International

Egypt's military ruler al-Sisi suggests he's open to presidential bid

General's public profile has grown since he ousted democratically elected President Morsi

An Egyptian woman kisses a poster of Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images

Egyptian army chief Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who led the July overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi, held open the possibility he might run for the presidency, in an interview published Thursday.

Sisi, 59, deposed the Islamist Morsi following mass protests against the president's rule. The general 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. Some protests against the military ruler, however, have continued despite aggressive crackdowns by security forces.

Asked by the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Seyassah whether he was a candidate for the presidency, 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 about six months, none of the politicians defeated by Morsi in last year's election have declared their candidacy this time around, as Sisi keeps the country guessing about his intentions.

It is widely assumed he 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.

Egypt In Turmoil
Click here for more on Egypt's political crisis.

Sisi holds the position of deputy prime minister in the interim administration installed by the military after the ouster of Morsi, Egypt's first civilian head of state. Sisi also holds the post of defense minister.

The general's public profile has grown since he removed Morsi, and he is lionized by state media. On Wednesday evening, he prayed over the coffins of 11 soldiers killed in a suicide bombing in the Sinai Peninsula; the ceremony was broadcast on state TV.

While he is adored by Egyptians seeking a semblance of stability after three years of turmoil, as well as by those happy to see the end of Morsi's rule, Sisi has been demonized 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 Morsi's supporters killed in crackdowns by security forces.

Foreign alliances

The interview showed how Sisi's influence over state affairs now goes well beyond the realm of defense. 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 Washington after the U.S. 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 Morsi. Last month, Washington suspended some military aid to Cairo, pending progress on democracy. The U.S. has supplied Egypt with billions of dollars in military and other aid since Egypt signed a 1979 peace treaty with Israel.

A visit by senior Russian officials to Cairo last week fueled 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 Wednesday that Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood had "stolen" the Egyptian revolution — a view in line with that of the Egyptian government.

It echoed comments last week by Egyptian Deputy Prime Minister Ziad Bahaa el-Din, who said there had been "a change of understanding" in Washington about events in Egypt.

In apparent reference to Western governments, Sisi said, "Some of the states that supported the Brotherhood's rule and their authoritarian practices today realize 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 Morsi, who had appointed Sisi as head of the armed forces in August 2012.

Asked why Morsi had picked him, Sisi said, "It's God's will."

Reuters

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