Abbas Kamel: Sisi’s trusted man has limited efficiency

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From Khartoum to Juba and from Tel Aviv to Gaza, General Abbas Kamel, Egyptian General Intelligence Directorate GID, moves tirelessly holding Egypt’s foreign policy in his tight grip. But, remembering prominent Egyptian Intelligence heads from Salah Nasr to Omar Suleiman, Kamel’s role within Egypt’s politics has not been confined to foreign policy. The former assistant of Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi himself supervised the constitutional amendments in 2019, which allowed Sisi to remain in office until 2030. Kamel also managed the restructuring of Egypt’s media to be subjected to the intelligence and other security organs in Egypt.

There is not much information about the private life of Kamel, who, like a lot of security and military men, prefers to keep an aura of mystery around his character. Kamel was born in 1957 which makes him three years younger than Sisi and graduated from the Military College in 1978 to work as an Armoured Corps officer.

He would then train as an armoured corps in the USA, and as a military attaché in Geneva. Before joining the Military Intelligence, Kamel worked as a deputy military attaché in Czechia. In the Military Intelligence he met Sisi, who turned out to be his life buddy. “We pledged to remain together until the end of our careers,” Sisi said about Kamel, who was then Sisi’s secretary, according to the Egyptian writer Belal Fadl. After Sisi took office in June 2014, Kamel kept his post as Sisi’s office manager. In June 2018, Sisi appointed him as his right-hand man in the Directorate of General Intelligence.

Kamel has a well-known brother, General Mohamed Kamel, the head of Egyptian Aviation Services, a company affiliated to the ministry of civil aviation. Another close relative is Fatma Moustafa, a TV host, who is said to be his daughter, but she does not use his name to avoid attention.

Kamel’s name stood out in public for the first time after the Sisi leaks in 2013 after the 3 July coup. In leaks, Kamel appeared as Sisi’s reliable assistant and his trustworthy man. Leaks showed the role played by Kamel in managing Egyptian politics, transferring political instructions to media and judiciary, and communicating to foreign allies. It was announced in 2015 that Kamel would head the so-called committee of experts appointed to examine material evidence used in the case of spying for Qatar, in which the late President Mohamed Morsi and a couple of his aides were accused.

Since he assumed power, Sisi has depended on Kamel excessively and assigned him several missions, on top of them was to control the media through the elimination of private TV channels and newspapers. Accordingly, the intelligence-affiliated United Media Services was established to monopolise media production in Egypt. More covertly, Kamel worked as the architect of Sisi’s political blueprint.

After the parliamentary elections in 2015, which were engineered by Kamel, Sisi realised the necessity of building a political structure to fill the political vacuum created by the security elimination of Sisi’s political rivals. A task was assigned to Kamel to arrange for the first National Youth Conference. After the conference, loyal elements were picked out later to join the Presidential Leadership Programme. Graduates were prepared to serve in ministries and media to put such institutions in check.

The candidacy of Lieutenant General Sami Anan, former chief-of-staff of the Egyptian army, and Lieutenant General Ahmed Shafiq, the last Prime Minister under Mubarak, put Sisi’s rule under threat. The general felt that his power’s linchpin, the military, could turn to be his terminator. Accordingly, Sisi decided to overthrow Khaled Fawzi, ex-GID, who lost Sisi’s trust and was put under home arrest.

Instead, Sisi’s trustworthy man, Abbas Kamel, was appointed the new GID. In his new post, Kamel attempted to plough the political ground for the then upcoming parliamentary elections in 2020. He supervised the creation of the Coordination of Political Parties’ Youth, an alliance of young cadres from the different parties, to be used to keep the political parties under control.

Kamel has not been a high achiever in these tasks. He has the same anti-political attitude as his life buddy. This makes political reform from inside the regime unlikely and keeps the efficiency of Sisi’s regime limited with incompetent high officials appointed according to trust not efficiency.