Entry of Sisi to presidential race divides opinion in Egypt

Candidacy welcomed by secular politicians and Salifis, but criticised by Muslim Brotherhood leader

A Muslim Brotherhood leader yesterday threatened continuing unrest in response to the presidential candidacy of Egypt's former army chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Ultra-orthodox Salafis and secular politicians, however, welcomed his widely popular decision to enter the race.

“There can be no stability or security under [Sisi’s] shadow,” said London-based Ibrahim Munir, a member of the outlawed Brotherhood’s political bureau.

Egypt's elected president Mohamed Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood, was ousted last June by the army, which was acting at the behest of millions of Egyptians protesting against Brotherhood rule.


Morsi supporters
Since then, up to 1,400 Brotherhood supporters calling for Mr Morsi's reinstatement have died in clashes with the security forces and a reported 16,000 have been detained.

Mr Sisi announced on Wednesday that he had resigned from his positions as defence minister and army chief and that he would run for president in the election.

Jalah Muraa, secretary general of the Salafi Nour party, the second-largest in Egypt's dissolved parliament, expressed support for Mr Sisi yesterday and urged Egyptians to co-operate in ending the turmoil from Mr Morsi's removal.

The party’s endorsement provides the otherwise secular Sisi camp with the backing of a fundamentalist religious group and its growing constituency.

Although Nour was initially aligned with the Brotherhood, the party disagreed with the movement’s drive to consolidate its hold on power and to secure Mr Morsi’s reinstatement by staging constant protests in spite of popular opposition.

The Tamarod (Rebel) campaign, which mounted the June demonstrations that led to Mr Morsi’s removal, expressed support for Mr Sisi, describing him as the “representative of a big section of the Egyptian people”.

Mr Sisi’s sole rival so far, leftist Hamdin Sabahi, who came third in the 2012 presidential poll, applauded his candidacy but called for equal time on national television. “We seek . . . democratic elections that [are] transparent and guarantee [the right] of the people to choose their president freely,” he said.

Destour party head Hala Shukrallah urged Mr Sisi "to be like other candidates" and not rely on support from institutions. Founded by Nobel Laureate Mohamed el-Baradei in 2012, Destour is the country's largest liberal party and the first to elect a woman leader.

Egyptian media have compared Mr Sisi to Egypt's still-revered president Gamal Abdel Nasser (1954-1970) and their portraits have often appeared side by side during rallies. However, Nasser had a history of political activism before joining the army while Mr Sisi, who hails from a family of Brotherhood members, has been a loyal officer.

Nasser comparison
A colonel who opposed Britain's domination of Egypt, Nasser was 34 at the time of the 1952 coup that brought him to power. Mr Sisi, a former field marshal and army head, is 59.

Nasser inherited a thriving economy; Egypt’s economy is now in ruins. Nasser ordered the army to help build Egypt’s industrial infrastructure while, if he wins the presidency, Mr Sisi will face military oligarchs who control 30-40 per cent of the economy.

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen contributes news from and analysis of the Middle East to The Irish Times