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Egyptians push for Sissi to run for presidency

08 October 2013, 10:00

Cairo - Dozens of people jostled one sunny Cairo morning to sign a petition urging Egypt's army chief Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi to run for presidency as campaign organisers moved their way through the Khan al-Khalili bazaar, a tourist favourite.

The campaign, titled Complete Your Good Deed - a reference to al-Sissi's ouster of Islamist president Mohammed Morsi in July - is gaining pace, although presidential elections are not scheduled to take place before mid-2014.

It is the biggest of around five campaigns calling for al-Sissi to run for presidency.

"I support al-Sissi because he will bring back security. There is no other option for me," said Reda Ashkar, who works in one of the bazaar shops.

The campaigners are hoping to collect 30 million signatures to convince al-Sissi to stand in the elections. The action follows in the footsteps of the Tamarod campaign, which gathered 22 million signatures calling for Morsi's ouster in June.

"May God grant al-Sissi victory, despite all the haters," said Ashkar, who had stuck a paper carrying al-Sissi's picture onto his T-shirt.

His reference to "haters" likely indicated two nearby men who had interrupted the campaign, chanting for Morsi and raising a hand each. The gesture, four raised fingers with the thumb drawn across the palm, refers to the Rabaa al-Adawiya pro-Morsi sit-in, which was violently dispersed by security forces in mid-August.

It was part of an ongoing crackdown on Islamists that has left hundreds killed and hundreds more in jail.

Three million signatures

Al-Sissi supporters chanted back and raised their voice to overpower the Morsi backers, before moving on with their petitions. This time the clash ended peacefully. But others have ended violently, most recently Sunday, where 53 people died.

"Choose the man who rose up by the will of the people," reads the first line of the pro-al-Sissi petition.

Another campaign also calling on al-Sissi to run for presidency is titled "We Want". Organisers say they have gathered three million signatures.

The general's popularity has soared ever since he announced the ouster of Morsi, following mass protests across Egypt demanding early presidential elections.

Since then, his picture and name has been printed on advertisements, chocolates, cakes and necklaces. A picture of bridesmaids wearing Egyptian flag-patterned dresses and carrying al-Sissi's picture was shared extensively on social networking sites.

Anti-Morsi protesters have been seen carrying al-Sissi photos with the words "the next president" written on them, while others hail him as "Nasser 2013" a successor to late charismatic, nationalist president Gamal Abdel Nasser.

"I cannot find anyone else on the political scene who is strong enough to rule Egypt," said Yousriya Mokhtar, a volunteer in the campaign. "He listened to us when we needed him, met our demands and stood by us."

If al-Sissi does not run in the coming elections, Mokhtar will not settle for any other candidate, even if there was another military man competing.

"I want al-Sissi, not just anyone from the army. He is pious and loyal, so I trust he will fear for Egypt and the Egyptians," she adds.

Since army officers seized power from the monarchy in 1952, Egypt's first four presidents - including Hosni Mubarak - were from the military.

Good leader

Morsi, Egypt's first democratically elected civilian president, was toppled one year into his term, after millions accused him of failing to restore security and fix the economy.

Al-Sissi said he had no political aspirations. Armed forces spokesperson have repeatedly denied reports the general would run for presidency.

Former presidential candidates, Ahmed Shafiq and Amr Moussa have both backed the idea. Hamdeen Sabahi - the candidate favoured by many revolutionary youth in previous elections - also said al-Sissi would surely win if he ran.

Talk shows have also favourably discussed the idea.

Even those who oppose it have different reasons.

"He is much more respected now. He should remain in his position, where he can best serve Egypt," said Adli, a shop owner in Cairo. "We will lose a good leader and an inspiration for the army if he becomes president. We want to have two good leaders instead of one."

But Samia Adel, a 35-year-old mother, wants a civilian president.

"If he runs, it will not be fair competition. I want a civilian, who would not end up being above accountability because he is too popular," she said.



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