Cairo: Egyptian army chief General Abdul Fattah Al Sisi, who led the overthrow of president Mohammad Mursi, held open the possibility he might run for the presidency in an interview published on Thursday.
Al Sisi, 59, deposed Mursi in July following mass protests against his rule. He has since emerged as a popular figure to many Egyptians and his supporters want him to run for president in an election expected next year.
Asked by the Kuwaiti newspaper Al Seyassah whether he was a candidate for the presidency, Al Sisi said: “Would that satisfy all the people? Would that satisfy some of the foreign powers, and does this mean working to find solutions for Egypt’s problems? In any case, let’s see what the days bring.”
Though the election is expected in around six months’ time, none of the politicians defeated by Mursi in last year’s election have declared their candidacy this time around, as Al Sisi keeps the country guessing about his intentions. It is widely assumed Al Sisi would win an election, meaning the presidency would once again be controlled by the military establishment that dominated state affairs for decades after the army overthrew the monarchy in 1952.
Al Sisi holds the position of deputy prime minister in the interim administration installed by the military after Mursi, Egypt’s first civilian head of state, was ousted. Al Sisi also holds the post of defence minister. Al Sisi’s public profile has grown since he ousted Mursi and he is lionised by state media.
On Wednesday evening, he prayed over the coffins of 11 soldiers killed in a suicide bombing in the Sinai Peninsula, in a ceremony broadcast on state TV. While he is adored by Egyptians seeking a semblance of stability after three years of turmoil and happy to see the end of Mursi’s rule, Al Sisi has been demonised by the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Islamists accuse him of orchestrating a coup against a democratically elected leader and hold him responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Mursi’s supporters killed in a crackdown by the security forces since his ouster. The interview showed how Al Sisi’s influence over state affairs now goes well beyond the realm of defence. On foreign affairs, he said a shift in Egypt’s alliances was “out of the question” in response to speculation that Cairo was distancing itself from the United States after it suspended military aid.
“It is unwise to have relations with this (state) or that, and to change your alliances because of certain positions. This is not the politics of states,” he told the Kuwaiti newspaper.
Egypt’s ties with the United States deteriorated after the army overthrew Mursi. Last month, Washington suspended some military aid to Cairo, pending progress on democracy. The United States has supplied Egypt with billions of dollars in military and other aid since it signed a 1979 peace treaty with Israel.
A visit by senior Russian officials to Cairo last week fuelled speculation that Egypt was looking for new allies.
But in a further sign that the United States wants to mend fences with Cairo, Secretary of State John Kerry said on Wednesday Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood had “stolen” the Egyptian revolution — a view in line with the Egyptian government’s.
That echoed comments last week by Egyptian Deputy Prime Minister Ziad Bahaa Al Din, who said there had been “a change of understanding” in Washington about events in Egypt.
In apparent reference to Western governments, Al Sisi said: “Some of the states that supported the Brotherhood’s rule and their authoritarian practices today realise that what happened on June 30 was not a military coup but a popular revolution.”
He was referring to the day when millions took to the streets to protest against Mursi, who appointed Al Sisi as head of the armed forces in August, 2012.
Asked why Mursi had picked him, Al Sisi said: “It’s God’s will.”