Egypt army chief Sisi 'likely to run for president'

Published October 1st, 2013 - 06:38 GMT
Will Sisi run for president? (AFP/File)
Will Sisi run for president? (AFP/File)

With the popularity of Egypt's armed forces chief General Abdel Fattah Al Sisi at a peak, speculation is growing about whether the military leader could be the next president.

Talk shows and newspaper columns have, for the past month, been advocating the idea of the general running for president in order to fight the terrorist threat that they say the country is facing.

Al Sisi became a worldwide name in July when he announced that Islamist president Mohamed Morsi was being removed from power after mass protests against the unpopular elected leader.

Al Sisi stressed that the action was not a military coup and that the military was merely acting to safeguard the popular revolution. An interim president – Judge Adly Mansour – was swiftly appointed.

Recently, a number of campaigns have been launched calling on the general, who is also defence minister, to run for presidency in the elections slated for early next year.

The campaigns are called "Complete your favour," "A nation's demand" and "Al Sisi for president." Those behind them plan to gather signatures in order to press Al Sisi, who has said he has no desire to govern, to run.

The "Al Sisi for president" campaign claims to be the first campaign in Egypt calling for the popular general to become head of state. It also claims that it has printed two million petitions and set up 25 campaign offices in Europe and in Middle Eastern countries.

"We were the first campaign, founded on 27 July after the success of the army and General AbdEl Fattah Al Sisi to oust Mohamed Morsi and stand against the Muslim Brotherhood's international organisation," Samuel Ashy, the official spokesperson for the campaign, told Ahram Online.

On 26 July, mass protests took place across Egypt following a public call by Al Sisi for Egyptians to give the army a "mandate" to fight terrorism.

Ashy, who claims that "40 million" protesters demonstrated on 26 July, says that Al Sisi evokes former president Gamal Abdel Nasser, an enduring popular figure.

"We believe that General Abdel Fattah Al Sisi is the son of the late president Nasser. He has the same charisma and personality," said Ashy, who was formerly spokesman for a brief presidential campaign by Omar Suleiman in 2011.

His judgment is one that many Egyptians agree with, including Nasser's son.

"If General Al Sisi decides to run for the presidency, the whole Nasserite current in Egypt will endorse him because they have found the spirit of my father Gamal Abdel Nasser in him," Abdel Hakim Abdel Nasser said.

"General Al Sisi will return the balance to Egypt. He has also got the experience and ability to manage the country as a military man, especially in these circumstances," Ashy said.

Egypt's Nationalist Party, an offshoot of Hosni Mubarak's now-disbanded National Democratic Party, has called on the three campaigns to unite their efforts.

The campaign efforts are not new; even before the ouster of Mohamed Morsi, there was support for a presidential run by Al Sisi.

Following the clashes between security forces and residents in Port Said in February after the announcement of verdicts in the Port Said football violence trial, some groups in Port Said began to gather notarised signatures mandating General Al Sisi and the armed forces to take over from Morsi. The campaign sooner expanded to other governorates, including Sharqiya and Menoufiya.

That campaign was soon overshadowed by the Rebel (Tamarod) campaign to gather signatures opposing Morsi and calling for early presidential elections.

Endorsement of political figures

Amr Moussa, a former foreign minister under Hosni Mubarak and a former presidential candidate, told a leading newspaper that he thinks Al Sisi will win, should he run.

"The Egyptians want a strong president capable of taking decisions regardless of that decision's political effectiveness, as long as it does not contradict the constitution. The Egyptian mood now is angry, and scared of terrorism and chaos," said Moussa.

"Al Sisi is the most popular man at the moment. If he runs in the presidential elections he will win," he added.

"All the criticism surrounding electing military personalities relate to old experiences that contradicted democracy. But the president can be from a military background but elected in a democratic framework," said the former presidential candidate.

Ahmed Shafiq, a former military man who came second in last year's presidential elections, losing to Mohamed Morsi, seems to support a run by Al Sisi.

Shafiq stated earlier this week in an interview with Dream television channel that he would not run in the next presidential elections if Al Sisi was to run. "We all are going to endorse and support him if he runs in the elections," he said.

"Advanced nations benefit from army generals because they are being prepared well, as the military are the most knowledgeable people," Shafiq commented.

Last week, Pope Tawadros, the head of the Coptic Church, said that he had no objections to a presidential run by Al Sisi, though he preferred that the army chief wait until after this election cycle to run.

"I do not mind if General Al Sisi runs for the presidency, but it will be hard for him.  It is better not run in the upcoming elections and run instead in the following elections," said the Pope, adding that Egypt needs "discipline" and that he does not mind a president with a military background. 

Yasser El Borhamai, a leading figure in Egypt's largest Salafist group the Salafist Call, also stated that he did not mind having the army chief as a president so long as "General Al Sisi resigns from his military post."

Mahmoud Badr, a co-founder of the Rebel campaign, also believes that General Al Sisi is a suitable candidate for the presidency in Egypt as long as the country is not stable.

"If it the situation is stable in Egypt, I will support a civilian president, but as long as things are not stable, I will support General Al Sisi if he runs," said Badr in public statements that caused controversy and drew criticism of the young revolutionary as an advocate for military rule. 

Nevertheless, the Rebel campaign made it clear that Badr represented himself only and not the group.

Unlike Mahmoud Badr, Nawara Negm, a well-known activist who supports Morsi's ouster and the army, did not support the idea of Al Sisi running as a presidential candidate.

"Al Sisi swore three times that he does not look for power or to rule. He should stick to his promise," Negm told Ahram Online.

Negm said that she wondered why people who say that Al Sisi is Egypt's best defence minister since 1973 want him to leave that critical position to become president.

"Another issue is that his presidential bid may put the 30 June movement in a very bad position before the world. It will appear as if it was a coup and that he turned against Mohamed Morsi not because Morsi was bad but because he wanted to rule instead of him," Negm said.

Morsi was Egypt's first civilian president as his victory in the 2012 presidential elections put an end to a 60-year military monopoly on the office. His predecessors, who ruled the country since the 1952 Free Officers' coup – Mohamed Naguib, AbdEl Nasser, Anwar El Sadat, and Mubarak – all came from within the army's ranks.

The general's view

Although there has been no direct reaction from General Al Sisi about the matter, observers believe that he does not want to run for president, according to his few public interviews and speeches.

Official military spokesperson Colonel Ahmed Mohamed Ali stated that Al Sisi has no intention to run for the presidential elections.

"General Al Sisi has denied several times his intention to run for presidential elections. These petition campaigns are popular feelings towards the general that we cannot prevent," said Ali in an interview with Al Arabiya TV channel.

In his interview with The Washington Post last month, the general made it clear that he did not "aspire for authority" when asked about whether he had ambitions to run for presidency or not. However, in that interview he did not eliminate the possibility that he would run for the position.

Nevertheless, Al Shorouk daily claimed two weeks ago that according to informed sources, Al Sisi has given orders that those campaigns calling on him to run for the presidency should be stopped. Al Watan newspaper also claimed that according to informed sources the general had decided that he would not run in any presidential elections.

"Prophet Mohamed, peace be upon him, said 'do not seek to rule'. This is why we want General Al Sisi – because he does not seek power," said Ashy, when he was told about the reports.

© Copyright Al-Ahram Publishing House

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