Amid widespread speculation over Defense Minister Colonel General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi interest in Egypt’s presidency, a brief answer to a question at a conference has created a media frenzy.
“When Egyptians say something, we obey and I will never turn my back on Egypt,” Sisi said at a conference on Saturday. He was responding to questions, and requests by attendees that he bid for the country’s top post, according to the official Middle East News Agency (MENA).
For weeks, questions over Sisi’s possible bid for the presidency have whirled, with no firm confirmation or denial from the army chief. Saturday’s statement is seen as the first clear sign that he is indeed considering the post.
Sisi was speaking at an educational seminar on Saturday. Also present were the military Chief of Staff General Sedky Sobhy and other high-ranking members of the Armed Forces, along with Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim and Amr Moussa, head of the committee that drafted the new constitution. The seminar was the eighth of its kind organized by the Moral Affairs Department of the Armed Forces.
Earlier in the seminar, Sisi had called on Egyptians to “bear their national duty by participating in the constitutional referendum to correct the democratic path and build a modern democratic state,” MENA reported.
Later in the day, military officers said they “would act upon Egyptians’ desire if they want to nominate Sisi for president,” MENA reported.
The conference hall then reportedly exploded with applause when one military officer said that despite their attachment to their chief, the Armed Forces would not deny the Egyptian people their military leader.
Sisi said that if he runs for president it must be at the request of the people and with a mandate from the army, the state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper reported.
If the condition for his taking up the presidential bid is merely people’s requests and desires, the option is now seen as highly likely. Sisi has enjoyed wide popularity since leading the removal of former President Mohamed Morsi following mass protests against him in July.
“If I run then it must be at the request of the people and with a mandate from my army . . . we work in a democracy,” Reuters quoted Sisi as saying.
On January 4, social media was abuzz with news that Sisi had decided to run for the presidency, as reported by several news websites and Cairo-based TV shows. The sources, including the privately owned Al-Wafd newspaper and the satellite channel MBC Masr, also reported that Sisi would soon be removed from his position as minister of defense, in order to make him eligible to run for the presidency.
The reports said that the current military chief of staff, Sedky Sobhy, would replace him. Sobhy was promoted to lieutenant-general last August by then-President Morsi, who appointed him chief of staff.
Only one week ago, military spokesperson Ahmed Mohamed Ali attempted to quell the speculation, issuing a statement on his official Facebook page. “Some papers and other media deal with the news about the Armed Forces and its leaders with the concept of ‘the scoop,’ with no consideration to the possible effects on the national security of the country during these delicate times,” the statement read, adding, “The Armed Forces is focused during this period on the steps indicated in the road map for the future of Egyptians after June 30.”
A group called “We Want Sisi for President” last week called on Egyptians to take to the streets and squares on January 25 to demand that Sisi run for president, the state-owned news site Egynews reported.
The group’s founder, Abdul Aziz Abdullah, claims to have gathered 12 million signatures supporting a Sisi presidency, Egynews reported.