Expected: Sisi to run for Egypt’s presidency
Egypt's military gave the green light Monday for its commander Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to run for the presidency, which he is assured to win after ousting the democratically elected leader.
The army's decision came after a weekend in which dozens were killed in street clashes and militant attacks, underscoring the difficulties Sisi will face from supporters of deposed Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.
A victory by Sisi will continue a tradition of Egyptian presidents drawn from the military, after the army overthrew Morsi, the first civilian president, in July following mass protests demanding his resignation.
The election is set to take place by mid-April, and will be followed by a parliamentary poll to restore democratic government by 2015, according to a new constitution.
To his supporters, Sisi, who will have to give up his military uniform to stand for election, is the best option for ending three years of instability following the 2011 uprising that ended the presidency of Hosni Mubarak, another former military officer.
On Saturday, thousands poured into Cairo's Tahrir Square to back Sisi's candidacy, after he said he required "public demand" to stand in the election.
Elsewhere that day, at least 49 people were killed in clashes when police clamped down on protests by Morsi's supporters and anti-military activists.
The military commanders took the decision in a meeting convened to discuss "the demands of the people for (his) candidacy," the official MENA news agency reported.
But the weekend's violence again showed how bitterly polarised the country is. More than 1,000 people, mostly Islamists have been killed in street clashes, and thousands imprisoned, since Morsi's overthrow.
And a militant insurgency in Sinai appears to have spiralled out of control, as jihadists downed a military helicopter in the peninsula and set off bombs in Cairo at the weekend.
A senior military official said Sisi would step down from his command within days and run in the election.
"He will then sit down, study a programme" to implement after he wins the election, the general said.
Sisi "wants to unite the people, restore security and Egypt's international standing," said the general.
Sisi's aides have said he hesitated before announcing his presidency because he wanted to be sure he would be an effective leader.
His move runs the risk of damaging the military's popularity if he fails to deliver.
Hours before the meeting, interim president Adly Mansour, whom Sisi had appointed to replace Morsi, promoted the army chief and defence minister to the top rank of field marshal.
"I think this is goodbye to Sisi as army chief," said an official of the promotion.
Sisi has not yet resigned, and may do so after Monday, said the general.
The army spokesman said in a statement that there have not yet been any "occupational changes for any of the military's commanders".
Egyptians want 'strong man'
Although easily the most popular leader in Egypt presently, Sisi's bid will draw opposition not only from most Islamists but also some liberals.
"I would have preferred a presidential election comprising civilian candidates to install a civilian democracy," said Alfred Raouf, a member of the liberal Al-Dostour party.
"But I can understand that people want Sisi to be candidate, as given their security fears they want a strong man" to head the country.
Sisi, if he stands and wins, could influence the outcome of parliamentary elections by forming a party that would attract leading candidates, analysts said.
"There are no doubts that the (new) president will announce his preferences and his political tendencies," said Gamal Abdel Gawad Soltan of the American University in Cairo.
"The political currents which the (new) president says are closer to him will benefit from it."
But the general, accused by Morsi supporters of carrying out a coup, faces a determined opposition and a semi-insurgency.
Five soldiers were killed on Saturday when a military helicopter was shot down with a surface-to-air missile, an unprecedented attack claimed by the Al-Qaeda-inspired Ansar Beit al-Maqdis.
Ansar Beit al-Maqdis also claimed responsibility for a car bombing outside police headquarters in Cairo on Friday that killed four people.
The interim-backed authorities have lumped in Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, which renounced violence decades ago, with the Sinai-based jihadists.
The Brotherhood, now blacklisted as a terrorist group, has called for further protests in the coming days.