For many Egyptians, the rise of a new military man is a comforting idea after nearly three years of political turmoil since the fall of President Hosni Mubarak.
A Sissi victory in the presidential vote expected by next spring would mean that Egypt will have come full circle from the ouster of one military leader to the official embrace of a new one.
Beginning with Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1952 and continuing through Mubarak, Egypt was ruled by men who came to power through the armed forces. Sissi’s critics say his presidency would end this nation’s brief experiment in civilian rule — and the democracy that brought Mohamed Morsi, an Islamist, to power last year.
Already, Sissi mania has swept the nation in a pattern reminiscent of the frenzy over the past strongmen. The general’s face has become ubiquitous on shop windows and even on cupcakes. He’s celebrated in songs, poems and chants.
Sissi, who diplomats say appears to relish the attention, hasn’t declared his candidacy. The campaigners say they are acting on their own accord. And in speeches and rare interviews, Sissi has coyly dodged the subject of whether he’ll run.
“I think that it’s not the right time to ask this question under the circumstances that the country is going through,” Sissi told the independent daily al-Masry al-Youm in an interview published last week.
But in a nation that has tired of politicians deemed too eager to hold on to power, Sissi’s reluctance — genuine or not — is part of his appeal. His backers say he would be unlikely to face any real competition if he decides to run.
Forget marginal majorities — such as the 51 percent that Morsi won — said Refai Nasrallah, who founded the leading Sissi petition campaign several days before Morsi’s overthrow. “We expect Sissi to get over 90 percent,” he said.
“That is, of course, if anyone runs against him,” said Abdel Nabi Adel Sattar, the effort’s spokesman. “When somebody with the status of General Sissi runs for president, it will make everyone else who’s not qualified think twice about running against him.”
Of course, the lack of competition also stems from the fact that Sissi’s sharpest critics have been forcibly silenced. In the months since Morsi’s ouster, security forces have killed more than 1,000 Morsi supporters and put thousands more behind bars.
The heavy-handed tactics and the lack of evident movement toward democracy led the United States this month to withhold part of the $1.3 billion in military aid that it annually provides to Egypt.
A widely popular figure
The campaign to draft Sissi has provided no evidence of the millions of signatures it says it has collected, and analysts say the claims are almost certainly exaggerated.