CAIRO - Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the Egyptian general who ousted his country's first freely-elected leader, declared his candidacy on Wednesday for a presidential election he is expected to win easily.
Sisi, who toppled the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi last July after mass protests against his rule, vowed to fight what he called the terrorist threat facing Egypt, a reference to attacks that have spiraled since last summer.
"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 Sisi, still wearing his military fatigues, in a televised speech.
Sisi had to resign his posts of army chief and minister of defense so he could contest the election.
Seeking to cap some of the sky-high expectations, 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
"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. This is unacceptable."
If Sisi is elected, as widely expected, it would mark a return to the days when Egypt was led by men from the military - a pattern interrupted by Morsi's one year in office after he won the first democratic presidential election.
Sisi would assume leadership of a country reeling from three years of political turmoil. Since Morsi's removal from power, Egypt has suffered the worst internal strife in its modern history.
DEATH IN CAIRO
The security forces killed hundreds of his supporters after his removal from power, while police and soldiers have become the main targets in a campaign of bombings and shootings.
There were reminders of the instability on Wednesday, when one student was killed in protests at Cairo University ignited by a court's decision to sentence 529 members of the Muslim Brotherhood to death on Monday.
The Brotherhood has been outlawed and driven underground since Morsi's ousting. The state has formally declared the movement, Egypt's best organized political party until last year, a terrorist group.
Monday's court ruling marked an escalation in the state's campaign against the Islamist opposition and drew criticism from international human rights groups and Western powers.
The United States lodged fresh criticism of Egypt on Wednesday, with Secretary of State John Kerry saying he was "deeply, deeply troubled by the sudden and unprecedented decision" by the Egyptian court to issue death sentences for 529 defendants "after a quick mass trial."
"I urge the interim Egyptian government to reverse the court ruling and ensure due process for the accused. Anything less would dishonor the bravery of all who sacrificed their lives for democratic values," Kerry said, referring to the earlier Egyptian street protests.
Kerry said it was impossible to believe the court proceedings "satisfied even the most basic standards of justice."
Kerry said on March 12 he would decide "in the days ahead" whether to resume American aid to Egypt after suspending the funds last year over the ouster of Morsi.
European Council President Herman van Rompuy said after meeting US President Barack Obama that the United States and the European Union were "appalled" by the sentences.
"We urge the Egyptian authorities to restore the rule of law," he told a news conference.