Egypt’s army chief, Field Marshal Abdel Fattah Al Sisi (second right) pins a medal on a military cadet at the end of a ceremony to mark the end of the basic military training preparation period for college students and military academics at the military college in Cairo yesterday.
CAIRO: The head of the Egyptian army has given his clearest sign yet that he will run for Egypt’s presidency, a race he is widely expected to win.
Field Marshal Abdel Fatah Al Sisi’s candidacy has long been seen as a forgone conclusion, following a series of statements and leaks by officials that strongly suggest he wants to succeed Mohamed Mursi, the man he ousted from office last July, as Egypt’s head of state.
But Sisi had never himself made an official statement through state media about whether he definitely intends to run for office.
That changed yesterday, when the field marshal issued a statement through Egypt’s state news agency saying that he could not avoid the will of what he called the “majority” of Egyptians — though he still stopped short of officially declaring his candidacy.
But a senior military officer close to Sisi confirmed that the statement amounted to “an informal announcement”. The source, who asked to remain anonymous, said that Sisi was waiting for new laws governing the presidential elections to be enacted before formally beginning his campaign.
“General Sisi is not a free man like the other candidates,” the officer said. “He is a government official, he respects the law, so he’s waiting for all the relevant laws to be issued, and all the election procedures to be taken – and only then will there be the official announcement.”
Another high-ranking officer said that Sisi had delayed his campaign after getting cold feet about the serious economic challenges any future Egyptian president would have to overcome.
“He was looking for any other candidate who might be good — any other good candidate to show up,” the second source said. “But if no one else shows up, what should he do? It shouldn’t be left to amateurs.”
If he runs, Sisi is widely expected to win by a large margin, as he has the backing of all state institutions, virtually all state and private media, and a large section of the population, who laud him for overthrowing Mursi last July following days of mass protests against his rule.
Hundreds of thousands of Sisi supporters filled Cairo’s Tahrir Square in January to call for the field marshal to run. Sisi-themed memorabilia — ranging from chocolates to underpants — can be bought across Egypt, while a group of Sisi fans claim to have collected millions of signatures calling for him to lead Egypt.
But public sentiment is hard to quantify in Egypt. More than 98 percent of participants voted for Egypt’s new constitution in January, a sign of strong support for Sisi. But only 38.6 percent of those eligible to vote took part. Mursi supporters detest the field marshal for presiding over a campaign of oppression that has seen over a thousand Morsi supporters killed, and thousands more arrested. A Zogby poll from September suggested Egypt was roughly split on Sisi’s decision to topple Mursi on 3 July 2013, following days of mass protests.
Leftist politician Hamdeen Sabahi is the only Egyptian to have already declared his intention to run for the presidency. Rights lawyer Khaled Ali may also run, while former general Sami Anan has also said he is interested. But how free a campaign any of them can run remains to be seen: three activists were jailed for campaigning against the new constitution in January, and Sabahi’s party claimed a handful of their members were arrested for displaying posters of their favoured candidate.