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Army's el-Sissi's eyes Egyptian presidency on eve of Morsi trial

Khaled Elfiqi / EPA file

Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, seen here in October 2012.

On the eve of former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi's trial, the popular army chief who ousted him in a coup got the green light to run for his seat.

Abdel Fattah el-Sissi was promoted Monday from general to field marshal, and then a military council authorized him to run for president.

An official announcement he will campaign— the latest twist in more than two years of turmoil — could come within hours, the country's official news agency reported.

El-Sissi, who will have to step down from the military to become a candidate, is tightening his grip on power six months after he deposed Morsi amid massive protests against his Islamist regime.

Morsi had been elected to replace strongman Hosni Mubarak, who was run out of office during the mass demonstrations of the Arab Spring uprising in 2011.

Although he was chosen in Egypt's first free elections in 30 years, Morsi's iron-fisted efforts to consolidate the power of the Muslim Brotherhood sparked a new wave of protests and led el-Sissi to drive him from office in July.

Morsi is slated to stand trial Tuesday with 130 others on charges they broke out of jail during the 2011 revolution, and the Muslim Brotherhood has been the target of a violent police crackdown.

If el-Sissi's probable candidacy represents the ascendancy of the military and the security services, analysts say that's no accident.

"We have passed through a very dark period and people in general consider him as a savior," said Dr. Horeya Megahed, a professor of political science at Cairo University.

"And my feeling is that somebody coming from a military background has to play a role. The military is the only organized institution in the country.

"We are living in peculiar times and we feel we need a strong man who can rally the people behind him.  For those who say it’s the rule of the military — why not? Eisenhower was a military man and he saved the country.

"I want people in the West who are afraid of the military to remember Eisenhower, DeGaulle and Churchill who saved their countries from a dark moment."

Dr. Gamal Abdul Gawad, professor of political science at the American University of Cairo, said Egyptians are witnessing the forging of a new political system.

"We are talking about coming form a military background but being elected...and constrained by a constitution that enforces a significant degree of powersharing with a government formed by an elected parliament," Gawad said.

"We can neither talk about a full-fledged democracy, nor anticipate the kind of authoritarian regime that we are used to in the region."

An Australian reporter for Al Jazeera — who was arrested with two producers three weeks ago and accused of holding illegal meetings with the Muslim Brotherhood — issued what he called a "chilling warning" Monday to anyone who might speak out against the current regime.

"Anyone who applauds the state is seen as safe and deserving of liberty. Anything else is a threat that needs to be crushed," Peter Greste wrote in a blog post in which he said the allegations he faces are "absurd."

"In this 'new normal.' secular activists — including some of my prison neighbors — have been imprisoned at least three times, first for opposing the now fallen autocrat Hosni Mubarak; then for protesting at the excesses of the short-lived Muslim Brotherhood administration and now for what they say is draconian overreach by the current government," he wrote.

 

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