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Egypt presidential elections set to see ‘battle of the generals,’ say sources - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Former Egyptian Army Chief of Staff Sami Anan, right, shakes hands with former Commander of United States Central Command James Mattis during a March 2011 meeting in Cairo, Egypt. (AFP Photo/Khaled Desouki)

Former Egyptian Army Chief of Staff Sami Anan, right, shakes hands with former Commander of United States Central Command James Mattis during a March 2011 meeting in Cairo, Egypt. (AFP Photo/Khaled Desouki)

Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—In a move that is sure to heat up Egypt’s upcoming presidential elections, former Chief of Staff of the Egyptian Army and Deputy Chairman of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces Sami Anan looks set to enter the race.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, sources close to Anan requesting anonymity said the retired general “has in fact decided to run [for the presidency].” A statement released by his media office on Sunday said: “Lt. Gen. Anan will announce this [his nomination] officially at a press conference soon.”

In a recent interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Anan said he would only officially announce his candidacy once the election law was finalized and “when I can evaluate public opinion and understand the electoral process.” He added: “Only then will I announce my position—bravely, as a military leader who does not know cowardice and has no respect for evasiveness. Direct confrontation is a weapon that I will always cherish.”

Anan said back in October that he was mulling a presidential campaign, fueling speculation in Egypt of a “battle of the generals” during the upcoming elections, with current Army chief and Defense Minister Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi almost certain to run for the role.

But speaking in a recent interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Hossam Khairallah, a former Egyptian intelligence official and 2012 presidential candidate, played down the chances of an Anan campaign, saying: “The Egyptian Army knows does not know of . . . [such battles].”

Field Marshal Sisi has been touted for the presidency since his role in ousting former president Mohamed Mursi last July, and his popularity has soared ever since, with a number of groups reportedly gathering millions of signatures urging him to run for the position.

In January interim President Adly Mansour made an announcement he would be promoting former general Sisi to the rank of field marshal, a move which would allow Sisi to retire from the army while holding the highest possible rank—Egyptian law bars military men from becoming president—in order to launch his campaign as a civilian.

Sisi visited Russia on Thursday where he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, reportedly to negotiate a 2 billion US dollar arms deal with Moscow.

During their meeting, Putin backed a Sisi presidential bid, praising the latter for assuming “responsibility for the Egyptian people” and wishing him “luck both from myself personally and from the Russian people,” in his campaign.

But Sisi is yet to announce he will run for the role, though this is expected in a matter of weeks, with sources informing Asharq Al-Awsat he will likely announce a presidential bid on March 1.

So far, the only official candidate in the race is veteran Nasserist politician Hamdeen Sabahy, who announced his candidacy last week. Sabahy came third during the elections that brought former Islamist president Mohamed Mursi to power in June 2012.

Anan’s announcement comes as the presidential election law is yet to be announced. Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on condition of anonymity, an official from the Egyptian presidency said that no official announcements regarding the election law would be made to the press until it was fully finalized.

Candidates are expected to be able to declare themselves and provide the necessary signatures to make them eligible for candidacy from February 18.

On Sunday former president Mursi was in the dock facing charges of colluding with foreign groups Hamas and Hezbollah and compromising state secrets. The trial was adjourned to February 23 after Mursi’s defense team withdrew from the proceedings, with defense lawyer Mohamed Salim Al-Awa complaining he could not hear the former president behind the soundproof glass cage he was being held in throughout the hearing.