In a statement, the SCAF referred to Sissi’s as yet unannounced candidacy as “an onus and an obligation.” Interim president Adly Mansour, whom Sissi installed as president in July, promoted him to the army’s highest rank of field marshal the same day.
It has been a meteoric rise for Sissi, who arrived on the political scene six months ago when the military wrested control of Egypt from Morsi after one year of democratic rule. Since the controversial military takeover, spurred by weeks of mass protest, Sissi has become widely popular.
In the past few months, he has overseen a ruthless crackdown on countrywide protests by Muslim Brotherhood supporters of Morsi, who on Tuesday made his latest appearance in a Cairo court, where he faces charges of inciting violence after being deposed.
Under Sissi, security forces have killed hundreds and detained thousands of protesters, both Brotherhood members and supporters of other Islamist groups, who condemn the military takeover as a coup. Egypt’s interim rulers have declared the Brotherhood a terrorist organization and made unregistered protest a crime punishable by life in prison.
And Sissi has not hesitated to dole out similar punishments to civil activists, many of whom supported the overthrow of Morsi but now object to heavy-handed SCAF rule.
In a January ballot, however, 90 percent of Egyptians who voted opted in favor of a new constitution in what was seen as a referendum on the military’s rule and as an endorsement of Sissi’s run for president.
The popularity of a military strongman like Sissi may seem counterintuitive in a country that just three years ago threw off the reins of the oppressive Mubarak, the most recent in a string of military-backed authoritarians who ruled Egypt since the fall of the monarchy in the 1950s.
The parallels between the two are striking — and to some disturbing: Mubarak, like Sissi, rose to power through the ranks of the military and was long propped up by Egypt’s security apparatus. Mubarak, too, quashed the Brotherhood into submission, though he failed to wipe it out.
But a critical mass of Egyptians have grown weary of the rumbling unrest that has plagued Egypt since 2012, not to mention the economic turbulence that has persisted. The assassination on Tuesday of an aide to the interior minister, Gen. Mohamed al-Said, by unidentified gunmen is just the latest killing to validate Sissi’s approach.
In Sissi, a reserved public figure who came up through military intelligence, Egyptians see an iron fist and a silver bullet, said Michael Hanna, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation.
“It’s tied up with the dislocation that many have experienced in the past three years and the generalized and wistful hope for the simple restoration of stability and normalcy,” Hanna told Al Jazeera. “People are looking for a silver bullet; they’re hoping for the impossible.”
Though they are not able to present a viable alternative, activists are uneasy about Sissi. Fearing an imminent return to Mubarak-era oppression, critics say that by installing a strongman in the presidency, even by democratic mandate, Egypt could license the security apparatus to expand its crackdown.
“2014’s instability could force President Sisi to submit to full, direct, ruthless military control,” wrote Nervana Mahmoud, a critic of Sisi, in an op-ed for Daily News Egypt, an independent, English-language daily based in Giza. “Currently, the army is an empire within the state. Later, the army may expand to control the state.”