CAIRO (AP) — Egypt’s military chief, Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, gave his strongest indication yet that he intends to enter presidential elections, saying in a speech Tuesday that he “can’t turn his back” at a time when Egyptians want him to run.
El-Sissi is considered almost certain to win if he runs for president, riding on a wave of popular fervor since he ousted the country’s first freely elected president, Islamist Mohammed Morsi, who had faced massive protests demanding his removal after a year in office.
Since the ouster last summer, a heated anti-Islamist and nationalist media campaign has fanned support for el-Sissi, touting him as the nation’s savior.
For weeks, pro-military media have been saying the field marshal will announce his candidacy imminently. Last month, the top body of military generals, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, publicly gave its backing to an el-Sissi run.
El-Sissi’s comments Tuesday in a speech to military cadets stopped only a hair short of officially announcing he will run. He hinted he was waiting for the issuing of a law governing the presidential vote and setting a date for it. The vote is to be held by the end of April.
He told the cadets that he “cannot turn his back when a majority of Egyptians want him to run in upcoming presidential elections,” the state news agency MENA reported, though he added, “Let the coming days see the official procedures.”
“The nation is passing through tough conditions that require the people, the army and the police to stand shoulder to shoulder because no one alone can lift up the country,” he said.
If he becomes president, el-Sissi faces a host of economic, security and social woes that would pose real test to his popularity. Also, the generals’ backing of his candidacy has staked the military’s reputation on his presidency, meaning the country’s most powerful institution could be tarnished by any political turmoil.
El-Sissi was appointed defense minister and army chief by Morsi. Since Morsi’s ouster, the military-backed interim government has been waging a fierce crackdown on his Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists, while facing a growing insurgency by Islamic militants retaliation for Morsi’s removal.
Over the past weeks, the 59-year-old US-trained army chief he has been increasingly acting in a presidential fashion, most notably his highly publicized visit to Russia last month where he secured the Kremlin’s blessing for his likely presidential bid.
Last week, his wife made her first public appearance: Intisar el-Sissi was seated next to him during a ceremony to honor senior officers.
Posters of el-Sissi next to a lion are plastered on walls and hoisted on lampposts across much of the country. Songs praising him are played on radio and blare from coffee shops. Supporters often tout him as the new Gamal Abdel-Nasser, the legendary Arab nationalist who ruled in 1950s and 1960s.
The law governing the upcoming presidential vote has been debated over key articles including whether the decisions of the election commission are immune to appeal and whether to open the door for contesting election results.
State TV reported that the law is now in hands of the Interim President Adly Mansour, in the last stage before officially decreeing it.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press