Egyptian army chief Abdul Fatah Sisi has decided to stand in a presidential election that is due to be called within two months, the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Seyassah reported on Wednesday. If he wins, it could turn back the clock to before Egypt’s 2011 “Arab Spring” uprising that forced the autocrat Hosni Mubarak, a former air force commander, to resign.
The report, which has yet to be corroborated by official sources, follows months of propaganda in the Egyptian media that has presented Sisi as the only man capable of restoring order after more than two years of political unrest. He is unlikely to face a serious challenger.
Sisi enjoys the backing of the nation’s most powerful institution, the military that he was appointed to lead in 2012 by the former Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi. Last year, he led a coup that deposed Morsi after months of intensifying protests against the rule of his Muslim Brotherhood which had come to power through free elections after the fall of Mubarak.
The Muslim Brotherhood has since been declared illegal and Morsi is in prison, awaiting trial. Sisi has led a crackdown of the Islamist movement, which has seen hundreds of its members arrested, and stepped up the army’s operations against militants in the Sinai.
Many liberal and secular Egyptians, who opposed the Muslim Brotherhood, favor Sisi’s candidacy even if his presidency could see a return to prerevolutionary days when the military was effectively in control of the Arab world’s most populous country.
Sisi was expected to announce a candidacy after a constitutional rewrite that consolidated the army’s privileged position was widely approved by Egyptians in a referendum last month.
The new charter also more explicitly protects the right of Egypt’s Christian minority and women than the Muslim Brotherhood’s version had done and outlaws political parties that are founded on a “sectarian” basis.
To facilitate Sisi’s rise to power, Egypt’s interim president, the former chief justice Adli Mansour, said two weeks ago that presidential elections would be called before a new parliamentary vote, reneging on an earlier promise to hold the elections in the opposite order. Mansour also promoted Sisi from general to field marshal.
Three years after Mubarak was forced out of office, most Egyptians seems to long for a return to stability before anything else. Their economic prospects have only dimmed further since the “Arab Spring” began — inspired, in part, by high youth unemployment — and their country is regularly shaken by bombings and street violence.