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By Fady Salah
Egypt’s upcoming presidential elections, to be held in the first quarter of 2014, already started to grab the attention of many Egyptians.
As the popularity of many political figures and previous presidential candidates seems to be fading, General Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, Egypt’s Minister of Defense, has received a tidal wave of petitions for him to run for the presidential race. This would not be a wise decision for the popular general.
Appointed by former president Mohamed Morsi in August 2012, El-Sisi entered the top cadre of the army at a critical time. The months that preceded his appointment witnessed a huge decline in the army’s enduring popularity, due to many disagreements with how The Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) ruled Egypt during the post-Mubarak/pre-Morsi period.
Once the 58-year-old general came to power, he worked on shaping the army’s image in the minds of Egyptians. Appointing a military spokesperson to speak on military affairs and operations and keep the army away from political affairs was how he achieved his aim.
Several indicators demonstrate El-Sisi’s success in restoring the army’s popularity and portraying himself as a hero for most Egyptians.
Millions took to the streets of Egypt on June 30 and explicitly called for the army to intervene in politics and oust Morsi, asserting El-Sisi’s success in regaining the confidence of millions of Egyptians in their national army.
A few weeks after Morsi’s ouster, millions took to the streets again, in response to El-Sisi’s speech calling Egyptians to mandate him to fight terrorism and violence. Those millions prove the huge popularity he gained in few weeks because he responded to the demands of the people.
As the security situation in Egypt worsened. President Adly Mansour declared the state of emergency and imposed a nationwide curfew, administered by the army, starting at 7 p.m. and ending at 6 a.m. Surprisingly, most Egyptians responded positively to the curfew.
In contrast, and during Morsi’s rule, a government proposal to close all stores at 10 p.m. was firmly rejected by nearly all Egyptians. “This is how I earn my living. If you wants to come and arrest me so be it, but I am not closing my cafe at 10,” said Eissa, a café waiter who discussed Morsi’s cabinet proposal.
Putting El-Sisi’s popularity to action, several campaigns were initiated to urge El-Sisi, who previously refuted any possibility of running for presidency, saying that “protecting the will of the people is dearer to our heart, and to my heart specifically, than the honor of ruling Egypt.”
The most famous campaigns nowadays are Kamel Gemelak (Complete your Favor), Noreed (We Want) and Tamarod (Rebellion).
Moreover, Ahmed Shafiq and Hamdeen Sabahi, former presidential candidates that came second and third in the presidential race, declared their support to El-Sisi should he run for presidency. Younes Makhyoun, head of Al-Nour Islamist Party, said that his party would accept a presidential candidate coming from the military “as long as he is not a supporter of Mubarak’s regime.”
Despite the vagueness of Makhyoun’s statement, it is possible that Al-Nour would support El-Sisi if he ran for presidency, but after agreeing on some guarantees for the upcoming parliamentary elections.
Pro-Sisi marches occurred in Egypt’s universities in reaction to the marches organized by the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) students against El-Sisi and Egypt’s current transitional road map. Students held pictures of El-Sisi and chanted his name during the marches, in support of his action taken on July 3.
As easy as it might be for El-Sisi to become Egypt’s next president, taking such decision would harm him, the military institution and Egypt in general.
First, the military decision to oust Morsi, although supported by the vast majority of Egyptians, led to a significant societal rift within Egypt. Some support El-Sisi’s decision wholeheartedly, while others -mainly Islamists- strongly oppose it. Such a rift would be widened if the current transitional period ended by El-Sisi gaining the presidential post, which would encourage those opposing the current transitional road map to call it a military coup.
Second, such decision would assert the accusations by some foreign states, claiming that what happened in Egypt on July 3 was a military coup. This would escalate the domestic rift and reinforce the international pressures on Egypt and its government, which is certainly not needed given the current critical economic status of Egypt.
Third, and most important, having El-Sisi as the president of Egypt would engage the military institution in politics, while it should focus on securing the state borders, protecting the sovereignty of the people and safeguarding the democratic transition and reform plans against any attempts to cripple them.
The army’s independence and non-involvement in the political affairs under Morsi allowed it to restore its popularity among Egyptians and gain the trust of millions who called the army to save Egypt from an unknown destiny.
Fady Salah is The Atlantic Post’s Egypt Analyst, based in Cairo.