Al-Sisi’s popularity on the Egyptian street was like his sudden emergence in the top ranks of its military — elevated in 2012 to the post of Defense Minister by President Mohamed Morsi, an Islamist whose scant year in office was defined by a majoritarian impulse and rising distrust of the Brotherhood that too long remained his point of reference. Al-Sisi had replaced Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, a septuagenarian shunted aside by Morsi in what was then seen as a deft and felicitous political move. In time it was understood as a changing of the guard supported by a younger generation of officers. When al-Sisi joined the general staff, he was among the youngest at the table, and held the intelligence portfolio.

That Morsi selected him in his Cabinet suggested a level of comfort with al-Sisi’s Muslim faith. In a detail that was widely repeated as evidence of his family’s piety, one of the general’s daughters was reported to wear the niqab, which covers the entire face. But the general made clear in public statements that his priority was Egyptian unity and that the military would be its guarantor. First privately — and finally, publicly and angrily — al-Sisi was dismayed at Morsi’s rejection of his overtures to bring the Brotherhood and other stakeholders in Egypt’s future together to hash out their differences. By late June of 2013, the overtures had turned to ultimatums — calling for people to take to the streets to signal their appetite for a military intervention…

“I have a long history with visions,” al-Sisi is heard to say in an interview session with a friendly journalist, on a tape that was later leaked. “For example, I once saw myself carrying a sword with ‘No God but Allah’ engraved on it in red … In another, I saw President Sadat, and he told me that he knew he would be President of Egypt, so I responded that I know I will be President too.”