CAIRO – Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi stepped down Wednesday as Egypt’s defense minister and declared his candidacy for president.
Appearing on nationwide television for what he said would be the last time in military uniform, el-Sissi called for national unity and emphasized that tough economic times lie ahead.
“I, with all humility, come forward announcing my intention to run for the presidency,” he said. “Your support will be giving me this great honor.”
He must run as a civilian, but Egypt has a long-standing tradition of leaders drawn from the ranks of the military.
The 59-year-old el-Sissi’s victory is considered virtually assured. He shot to fame and immense popularity after leading the coup last July against Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi, an Islamist.
In the nearly nine months since then, Egypt’s interim government has conducted a sweeping crackdown against Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood that has expanded to include some secular critics as well.
Human rights groups and Western governments have expressed concern about a variety of repressive measures enacted by the military-led government, including the criminalizing of unsanctioned street protests and the jailing of thousands, many without charges. This week, Egypt again found itself the target of sharp international criticism after a criminal court sentenced 529 defendants to death in the killing of a single police officer.
Egypt’s chief prosecutor on Wednesday ordered two more mass tribunals for a total of more than 900 suspected Islamists accused of murder.
Only one opponent has thus far declared a presidential candidacy, liberal politician Hamdeen Sabahi. Several other prominent political figures have said they would sit out the race.