General Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, who ousted Egypt’s first freely elected leader, declared his candidacy on Wednesday for a presidential election he is expected to easily win.
Al-Sisi toppled former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood in July last year after mass protests against his rule and has emerged as the most influential figure in an interim administration that has governed since then.
“I am here before you humbly stating my intention to run for the presidency of the Arab Republic of Egypt,” Al-Sisi said in a televised address to the nation. “Only your support will grant me this great honor.”
An al-Sisi presidency would mark a return to the days when Egypt was led by men from the military, a pattern briefly interrupted by Morsi’s one year in office after his 2012 victory in the country’s first democratic presidential election.
Among his supporters, al-Sisi is wildly popular. Many see him as the kind of strong man needed to stabilize a country in crisis. However, he is reviled by the Islamist opposition as the mastermind of a coup against a freely elected leader.
Dressed in military fatigues, the general vowed to fight what he described as a terrorist threat facing Egypt, a reference to militant attacks that have spiraled since he ousted Morsi.
“True, today is my last day in military uniform, but I will continue to fight every day for an Egypt free of fear and terrorism,” said al-Sisi, 59, who had to resign his posts of army chief and minister of defense so he could run in the election.
General Sedki Sobhi, formally chief of staff, replaces al-Sisi as head of the army.
Seeking to cap sky-high expectations, al-Sisi warned he could not perform “miracles” in a country of 85 million that is steeped in poverty.
“I cannot make miracles. Rather, I propose hard work and self-denial,” he said.
Before his address, state TV broadcast montages including footage of al-Sisi jogging with troops. He has been lionized by privately owned and state media that are hostile to the Islamists.
“We must be truthful with ourselves. Our country faces great challenges. Our economy is weak. There are millions of youths who suffer from unemployment in Egypt,” he said.
Leftist politician Hamdeen Sabahi is the only other declared candidate for the election. He came in third in the 2012 election.
Commenting on al-Sisi’s candidacy, the US, a major source of military aid to Egypt, said it did not support individual candidates or parties in Egyptian elections.
“As the election process moves forward we urge the Egyptian authorities to ensure that the elections are free, fair, and transparent; that all candidates are able to campaign freely, without fear of harassment or intimidation; and that the views of all the Egyptian people are fully represented,” US National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said in a statement.
In other developments, one student was killed during demonstrations at Cairo University ignited by a court’s decision on Monday to sentence 529 members of the Muslim Brotherhood to death.
Almost the entire leadership of the Brotherhood is in jail. Morsi faces charges that could lead to the death penalty.
The public prosecutor on Wednesday ordered 919 Brotherhood members to stand trial on charges including murder and terrorism in the southern province of Minya, the same province where Monday’s verdicts were handed down.