When he was appointed to serve as Egypt's defense minister by then-president Mohammed Morsi, it seemed that Col. Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi's worldview was very similar to Morsi's ideology, and that he was well-suited to become his confidant. It wasn't long, however, before Sissi, on the backs of the revolutionaries, ousted the failing president from his seat and established an alternate government, where he remained the defense minister.
Sissi was not afraid of entering a violent confrontation with Morsi's supporters. He ejected them from the town squares albeit with heavy casualties. Today, Sissi faces harsh criticism at home (not just from the Muslim Brotherhood, but from liberals such as Mohamed ElBaradei as well) and tough criticism from abroad, mainly coming from the European Union and the United States. When he was appointed, Sissi never imagined how far he would come. Perhaps, with the surprise appointment, Sissi saw himself as a kind of Cincinnatus. Now maybe he wants to be a kind of Ataturk.
Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus lived in Rome in the 5th century B.C.E. He was both a farmer and a military leader. In 460 B.C.E., as Rome's enemies assembled at the gates, Cincinnatus was chosen by the Senate to serve as consul and dictator to defeat the warring tribes. When a group of senators reached Cincinnatus to tell him that he had been nominated to become dictator, they found the farmer plowing his fields. Cincinnatus arrived in the capital, organized the army, surrounded Rome's enemies, neutralized the threat and, 16 days later, returned to his village. Years later, the octogenarian become dictator once again to put down a conspiracy by Spurius Maeliu, who was plotting to crown himself king of Rome. This time around, Cincinnatus remained dictator for 21 days, killed the conspiring Maeliu and, again, ventured back to his village.
Mustafa Kemal (1881-1931) was a Turkish military leader who fought in the Gallipoli Campaign of World War I. He was opposed to the Ottoman rulers and was elected to become the Turkish republic's first president, a position he held for 15 years. During that time, the benign dictator led a dizzying array of reforms, earning him the title of Ataturk (father of the Turks). He is best known for the significant anti-religious campaign he led, the extensive prohibitions he imposed (over growing moustaches, wearing a fez, etc), and for adopting the Latin alphabet to write the Turkish language, which had previously been written in Arabic script. The enforcement of his anti-religious edicts is one of the main drivers behind the Islamic wave sweeping Turkey today.
Sissi needs to decide which direction he wants to take. If he decides to go back and focus on his military role, leaving the election of Egypt's leaders to the people, then he could be remembered as the person who saved his country from spiraling toward religious fundamentalism, albeit with quite a few casualties, and as the person who helped Egypt start a new chapter in its history. If he decides to hold onto power and becomes Ata-Misr (the father of Egypt), imposing a values-system that much of the Egyptian population rejects, he will have to rule with an iron fist, which will compromise the Western support he holds so dear.
The problem is that Cincinnatus never had any heirs to his legacy. Whenever a country needs a temporary potentate, one who will save the day and then return to growing alfalfa, it always ends up with a different kind of consul-dictator.