During those giddy first months of 2011, the world allowed itself to believe Middle Eastern leaders might stop looking like this. As tyrannies wobbled and toppled during the Arab Spring, many hoped it might finally all be over for the old-school military dictator, grim visage shielded by sunglasses, hat weighed with gold braid, left breast burdened with Ruritanian ribbons, people squirming beneath his brilliantly polished boot.
Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Field Marshal Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, 59, has been Egypt’s de facto head of government since overthrowing Egypt’s first elected president, Mohammed Morsi, in July 2013. He wears uniform to work, as his rank entitles him, but for Egyptians the khaki, braid and medals signal stability. “Military service in Egypt is compulsory,” says Cairo-based journalist Abdel-Rahman Hussein. “And that creates identification with the army, which is seen as the protector of the state.”
Even if al-Sisi seeks an electoral mandate, he may be reluctant to ditch the uniform – he even wore it on his visit to Moscow in February. “I think he’s very attached to it,” says Hussein. “But he’s in a bit of a bind. He doesn’t know at what point he has to start wearing a suit and what that will mean to him. But whatever happens the military will always be the power behind the throne.”
Date: 20 May
Type: Presidential, legislative, local.
Candidates: Joyce Banda, who became president in 2012 upon the death of her predecessor, Bingu wa Mutharika, faces three principal challengers – Atupele Muluzi, Peter Mutharika and Lazarus Chakwera.
Issues: Malawi has been gripped by the “cashgate” scandal – a massive looting of public funds that resulted in dozens of arrests, loss of donor funds and the sacking of most of the cabinet.
Monocle comment: Malawian politics is overdue a housecleaning. Banda should be too embarrassed to even be standing.
Founder, Land of Peace West Bank
Unlike most of his fellow settlers, who oppose the ongoing talks on finding a two-state solution, Nachum Pachenik says he would be happy to live under Palestinian rule. He’s the founder of Eretz Shalom – or Land of Peace – an organisation aimed at bringing Jews living in the West Bank together with their Palestinian neighbours.
Q: Settlements are seen as a main obstacle to achieving peace between Israel and Palestine. Why do you see them as the solution to this conflict?
A: The problem is not the settlers or the Palestinians. The problem is the demonisation of the other. This is about accepting the situation. We are neighbours. We meet each other on the road to work, we meet in the supermarket, we buy together, we drive together, we work together and we can live together.
Q: But President Mahmoud Abbas has made it clear he won’t accept any Jewish settlers in a future Palestinian state.
A: I heard another voice from Abbas. My group met him in his office in Ramallah last year and he said, ‘if you want to stay here and be a good citizen, ahlan wa sahlan [you are welcome]’.
Q: So what would life be like for you as a citizen of Palestine?
A: I could be in the Palestinian parliament! I’d pay taxes to the Palestinians and help them build a strong democracy and state. But the way to do this is to build trust. If we’re talking about two states, the resources need to be shared by both sides. We need to stop separating everything.
Diplomacy: Qatar’s diplomatic successes were largely due to two people: the then emir, Sheikh Hamad, and his prime minister, Hamad bin Jassim (HBJ). Since the emir handed over to his son, Sheikh Tamim, last year – at the same time as HBJ stepped down – Qatar’s foreign policy influence has suffered. The most recent setback was a row with other Gulf states and Saudi Arabia over Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, which led to ambassadors being recalled.
Economy: That diplomatic spat could have an economic impact: though its natural gas wealth means it is self-sufficient, the row could disrupt billions of dollars worth of investment in the region.
Sport: The 2022 World Cup, originally seen as something of a soft-power coup for a country of two million with no sporting pedigree, is turning into a disaster. Hundreds of Nepalese workers have died building the stadiums, while stories of bribes linked to the bidding process continue to come out. The new emir is said to be far less keen on the World Cup than his father was.