Egypt's Sisi pushed to run for president as media bolsters his image

Speculation that General to run in July vote; campaign reportedly underway to to gather 30 million signatures endorsing him.

Egypt's Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi 370 (photo credit: Reuters)
Egypt's Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi 370
(photo credit: Reuters)
Gen. Abdel Fattah Sisi is emerging as a likely front runner in the Egyptian presidential elections planned for next year, though he has not announced whether he will be running for the office.
Since the coup against the Muslim Brotherhood on July 3 which brought him to power, Sisi has enjoyed positive media coverage and public support, and according to a report in the Egyptian daily Al-Masry Al-Youm this month, a campaign is underway to gather 30 million signatures endorsing him for president.
Eric Trager, an expert on Egypt and a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told The Jerusalem Post that Sisi’s plans are as yet unknown, “but one thing that might propel him to run is the fact that every new Egyptian president since Anwar Sadat has ultimately fired the defense minister as a way of removing a potential political threat.”
Hence, Trager said, Sisi may believe that “based on history, if he doesn’t become president, he may be out of a job before long.”
Samuel Tadros, a research fellow at the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, stated to the Post that at this point it is just media hype, though Sisi is currently the most popular figure in the country.
"Hardly anyone remembers the name of the interim President and none of the politicians or political parties have much of a following, so it is no surprise that people are urging Sisi to run," he said.
Tadros believes that while it may seem attractive to continue running things from behind the scenes, he is 59 now, and "risks becoming another Tantawi, an old man disconnected from the lower ranks."
On the other hand, "running for President comes with its own risks," he said pointing out that Sisi would be "held accountable for the certain policy failures that will emerge."
Professor Abdallah Schleifer, a Cairo-based columnist for the Al-Arabiya news website, told the Post that if a poll were held, at least in greater Cairo, which makes up more than half of Egypt, Sisi would win hands down.
He says that people compare him to former president Gamal Abdel Nasser. "In neither the Arab world nor Israel - nor in an America  that favored George Washington and Dwight D. Eisenhower - wearing a uniform is not a disability."
"Unless one is a spokesmen for the Muslim Brotherhood or a member of the foreign press that seems to a large degree to accept the idea that whoever wins a democratic election is a democrat and whoever stages a coup d'etat is automatically a bad guy, then one could say, Oh! if only the German General Staff had so moved in 1933  as al-Sisi did in 2013," he said.
In an interview with The Washington Post in August, Sisi was asked if he would run for president and he avoided a direct answer, instead saying, “I am not a hero. I’m just a person who loves his people and country and felt hurt that the Egyptians were treated in such a way.” Asked again by the paper, he said, “You just can’t believe that there are people who don’t aspire for authority.”
According to a report on Al-Arabiya, a top Egyptian fast food chain has introduced a “Sisi sandwich.”
This comes after a cookie company baked “Sisi cookies” during the Eid holiday. The Egyptian media have given him glowing coverage, and have played songs supporting the military.
Further bolstering Sisi, former Egyptian prime minister Ahmed Shafiq has said he would back the army chief if he decided to run for president.
Shafiq, a former air force commander who came second in last year’s presidential election, said he would not run if Sisi stood in the next election.
This comment may help explain why there are no declared candidates just months before the election, as other politicians could be waiting to see whether Sisi is going to run before announcing their own intentions.
In separate comments, former Arab League chief Amr Moussa, who also ran in last year’s election, said Sisi would win by a landslide. Egyptians had become “angry and afraid of anarchy and terrorism” and wanted a decisive leader, he said.
Meanwhile, the Egyptian daily Al-Youm al-Sabaa reported that an Israeli security delegation had arrived in Cairo on Tuesday in order to discuss security developments in the region. The delegation stayed in the country for several hours, meeting with a number of officials and focusing on the situation in the Sinai, it said.
In addition, Egyptian police arrested Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Gehad El-Haddad on Tuesday, three security officials said, the latest high-profile detention in the army-backed authorities’ crackdown on the Islamist movement.
Haddad was detained with two other Brotherhood officials in an apartment in Cairo. He served as chief of staff to deputy Brotherhood leader Khairat El-Shater and is the son of Essam El-Haddad, an aide to deposed Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.
Haddad, the Brotherhood’s main point of contact with international media before the crackdown, is charged with inciting the killing of protesters.
Many of the Brotherhood’s top leaders have been detained on similar charges since the military coup, which triggered the worst spasm of violence in Egypt’s modern history.
Morsi, who is being held at an undisclosed location, has himself been charged with inciting killing and violence. Besides Morsi, the Brotherhood’s three top leaders are also in jail, together with the head of its political party.
Reuters contributed to this report.