CAIRO--Egypt’s top generals gave their blessing to a presidential run by Abdel Fattah Sisi on Monday, the same day he was also promoted to field marshal. Both actions were viewed as indicators of a near-certain candidacy by Egypt’s most powerful figure.
Sisi, who led a popularly supported coup nearly seven months ago against the country’s first democratically elected president, has not declared his political intentions, but even before Monday’s endorsement by the top military council, there were growing signs he would do so soon.
On Sunday, interim President Adly Mansour announced that the country would hold presidential elections prior to parliamentary balloting. That was significant because it would allow the president-elect to build alliances and wield influence in the selection of lawmakers.
Sisi would have to quit the army in order to run, and the promotion to field marshal would be in keeping with an Egyptian tradition of elevation of rank preceding high-profile retirements from the military.
Although Egypt has a civilian interim president, Sisi is widely understood to make virtually all important decisions. In many quarters, he has an almost cult-like following, with his image emblazoned on everything from cupcakes to lingerie.
Official commemorations of Saturday’s third anniversary of Egypt’s uprising against Hosni Mubarak were transformed into what had the feel of campaign-style rallies for Sisi, with song-and-dance spectacles performed before huge, adoring crowds across the country. But nearly 50 people also died that day when rallies of Islamist and secular opponents of the military-backed government were broken up by police.
Sisi would probably win a presidential vote, but taking on the office would not be without its pitfalls. Some commentators believe his enormous popularity would be eroded by unpopular but necessary measures to reform the economy.
Earlier this month, he had indicated he would see the constitutional referendum as a popular mandate on his candidacy. The new charter won overwhelming approval, but turnout was less than 40%, suggesting deep polarization among the electorate.
Deposed Islamist president Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood insist he is still the country’s rightful leader, and secular activists -- many of them key players in the 2011 revolution -- have been alarmed by harsh curbs on freedom of expression and assembly under the interim government. Human rights groups have repeatedly criticized what they have termed abuse of judicial and law-enforcement powers, indiscriminate arrests and other authoritarian measures.