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Sunday 25 February 2018

Army chief in leadership bid talks

Egypt's army chief Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi is in talks about a possible presidential bid
Egypt's army chief Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi is in talks about a possible presidential bid

Egypt's army chief Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who led last summer's coup ousting the Islamist president, has inched closer to running for the country's top position, receiving a promotion to the military's highest rank and meeting top commanders to discuss a possible presidential bid.

If Field Marshal el-Sissi runs in the elections due by the end of April, he is likely to sweep the vote, given his popularity among a significant sector of the public, a lack of alternatives, almost universal support in Egypt's media and the powerful atmosphere of intimidation against any criticism of the general in the country.

Over the weekend, large crowds turned out in rallies calling for him to run, in a show heavily orchestrated by military supporters. At the same time, security forces cracked down on Islamists protesting to demand the reinstatement of ousted president Mohammed Morsi, in fighting that killed nearly 50 protesters - a sign of the violent divisions in the country.

An el-Sissi run would be a new turn in Egypt's turmoil, which began with the 2011 uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak - a veteran of the military who ruled for nearly 30 years - in the name of bringing civilian rule, reform and greater democracy.

The country's freest elections ever brought to power the Islamists and Mr Morsi as president, only for a large portion of the population to turn against him, accusing his Muslim Brotherhood of trying to monopolise power. Massive protests prompted Field Marshal el-Sissi to depose Mr Morsi on July 3.

Since then, the country has seen a wave of pro-military nationalist fervor and a return to prominence of security agencies that under Mubarak and even after were widely hated for abuses of power. Police have waged a fierce crackdown on the Brotherhood, arresting thousands of members and killing hundreds.

The heavy-handed security crackdown, jailing of activists and intimidation of critics have sparked fears among some of a return to Egypt's police state.

Field Marshal el-Sissi, who held the rank of general before today's promotion and is also defence minister, has yet to announce his intentions. His promotion by Egypt's interim president could be a prelude to leaving the military to run for president. Under law, a current member of the military cannot run for the post.

Today he the military's top body of generals, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), to discuss the security situation and the possibility of a presidential bid, the state news agency MENA reported.

If he leaves the military, SCAF has to choose a new army chief and defence minister. According to the new constitution, the president cannot appoint a new defence minister without SCAF endorsement.

The promotion gives Field Marshal el-Sissi the same rank held by his predecessor, Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, who was army chief and defence minister for years under Mubarak and who then stepped in as military ruler for nearly 17 months after Mubarak's removal in the 2011 uprising. After Mr Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected president, was inaugurated in 2012, he removed Gen Tantawi and installed el-Sissi.

Press Association

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