Egypt’s army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi declared Tuesday he cannot ignore demands that he run for president, in a looming election his supporters say he is certain to win.
Sisi is seen by his supporters as a strong hand who can stabilise Egypt following three years of unrest ignited by the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak.
He emerged as Egypt’s most popular leader after overthrowing Mubarak’s successor, Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, in July following massive protests against the year-long rule of the country’s first freely elected leader.
Officials close to Sisi told AFP the recently promoted field marshal would step down as defence minister after a law is passed to regulate the presidential election expected this spring.
“Field Marshal Sisi said he cannot turn his back when the majority wants his nomination in presidential elections,” the official MENA news agency reported.
“The next days will witness official measures,” he was quoted as saying at a graduation ceremony of military cadets in Cairo, without elaborating.
“All Egyptians must be shoulder-to-shoulder and exert all efforts for building, stabilising and developing” the country, said Sisi.
“The success of Egypt is not linked to the personality chosen by Egyptians, but to their will to build their country and its future.”
Supporters of Sisi rallied in their thousands in January calling on him to stand for election, and the military itself has said it would back his decision to enter the race.
If elected, Sisi may have to take unpopular measures such as streamlining Egypt’s bloated subsidies for food and fuel.
His supporters believe only Sisi, with his relatively broad support base, could pull off such measures.
Interim president Adly Mansour is expected to approve the electoral law this week or next week at the latest.
– Reviled by Morsi supporters –
Sisi is reviled by the Muslim Brotherhood and other Morsi supporters who say he masterminded a coup against the country’s first democratically elected and civilian president.
Morsi himself is on trial on various charges after the military detained him on the night of his ouster.
On Tuesday, a trial in which he is accused of inciting the killing of opposition protesters in December 2012 was adjourned to Thursday for the court to consider a defence request for new judges.
Morsi’s supporters have repeatedly taken to the streets in protest, often setting off clashes with police and civilian opponents.
The violence has cost at least 1,400 lives since Morsi’s ouster, according to Amnesty International, in a crackdown by security forces on the Islamist’s supporters.
The crackdown, which has targeted his Muslim Brotherhood movement, also saw a Cairo court on Tuesday banning the Palestinian Hamas group, a Brotherhood affiliate, from operating in Egypt.
The emergency court also ordered the seizure of Hamas’s assets.
Hamas denounced the court ruling.
The move was “an attempt to besiege the resistance, and serves the Israeli occupation,” Hamas official Bassem Naim told AFP.
Egypt’s “decision, which puts it on the side of the Zionist occupier, threatens to distance it from its historic role for the Palestinian cause,” he said.
Egypt has accused Hamas of colluding in attacks on its territory in the past few years, and aiding the Brotherhood.
Morsi, elected in June 2012, was seen as further bolstering the militant group’s power in Gaza by mediating a 2012 truce ending week-long fighting with Israel and that lifted some of the blockade restrictions on Gaza.
Since ousting him, the Egyptian military has destroyed hundreds of smuggling tunnels under its border with the coastal enclave, alleging they are used to smuggle weapons and militants who have taken part in attacks on Egyptian security forces.
Militant groups have escalated a campaign of bombings and other attacks on security forces, killing scores of policemen and soldiers, mostly in the restive Sinai Peninsula.