No Surprises: Egyptian Military Endorses Its Chief For President

Out of Cairo on Monday came new indications that Egypt's military chief, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, will run for president in an election expected within the next three months. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, Egypt's highest military body, disseminated a message praising Sisi and endorsing him for a presidential bid.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Now, to Egypt where there were more indications today that the country's top military chief is preparing to run for president. The armed forces announced on state television that Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi should, in their words, heed the call of the people and run for president in an election expected to be held within the next three months.

NPR's Leila Fadel joins us now from Cairo. Hi, Leila.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Hi.

SIEGEL: And does this mean that Egypt's military chief is definitely running for president?

FADEL: Well, in the past, Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi has said he would run for president if he got the request from the people and the mandate from the army. And so right now, he has both of those things. And the only thing left to be done is for him to officially declare his candidacy.

SIEGEL: Today's announcement from the armed forces really doesn't come as a surprise, does it?

FADEL: No, not at all. For months, we've seen the build up to what people see as the great hero of Egypt now. Sisi is - his face is on chocolates, on posters. There are gold Sisi masks. There are columns about his Herculean strength. I spoke to an analyst today, Josh Stacher, from Kent Sate University, and he had this to say.

JOSH STACHER: What he represents is he's the public face of a military junta that is attempting to reassert control over a population.

SIEGEL: Not such an easy task. This comes after a particularly violent weekend in Egypt. Dozens of people were killed in clashes with security forces. Is more violence expected in Egypt?

FADEL: Yeah. What we saw over the weekend is that, really, no dissent against the military is acceptable. Police open fire pretty much on protests across the country of both Islamist and non-Islamists. Again, I'd like you to listen into what Stacher had to say about this.

STACHER: Any resistance from society, whether that comes from groups like the Muslim Brotherhood or whether that comes from groups like the revolutionaries, is going to be suppressed because they've made it a zero-sum game in which there's no easy outs for el-Sisi or the military junta.

FADEL: So now, if Sisi does run for president and wins, it looks like even less dissent will be accepted here in Egypt.

SIEGEL: Is the military taking a risk here? After all, Egypt faces huge problems: a battered economy, a corrupt bureaucracy, a country in which half of the people live at or below the poverty line. One could argue that you become president, you take responsibility for all of that.

FADEL: That's right. We've seen two leaders in the past have huge masses come out on the streets: Hosni Mubarak and then later, Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, who's now facing trial because their life wasn't getting better. And so far, none of those underlying problems have been solved. And the military has shied away from taking such bold responsibility. They've always sort of led in the background in the past three years other - during that transitional period. So by taking the presidency, they're taking that responsibility. And on top of that, they're also facing a low-level insurgency. We saw signs of that again this past weekend with bombings in Cairo. And a militant group taking a military helicopter out of the sky with the surface-to-air missile.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Leila Fadel in Cairo on news today that Egypt's senior military leaders have endorsed Field Marshal Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to run for president. Leila, thank you.

FADEL: Thank you.

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