Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi stepped down as the head of Egypt’s army and defense minister last Thursday, pledging to run a campaign to become Egypt’s president in upcoming elections:
Wearing military fatigues and speaking in a nationally televised address , Sisi said it was the last time he would wear an army uniform and that “I give up the uniform to defend the nation” and run in the elections….
“I have spent all my life as a soldier for the sake of the country … I am telling you that I intend to run for the president of Egypt, and this support from you will give me this honour,” he said. Sisi said Egypt was “threatened by terrorists” and spoke of returning the country to dignity.
Over the weekend, Egyptian authorities finally set a date for the presidential vote (May 26-27), and El-Sisi himself was photographed riding his bicycle in Cairo near the defense compound where he lives. Though the photo may have been planted on Twitter and elsewhere by El-Sisi’s advisers, it’s become a viral sensation. After months of seeing the recently retired general in military fatigues, it’s rare to see a photo of El-Sisi in any civilian clothes, let alone a track suit.
The shot has also attracted some scorn — critics argue that it may be staged, others argued that the Peugeot bike that he’s sporting costs around $4,000, and others simply mocked El-Sisi’s clothes, notably under the hashtag #انتخبوا _العرص (which roughly translates to #VoteforthePimp).
Within eight weeks, Egypt will hold its second presidential election within the span of 24 months. Unlike the May/June 2012 election, a free-for-all that became a five-way race among Islamists, secularists, and candidates with ties to the former regime of president Hosni Mubarak, no one expects much of a real race in the 2014 vote, because the election seems almost certain to become a victory for El-Sisi.
As I wrote earlier in March, El-Sisi has been preparing for the presidential bid for months, placing key allies in position in both the interim government and the military so that he could step down from the armed forces and run for the presidency as a ‘civilian’:
El-Sisi’s face is everywhere, he’s featured on every conceivable kind of merchandise on the streets of Cairo, and despite the military’s suppression of opposition voices within Egypt these days, there’s a genuine groundswell of support for El-Sisi on the basis that he’s the only figure in Egypt strong enough to get the country back on the right track….
If you take the view that El-Sisi’s candidacy is essentially part of a gradual transformation from nascent (and imperfect) democracy to a full military dictatorship, it doesn’t really matter when El-Sisi decides to announce his candidacy for the ‘election’ as a formal matter, because the vote will ultimately be a sham. That fear has grown since the January referendum on the interim government’s amendments to the Egyptian constitution, which passed with 98.13% of the vote.
With the ‘unofficial’ phase of the campaign over, El-Sisi is widely seen as a savior in Egypt after he led the military to end the one-year presidency of Mohammed Morsi, a move supported by other Islamists and secular leaders in Egypt. But his subsequent campaign to arrest, punish or kill members of the Muslim Brotherhood has been controversial, and there’s no sign that El-Sisi cares much about human rights. Since assuming power last July, El-Sisi’s interim government has cracked down on political, civil, press and other freedoms.
As the longtime protégé of Mohamed Tantawi, who served as Mubarak’s defense minister from 1991 to 2011, and who led the interim government of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), El-Sisi rose to prominence in summer 2012, when Morsi appointed El-Sisi as Tantawi’s replacement.