General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi: The many faces of Egypt's presidential possibility


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The Independent Online

Shopkeepers proudly display posters of General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo’s store windows, while vendors in Tahrir Square flog his photo from their pavement stalls alongside national flags and key rings.

But one confectioner in Garden City, an upmarket neighbourhood of curving, tree-line boulevards just south of Tahrir Square, is even selling elaborate chocolates featuring the neatly-iced face of Egypt’s would-be presidential contender.

From the tea houses of Egypt’s capital to the newsrooms of its national papers, there is one question trumping all the others: is the General considering a run for Egypt’s presidency?

What with all the breathless speculation, only one thing seems assured. If the head of the country’s armed forces did announce his candidacy, he would be assured of the kind of support most politicians could only dream of.

Since the toppling of Mohamed Morsi on 3 July – and the successive state-led massacres of Islamist protesters which followed – the armed forces chief has enjoyed a surge of popularity on Egypt’s streets.

Fuelled in part by the public’s fear of a so-called “terrorist” threat from the Muslim Brotherhood – something which has been eagerly whipped up by an unquestioning media  – many Egyptians, exhausted by three years of bloodshed and upheaval, appear to be craving a strongman leader who can restore a sense of stability.

The man himself is being coquettishly non-committal. In an extremely rare recent interview with a local daily, he said that “now is not the suitable time” to discuss whether he would run.

Asked by his interviewer whether he would nominate himself if demanded to by the people, he added: “Considering the challenges facing the country, we all need to focus our efforts on achieving the goals of the roadmap.” But many Egyptians are not taking no for an answer. A support group recently claimed to have gathered four million signatures of support. But the speculation is causing ruptures in Egypt’s political life.

Numerous politicians have expressed their support for the idea of a Sisi Presidency. Ahmed Shafik, who ran against Mohamed Morsi last year, said he would back the army chief. Egyptians, he said, were “angry and afraid of anarchy and terrorism” – something which Gen. Sisi could help prevent. But last week the head of Egypt’s largest liberal party cautioned against the wisdom of a general taking power, saying it would give the West the wrong impression of Morsi’s toppling.