Cairo and London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Expectations of a presidential bid by Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi continued to rise on Thursday after Russian state media quoted Russian President Vladimir Putin wishing the defense minister and army chief luck in his resolve to “assume responsibility for the fate of the Egyptian people.”
“I know that you, esteemed minister of defense, have decided to seek the office of president,” Putin said during a meeting with Sisi in Moscow, adding, “I wish you luck both from myself personally and from the Russian people.”
Sisi was in Russia to negotiate a reported 2 billion US dollar arms deal with Moscow. “Our visit offers a new start to the development of military and technological cooperation between Egypt and Russia. We hope to speed up this cooperation,” Sisi said during the visit.
Egypt’s popular army chief has yet to officially announce his intentions for the forthcoming presidential elections expected to take place in the spring, with sources informing Asharq Al-Awsat that Sisi will likely announce a presidential bid on March 1.
Many Egyptians have been backing Sisi’s presidential credentials this week, with even rival candidate Hamdeen Sabahy acknowledging the defense minister’s popularity. In an interview broadcast by Egypt’s privately-owned ONTV earlier this week, the Nasserist presidential candidate confirmed that Sisi is “popular and beloved” but added that “the Egyptian people aren’t pledged to any single person.” Sabahy—who came third in the presidential elections that brought Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Mursi to power—also revealed he had sought an electoral partnership with the army chief.
“I sought a partnership between the revolution and the state . . . but I did not get any reassuring promise,” he told ONTV presenter Yousry Fouda.
Egypt’s Tamarod movement, which played a vital role in ousting Mursi, has split over the prospective presidential elections, with some founding members suspended from the group after announcing their backing of Sabahy. The Tamarod General Assembly subsequently announced its endorsement of a Sisi presidency. However, Tamarod’s Facebook page remains under the control of the pro-Sabahy faction, who claim they were prevented from attending Monday’s meeting and voicing their opinion on the Tamarod presidential endorsement.
Tamarod co-founder Hassan Shaheen said: “Tamarod expresses deep discontent over the scenes of last night [Monday] which demonstrated the forcible imposition of opinion through tactics used by the previous regimes.”
Egyptian business tycoon and founder of the liberal Free Egyptians Party, Naguib Sawaris, has also announced his endorsement of a Sisi presidency.
“Most of the political forces agree on choosing El-Sisi as president . . . to end the status of confusion, chaos and terrorism that disseminated nationwide,” Sawiris said in an interview with Egypt’s state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper.
Sawiris, one of Egypt’s richest men and a prominent member of the Coptic community, said: “People consider Sisi as a savior who rescued them from [Muslim Brotherhood] tyranny.”
However Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said he would not recognize Sisi as president, or any other Egyptian candidate if elected, potentially plunging diplomatic relations between Ankara and Cairo further into crisis.
“As the Justice and Development Party [AKP] government we cannot accept a regime that has undertaken a military coup,” he told Al-Jazeera English in a broad-ranging interview.
“If we believe in democracy, no one has the right to topple Mursi who came to power through democratic means and has obtained 52 percent of the votes,” he added.
Commenting specifically on a scenario whereby Sisi could come to power at the next elections, Erdoğan said: “Their [Egypt’s] elections are already questionable. Could there be something like that? Can there be an election for a coup maker? He [Sisi] will go down in history as a coup maker.”
“But what they did [ousting Mursi] could also happen to them,” he warned.
Erdoğan had been a strong supporter of former Islamist President Mursi and condemned what he termed a “military coup” that toppled him from power. Following Mursi’s ouster, Erdoğan has received strong criticism from the interim Egyptian authorities for his pro-Mursi statements and particularly his flashing of the pro-Muslim Brotherhood Rabaa hand sign during speeches and public appearances.
Sisi was given the green light to mount a presidential bid by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF)—the highest military body in Egypt—earlier this year. SCAF announced that on the basis of the army chief’s efforts during these “historic times” it considered a Sisi presidential bid “a mandate and an obligation.”