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Abdel-Fattah Poster
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Sissi for president?

Kristen McTighe, Cairo
January 24, 2014

A new song posted online this week entitled "We want you," sings the praises of Egypt’s military commander Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, while a lawsuit filed by a former politician demands that he run for the presidency.


In a Cairo stadium earlier this week, thousands of his supporters thronged the stands calling out their support for the military strongman.

"El-Sissi is my president!" they chanted, rallying under the slogan "Complete your good deed."

With the constitution he championed swiftly approved last week, speculation has been rife that el-Sissi, Egypt's military leader who ousted former President Mohamed Morsi from office last July, will announce his candidacy for president.

But while nearly everyone believes he will run and that a win is all but guaranteed, his decision to take on the role could pose huge political risks amid an array of severe political and economic woes.

"Egypt needs a man of God and a sincere believer who is in love with Egypt," Wael Abou Sheashaa, one of the founders of a petition campaign that is urging el-Sissi to run for president, told DW. "He is the man who rose up to the will of the people…He is the man on the side of the revolution who decided to unite the people under the banner of democracy."

Abou Sheashaa's campaign is not the only one. Multiple petitions have started over the past months claiming to have garnered millions of signatures in support of el-Sissi, though there is no way to confirm their numbers.

poster on wall Copyright: Kristen McTighe, DW, Cairo
El-Sissi is ubiquitousImage: DW/K. McTighe

"The chances for him to run for office are most likely, and I think he will win in the first round, because of his popularity," General Sameh Seif Elyazal, director of the al-Gomhoria Center for political and security studies and a retired military general, told DW. "What we see now in the streets and what we see now with Egyptians is that they really want him to run. I would be very surprised if he didn't."


El-Sissi has become a hero to many after he stepped in to depose of Egypt's first democratically elected president, with photos of the general adorning shop windows across Cairo and his face appearing on chocolates and cupcakes. Following the constitutional referendum last week, videos went viral online where women were seen kissing his picture and dancing out of polling stations.

"All of Egypt's women listened to el-Sissi when he asked us to come out and vote," said one woman in one popular video clip. "If he needs anything else, he only has to tell us and, God willing, we will not disappoint him."

With the first phase of the road map that was introduced by the military in July now complete, after 98.1 percent of the 38.6 percent of registered voters who cast their ballots in the constitutional referendum voted yes, interim President Adly Mansour is set to announce when presidential and parliamentary elections will take place.

Riding on the momentum of the new constitutional, el-Sissi's supporters now say they will take to the streets on January 25, the third anniversary of the Egyptian revolution, to call on the military leader to run for president.

Many Egyptians who had grown tired of nearly three years of political unrest, see el-Sissi as the man capable of bringing stability and security. To his fans, he is a savior for leading the overthrow of Morsi - the very man who promoted el-Sissi to the position of minister of defense, a move that proved a massive political mistake.

"If you remember the scenes of the coup, in Morsi's last speech, where Sissi is sitting there in the front row with a poker face, the only person in the world that knew what is going to happen is el-Sissi," Tarek Masoud, associate professor at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government and a Middle East expert, told DW. "I think people viewed it as an act of bravado, to actually get rid of the president who appointed you. They admired that in a way, they found it to be daring, and they sort of like that."

Ready to run?

El-Sissi, however, has neither confirmed nor denied that he intends to run for president, but his apparent reticence has allowed rumors to flourish. Just three days prior to the constitutional referendum, Egyptian state media reported that the military leader said at an army lecture that if he were to run for presidency, it "must be by the request of the people and with a mandate from my army."

poster on wall Copyright: Kristen McTighe, DW, Cairo
Will he or won't he?Image: DW/K. McTighe

"When Egyptians say something, we obey and I will never turn my back on Egypt," he was quoted as saying. Many believed his comments to be a clear signal of his intentions to run.

"This is a guy who looks at himself in the mirror every day and he's being told that he should run for president by everyone in a country he obviously reveres," said Masoud. "So why wouldn't he want to be the president?"

Earlier this week, London-based Al-Hayat newspaper quoted an unnamed source saying el-Sissi planned to resign from his post as minister of defense within days in order to run for president with the army's backing. Other media has reported the general readying an electoral agenda for a presidential campaign.

But despite the adoration cult, if el-Sissi is elected, he would face a daunting list of problems. Given the experience of Morsi, Masoud said the risks of being president of Egypt should be apparent to everyone.

"You can ride into power on a wave of popular adoration and a few months later be found unwanted when the economy doesn't pick up, when tourism doesn't pick up," said Masoud. "Egypt has these big structural problems that I'm not sure el-Sissi can solve and I don't think there is any reason to believe that he would be immune from the same sources that eventually spelled public discontent with Mohamed Morsi."

And in order to address the country's economic problems, analysts say el-Sissi must quell its political problems, a task that will not be easy.

"Without resolving the political problems, it's unclear whether the el-Sissi administration, or any administration, can really produce the kind of economic growth and development that would be satisfactory, let alone good, for Egypt," Samer Shehata, a Middle East expert at the University of Oklahoma, told DW. "Ultimately, the president will be held accountable, not just for the political situation, because they're 'managing' that through force and intimidation, but really for the economy."

The only way is down

"If el-Sissi now were to run, he would be at the height of his popularity, and it would be downhill after that," Shehata added.

With el-Sissi drawing support from those desiring security and stability, whether or not he can address the unrest could determine if his popularity will continue. Protests by the former president's Muslim Brotherhood, who won major victories in past elections, have continued almost on a daily basis.

man doing victory salute
Can el-Sissi achieve more stability for Egypt?Image: Reuters

And although the so-called el-Sissi-mania has swept the nation and no other candidate seems to be able to rival the general, the perceived lack of competition stems partly from the fact that most of his opponents have been killed, arrested, and forcibly repressed.

"El-Sissi is the only one that this 15-20 percent population of the Muslim Brotherhood view as the devil reincarnated, and it may be that him being president would be a lot more disruptive than if the presidency went to some other person who is seen as slightly more neutral," said Masoud. "I think if el-Sissi proves to be deeply polarizing and proves to not be able to fix the economy, people will withdraw from him, and if he proves to be unable to calm the political situation, then the army would probably not support him either."

"El-Sissi may get elected president, but whether he stays there is an open question," he added.

Adding to the polarization, is the growing discontent among secular activists who opposed Morsi but are now the target of the expanding crackdown on dissent.

"He's giving people what they want, stability, and most importantly he's stressing nationalism," said one secular activist who asked to remain anonymous for security reasons. "But security and stability are pain killers for the problems that exist and I don't think he can save or develop Egypt on so many levels."

"[El-Sissi] represents military fascism which is just replacing a religious one," he added. "When people turn against him they will be framed as terrorists and Muslim Brotherhood, but they will turn against him."

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