much to be learnt along the way.

And military leaders must be driven by realism, pragmatism and inclusion. The reality of battle means that the best laid plans must be tempered with the situation on the ground. Though not always heeded, this is as true today as it has always been. Genghis Khan managed to unite various tribes, alliances and confederations across Northern Asia at a time of nomadic and subsistence farming; no mean feat. It was this understanding of inclusion that underpinned much of his success. In the Ottoman Empire, Mehmed II was an enlightened leader in how he placed equitable justice and religious freedom at the heart of his regime. This recognition of the diverse nature of the people across the Ottoman Empire and the fact that such diversity needed local approaches under a broader "national" banner enabled a much stronger polity.

Vision and engaging people; planning and decisiveness; pragmatism and inclusion. These are the real qualities that the military teaches and great leaders learn.

When they are combined, they can offer a very powerful solution to some of the most intractable problems that a country faces.

I believe there are certain times for certain leaders. Certain times for a certain set of skills. But there is always the challenge of protecting all elements in society so they can play their roles. This is what creates an innovative, thriving society. And its opposite has been the downfall of many failed societies.

Egypt today needs strong leadership to ensure stability to recover from its difficulties. That stability, however, will be short lived if the country's leadership cannot find a way to become more inclusive; to create hope and prosperity and safety for all elements of its society.