Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—As one president appeared in the dock on Tuesday, the Egyptian army paved the way for army chief and defense minister, Field Marshall Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, to run for the presidency later this year in response to “the public will.”
Egypt’s top military body, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), announced: “The people’s trust in Sisi is a call that must be heeded as the free choice of the people.” Military sources have said that Sisi will resign his military post and announce his presidential candidacy within the coming days. While no date has yet been set for elections, presidential candidates can officially declare themselves from February 18.
The latest developments come as former Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi made his second appearance in court on Tuesday over charges of collaborating with Hamas and Hezbollah to escape from prison during the January 2011 uprising.
Mursi’s trial was not broadcast live, but was aired a few hours after the court session had concluded. The ousted Islamist president appeared wearing a white prisoner uniform and standing in a sound-proof glass cage that has been specifically set up to prevent a repeat of the interruptions he made during his first trial appearance. Mursi repeated the defense that he offered at his first trial, telling the judge that he remains Egypt’s legitimate president and does not recognize the legitimacy of the court.
Mursi was flown from his prison in Alexandria to the Cairo court by military helicopter. Other Muslim Brotherhood detainees being tried alongside him were transferred to the court by military vehicles from Cairo’s Tora Prison. Egyptian authorities beefed up their security presence outside of the Cairo Police Academy, where the trial is being held, fearing a pro-Muslim Brotherhood protest. However it was supporters of army chief Sisi who caused disturbances, attempting to prevent Mursi’s defense lawyers from entering the court.
The heavy security presence in Cairo comes following a series of bombings targeted police in the Egyptian capital last week. The four bombings killed at least six people on Friday, with Al-Qaeda affiliate Ansar Bait Al-Maqdis claiming responsibility for the attacks. In the latest round of violence, General Mohamed Said, head of the Egyptian Interior Minister’s technical office, was killed earlier on Tuesday while leaving his home in Cairo by unknown assailants who fled on a motorcycle. Interim Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawi vowed that the attack will only serve to “fuel the authorities’ determination to fight terrorism.”
Many Egyptians are looking to Defense Minister Sisi to run for the presidency, believing that a strong president is the only solution to the unrest that has enveloped the country since Mursi’s ouster. However Sisi would come under pressure to resign from his post as defense minister and army chief before any prospective presidential bid. Military sources informed Asharq Al-Awsat that SCAF’s recent statement backing a Sisi presidential run are most likely in response to Sisi’s own desire to stand down in preparation for a presidential campaign.
“SCAF is honoring Sisi for his long military service, and that includes promoting him to Field Marshall and hosting a large military celebration on his retirement. This is all part of wishing him luck for his life as a civilian, in which he will also no doubt continue to serve the nation,” the military source said.
A second military source, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, noted that the SCAF statement issued on Tuesday was carefully worded and did not state that he had been “authorized” by the military to run for the presidency. Instead, the statement affirmed that SCAF had listened to Sisi regarding the current situation in the country and the popular demands that he stand for the presidency, adding that the military body considers a Sisi presidential bid “a mandate and an obligation” based on the free will of the Egyptian people.
Dr. Hassan Nafia, an Egyptian professor of Political Science, told Asharq Al-Awsat: “In the end, if one resigns from the armed forces then they have the right to run for parliament or the presidency. However if one is ‘authorized’ to run by the armed forces, then that means they are the armed forces’ candidate. This would only serve to raise confusion as the Egyptian Armed Forces is an independent and neutral body that has no role in politics.”