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Egyptians’ ‘only hope’

Feb 18,2014 - Last updated at Feb 18,2014

If all goes as planned, Egypt’s strongman, Field Marshal Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, should announce his candidacy for the presidency in the coming few days.

The results, if he does, are predictable. He stands to win at least 70 per cent of the votes.

Preparations for his announcement have been made; the military council gave him a strong mandate more than two weeks ago and the interim president, Adli Mansour, promoted him to the highest military rank.

All that the 60-year-old defence minister and deputy prime minister in the transitional government needs to do now is to address the Egyptian people and announce his candidacy.

There are those who believe he should not hand over his military uniform and remain where he is. They are in the minority.

One of them is head of Al Karama Party and presidential hopeful, Hamdeen Sabahy, who said this week that the commander in chief of the armed forces would be better off remaining in his position.

Others believe Sisi would risk losing his massive popularity in the street if he became president. In their view, Egypt’s complex problems and challenges would defeat any man at this stage.

Still Sisi has proved to be a good tactician. His coup last July, which dethroned elected president Mohamed Morsi was celebrated by all, except the Muslim Brotherhood and few Islamist parties allied to it.

He is considered a national hero in Egypt, being the man who saved the country from the self-serving rule of a terrorist group with a sinister agenda.

Few would describe his intervention on July 3 as a military coup. For the majority of people, he had responded to the masses who gathered in the streets and squares of Egypt on June 30, calling on Morsi to resign.

In reality not much is known about Sisi even though his pictures hang over most of Egypt.

He was appointed by Morsi himself after the latter dismissed the head of the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and senior military commanders.

Some suspected that he was close to the Muslim Brotherhood and had Islamist leanings. Today such things are never discussed. Sisi is considered the closest example to former Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser.

His nationalist rhetoric and firm stand against US intervention in Egypt’s internal affairs have emboldened his stance.

Last week he paid an important visit to Moscow, where he signed a $3 billion military deal with the Russians, sending a strong message to the Americans who had absolute monopoly over Egypt’s military arsenal for more than three decades.

Moreover, Sisi appeared as a confident statesman, earning the backing of Vladimir Putin. The Americans were left fuming over Putin’s endorsement.

Internally, Sisi has little to worry about. Sabahy’s candidacy does not present a problem. The pro-Nasser candidate has dared the army chief to a public debate, once Sisi confirms his candidacy.

If Sisi accepts, it will be the first time that Egyptians see and hear him as a politician and not as head of the military.

Sisi would be tested on his views and programmes. He would cease to be a general and must act as a politician.

Sabahy is no longer the only candidate that Sisi has to worry about. Late Sunday, former chief of staff Sami Annan also announced that he was running for president.

The retired general is believed to have good relations with the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamists in general. He hopes to get their vote in the coming presidential election, slated for March.

Observers believe that neither Sabahy nor Annan can tilt the votes in their favour. If Sisi decides to run, he would defeat any candidate. If he does not, then the whole political scene will change.

Others would be encouraged to enter the fray, including veteran politician Amr Musa, former prime minister Ahmad Shafiq and maybe moderate Islamist Abdel Mounim Abo El Futtouh, among others.

But that is an unlikely scenario. The military is perceived as the only body capable of guiding Egypt through these tough times.

Sisi said that Egypt is facing threats unseen for more than 250 years. For millions of Egyptians, the army is the only institution that can be trusted.

But in the last few months, since the July 3 coup, Egypt’s human rights record has suffered.

Despite passing a “progressive” constitution last month, thousands of demonstrators are in jail waiting to be charged and tried.

Dissenting voices are intimidated and scores of journalists have been arrested. The faceoff with the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies will not end soon and the military is yet to win its war against terrorism in Sinai and other regions.

Optimists believe Sisi would offer a compromise with the Islamists after his victory. They believe he is now focusing on a war to salvage Egypt before he turns to mending relations with the rest of the world, including presenting an initiative to accommodate the opposition.

His success appears to be the only hope for Egypt now. The challenge for him would be to make the transition from a military strongman to a civilian ruler.

The writer is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.

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