Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—Former Egyptian Defense Minister Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi’s announcement on Wednesday that he will compete in the forthcoming presidential elections was met with widespread public support, with most analysts expecting him to secure a landslide victory.
Sisi is only the second Egyptian presidential candidate to enter the election race, after Nasserite former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahy. A number of other senior Egyptian politicians have publicly ruled themselves out of the elections, including former presidential candidates Amr Moussa, Ahmed Shafiq, Mohamed El-Baradei and Abdel Monem Aboul-Fotouh.
Presidential rival Hamdeen Sabahy welcomed Sisi’s announcement on Thursday. “I welcome Sisi’s candidacy. We look forward to democratic, fair and transparent elections that guarantee the impartiality of the state and the people’s right to choose a president of their own free will,” he said via Twitter.
But Sabahy has previously criticized the former defense minister. In an interview with Egypt’s privately owned CBC TV network, he said: “The transitional government made a mistake in terms of security and freedoms, and Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, as Deputy Prime Minister of Egypt, has a definite role in making these decisions.”
Sabahy, who came third in the 2012 elections, fiercely criticized a presidential election law that grants the Presidential Elections Commission protection from legal challenges. “It is a worrying matter and stirs doubts regarding the transparency and seriousness of the electoral process,” he said in a statement.
Sisi announced his decision to run in the forthcoming elections in a live television address late Wednesday evening. “I am here before you humbly stating my intention to run for the presidency of the Arab Republic of Egypt,” Sisi said. “Only your support will grant me this great honor.”
“True, today is my last day in military uniform, but I will continue to fight every day for an Egypt free of fear and terrorism,” said Sisi, 59, who resigned his posts of army chief and Minister of Defense.
The former army chief acknowledged that Egypt is facing “great challenges,” including a weak economy and mass unemployment, warning that “I cannot make miracles. Rather, I propose hard work and self-denial.”
The former defense minister is winning support from across Egypt’s political divide, with both the Salafist Al-Nour Party and the Tamarod Youth Movement backing a Sisi presidency. Al-Nour Party Secretary-General Jalal Mura told reporters on Wednesday that “Sisi is an honorable Egyptian citizen,” adding that the group backs his presidential aspirations “amid the difficult situation being experienced in the country.”
Sayed Abdel Aal, head of Egypt’s left-wing Tagammu Party, told Asharq Al-Awsat that Sisi’s candidacy is a response to the popular demand for a strong president. He added that a Sisi presidency is “guaranteed” due to his “national role and the popular consensus that surrounds him.”
Abdul Nabi Abdul Sattar, an Egyptian activist who launched the Kamel Gameelak (Complete your Favor) movement which backs a Sisi presidency, announced that the group was launching a nation-wide campaign to celebrate the decision.
The Constitution Party, established by Mohamed El-Baradei following the January 25 revolution, issued a neutral statement in response to Sisi’s presidential announcement, saying he has the right to run for president “as a civilian, after he resigns from his post.”
The party also urged state institutions not to interfere in the election process. “We hope he [Sisi] keeps a distance from the state institutions during the candidacy period,” party spokesman Khaled Dawoud said.
The Strong Egypt Party, a moderate Islamist party led by 2012 presidential candidate Abdel-Moneim Aboul Fotouh, explicitly objected to Sisi’s candidacy, viewing it as a “grave danger to the future of Egypt and democracy.”
“Egypt does not need a savior, but it does need justice, freedom, dignity, pride and true independence,” the party said in a statement issued on Thursday. “This will only be achieved through lifting injustice, holding criminals accountable, and providing rights for all citizens without discrimination or segregation,” the statement added.
The Egyptian public reacted wildly to Sisi’s announcement. One Cairo resident, Galal Ibrahim, told Asharq Al-Awsat: “Sisi saved us from the nightmare of the Muslim Brotherhood. I believe in this man. He is a true patriot. Sisi is the hawk of Egypt, and Egypt is in dire need of him at this stage.”
Commenting on those who oppose Sisi, he said: “There are some people who are angry that Sisi is running. Very well, the [political] arena is open, and anybody can stand. Ultimately, it will be the Egyptian people who will decide.”
Additional reporting by Abdul Sattar Hatita and Jamal Al-Qasas.