Backers of Egyptian Defence Minister Abdul Fattah Al Sisi were infuriated by TIME magazine’s decision to pick Pope Francis of the Vatican as 'Person of the Year ’ on Wednesday after Al Sisi had been leading in reader polls for the title.
Cairo’s semi-official newspaper, Al Akhbar, even preempted TIME magazine by publishing a doctored picture of the military strongman on its front page on December 6. Mustafa Bakri, a pro-military ex-parliamentarian, slammed TIME’s selection as unfair. “I urge all Egyptian newspapers and magazines to respond to this false poll by carrying the picture of Gen Al Sisi on their covers with a commentary at the bottom, reading: "Person of the Year ,” Bakri said.
“This will be the natural answer to TIME’s decision to withhold Al Sisi’s name although he won the highest votes in readers’ poll. TIME has exposed false democracy and lack of credibility ,” posted Bakri on his Facebook Page.
TIME said that Al Sisi won its reader poll by receiving 449,596 votes , or 26.2 per cent of the total, beating out Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who received 356,771 votes or 20.8 per cent and American pop star Miley Cyrus, who received 279,300 votes or 16.3 per cent.
“Al Sisi’s numbers were driven by massive support from Egypt, which accounted for the largest number of votes...India and the United States provided the second and third highest number of responses, respectively making clear that âPerson of the Year’ was chosen by the magazine’s editors,” added the publication on its website.
Al Sisi, 59, has ridden a wave of popularity in Egypt since his ouster of the country’s first democratically elected president following enormous street protests against Morsi’s one-year-old rule.
Al Sisi, who was appointed as defence minister by Morsi last year, is under growing pressure from his backers to run for president in elections expected to be held in mid-2014. In a recent interview, he kept the possibility of making a presidential bid open amid muted opposition from pro-democracy secularists, who fear such a bid would mean the military’s return to power.
In a recently leaked audio message attributed to Al Sisi, he is quoted as saying that he had seen late Egyptian president Anwar Al Sadat, an ex-army officer, in a dream and told him he would also become a president, a statement that has fulled speculation that Al Sisi will most likely nominate himself for presidency.
Basheer Hamad, a leading member in a campaign collecting petitions demanding Al Sisi to stand for president, believes TIME came under political pressure in order to drop Al Sisi. “This is another proof that the US administration continues to be biased towards the Muslim Brotherhood,” said Hamad, echoing recurrent accusations in Egypt’s pro-media media that Washington is supporting Morsi’s group in the current struggle for power with the military.
In October, the US withheld the delivery of some military hardware and cash aid to Egypt pending moves to return to democracy, infuriating Cairo who called it a “wrong decision”.
In a fence-mending trip to Cairo in November, US Secretary of State John Kerry voiced backing for a post-Morsi transitional plan, announced by Al Sisi, including the rewriting of a controversial constitution adopted when Morsi was still in office and holding parliamentary and presidential elections. Demonised by Morsi’s backers, Al Sisi is, however, idolised by many Egyptians as a national hero and the “prince of hearts” . The general’s photos have recently appeared on clothes and candies in local stores.