General al-Sisi: Egypt’s future president?
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One of the most frequently asked questions in Egypt today is whether the wildly popular General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who ousted the country's first democratically elected president, will run for the top job himself.
Ever since the military coup that overthrew former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi on July 3, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has worn several hats: commander-in-chief of Egypt’s armed forces, minister of defence and first deputy prime minister.
But is he eyeing the presidency?
If Egypt’s mainstream media and political power circles had it their way, the answer would be yes.
Though an election is not planned until 2014, a publicity campaign singing Sisi’s praises has been in full swing for several weeks in the North African country. Between TV commercials, groups on social networking sites and posters in the street, Egypt seems to have “al Sisi fever”.
A campaign orchestrated by the authorities
“Egypt army chief Sisi pushed towards presidential run”, a headline in state-owned Egyptian daily al-Ahram read last Monday. The article explained that the speculation swirling about al Sisi’s presidential ambitions is the result of his popularity, which has soared in recent months.
“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,” the article’s author, Zeinab El Gundy, wrote.
Local media are also buzzing about the widespread support for a Sisi presidency. Various groups, including one called “Al-Sisi President”, have been lobbying for the general to run, circulating petitions in the hope that millions of signatures will convince him to do so – despite the fact that Sisi himself has publicly denied any such ambition.
“It is clear that these campaigns are at least partially orchestrated by the authorities,” Masri Feki, a researcher in geopolitics at University of Paris 8, told FRANCE 24.
A worthy successor to Nasser?
According to Feki, the pro-Sisi front has caught on in part because the general is so well liked. “He’s incontestably popular,” Feki noted. “One mustn’t forget that in the Middle East, in countries that are just learning democracy, people like seeing a virile, authoritative man in power, someone who makes firm decisions.”
Many in Egypt compare Sisi to the most popular president in Egypt’s history: Gamal Abdel Nasser.
“Both men both struggled against the Muslim Brotherhood, which makes Sisi the favoured candidate among Egyptians looking for a successor to Nasser,” Feki said.
One former Egyptian diplomat, who served in Europe under former President Hosni Mubarak, told FRANCE 24 under condition of anonymity that “given his popularity, whether it’s real or exaggerated by state-sponsored media, the general has no rival of his stature, no one who has the same legitimacy at this moment”.
The diplomat also noted that current conditions in Egypt are right for a Sisi candidacy. “Egypt’s domestic situation, notably security issues and the economic crisis, work to his advantage, because the people feel they need a strong leader,” he said. “That’s perfect for the man who played a role of saviour by overthrowing the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Moreover, any other presidential candidate would be governing in Sisi’s shadow if elected, the diplomat offered, “unless he managed to sideline Sisi, which today is unimaginable”.
Even Amr Moussa, a prominent figure of the opposition to Morsi and former presidential candidate in 2012, has conceded that Sisi would win the election if he ran.
It remains to be seen if the general will cede to pressure or convince one of his closest allies to run in his place.
“Egyptian history is full of examples of people who swore they were not interested before eventually becoming president, and nothing is to prevent Sisi from resigning from his military post to run for president,” Feki explained. “If he chooses to run and wins, Egyptians will just have to make sure that the elections were closely monitored.”