Egypt's army chief, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, resigned as defence minister and announced his intention to run for the Egyptian presidency after talks with the country's military leadership on Wednesday.
Sisi, 59, was required to resign from the military to be eligible to run in the presidential election, which he is widely expected to win.
No date for the vote has yet been set.
Sisi deposed president Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s first freely elected leader, on July 3 following mass protests against Morsi's rule. He is popular among Egyptians who supported the army’s decision to remove Morsi from power just one year into his term, seeing him as the kind of strong leader needed to end the political turmoil plaguing Egypt since a popular uprising ended Hosni Mubarak’s three decades of rule in 2011.
The former head of military intelligence, Sisi has been lionised by both state and private media hostile to Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, but he is reviled by the Islamist opposition which sees him as the mastermind of a coup against an elected leader and the author of a fierce crackdown on dissent.
“People have been pushing Sisi towards the presidency pretty much since he overthrew Morsi," FRANCE 24’s Kathryn Stapley reported from Cairo. "We’ve been waiting for this announcement for months.”
Egypt has suffered the bloodiest internal strife in its modern history since Morsi was overthrown.
On Wednesday, police clashed with protesters at Cairo University who were demonstrating against a court’s decision to sentence 529 supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood to death.
The court ruling on Monday marked an escalation in the state’s campaign against the Islamist opposition and drew criticism from international human rights groups. The United States, a major donor of military aid to Egypt, said it was shocked by the sentences.
Activists from a group called "Students Against the Coup" called for protests on Wednesday against the sentences. Students clashed with police at Cairo University. A Health Ministry official said one person was killed and eight wounded.
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT IN CAIRO
A Reuters witness saw protesters, some wearing gas masks, throw burning projectiles at police and police fire rubber bullets and tear gas.
Security sources said police had fired tear gas at between 500 to 600 protesters.
Sisi had called the meeting of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to inform the council of "his resignation as defence minister, paving the way for the announcement of his candidacy for the presidential election," Al-Ahram reported.
Left-wing politician Hamdeen Sabahi, who came third in the 2012 election won by Morsi, is so far the only candidate to have stated his intention to challenge Sisi in the presidential election.
"It’s probably going to be a said and done deal," Stapley reported. "Morsi has the backing of all the state institutions; the Egyptian media are firmly behind him and he does have this huge popularity within the country."
General Sedki Sobhi, who holds the post of chief of staff, is expected to replace Sisi as army chief and defence minister.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-03-26