Egypt's top general, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, has said he would be interested in running for president if there was "popular demand." The army chief orchestrated the coup that ousted President Mohammed Morsi last year.
Sissi's statement on Saturday is the strongest he has made yet on a possible presidential bid. He is widely expected to seek Egypt's top political office, but he has not yet announced formal plans to run.
"If I nominate myself, there must be a popular demand, and a mandate from my army," the online edition of the state newspaper Al-Ahram quoted him as saying at a military seminar in Cairo.
The army appointed an interim government and outlined a plan for new elections after it overthrew Morsi, Egypt's first democratically elected president, in July. No specific date has been set for the vote, but army supporters launched a number of campaigns this week collecting petitions for Sissi to run for president.
Sissi, who also serves as defense minister, vowed to "respond to the Egyptian people's wish" to seek the presidential office.
The 59-year-old general also urged Egyptians to turn out for next week's referendum on a draft constitution. The January 14-15 vote will pave the way for future presidential and parliamentary elections. The referendum will also be the first time Egypt's more than 52 million voters have gone to the polls since Morsi's ouster.
"I call on the people of Egypt to strongly participate in the vote on the draft constitution to rectify the democratic course and build a modern, democratic state for all Egyptians," Sissi said.
Sissi enjoys widespread support from Egyptians who protested against Morsi in the weeks leading up to the coup, but is reviled by supporters of the ousted president. The country's military-appointed government has launched a violent crackdown against Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood that has killed more than 1,000 people. The Islamist group has seen thousands more of its members jailed or forced into hiding.
The Brotherhood, which has been labeled a terrorist organization by the government, has called for a boycott against next week's referendum, calling the proposed constitution illegal. Army officials have warned that they will deal firmly with any attempt to disrupt voting.
dr/mkg (AFP, Reuters, dpa, AP)