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Top general Abdel Fatah al-Sissi to run for president in Egypt

Egypt’s powerful military commander, Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, formally announced his plan to run for president, declaring his candidacy in a widely anticipated address to the nation broadcast on state television Wednesday night.

In an hours-long meeting with a council of the country’s top military officers, Sissi resigned from his position as defense minister and commander of the armed forces Wednesday, he said.

“I am standing in front of you for the last time in the military uniform,” he said in a recorded address. “I announce my intention to run for president.”

The statement ended weeks of speculation over whether the popular army chief would step down to launch a bid for the presidency, after riding the wave of nationalist fervor that accompanied the overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi last summer.

(Read: Excerpts from The Washington Post interview with Gen. Sissi)

Egypt's defense minister, Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, center, attends a gala event at the Cairo Opera House on March 14. (Ahmed Omar/AP)

Many Egyptians see Sissi, who spearheaded the July coup against Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, as a near-invincible leader capable of resolving the myriad social and economic problems that have plagued Egypt since a popular uprising in 2011. Sissi, in this view, has stood up to Egypt’s enemies at home and abroad and can restore the country to its position as a regional power.

In recent years, Egypt has seen both “disrespect and intrusion” in its affairs, both through media and politics, at home and abroad, he said in his address. It’s time for that to stop, he added. “Disrespecting Egypt is an adventure with consequences.”

But while Sissi spoke Wednesday night of vague goals such as creating a “better Egypt” where people lead lives “of dignity, security and freedom,” he also said he would not reveal a formal political platform until the country’s electoral commission finishes its preparations for the election registration process.

“Our country is facing monumental challenges, while our economy is weak,” Sissi said Wednesday, adding that the country currently “relies on donations and assistance”—a status he declared “unacceptable.”

“The State needs to regain its posture and power,” he said. “Our mission is to restore Egypt.”

The commission has not announced a deadline for registration. Only one other politician — leftist figure Hamdeen Sabbahi — has declared plans to contest the election. Just minutes after Sissi concluded his speech, Sabbahi’s campaign posted on his official Facebook page a list of reasons to vote for the leftist politician.

“Voting for Sabbahi is voting for an ordinary citizen” who is closer to the people, the post said. Sabbahi has been critical of Sissi’s decision to run for president, calling on the army to stay out of politics.

Erin Cunningham is an Egypt-based correspondent for The Post. She previously covered conflicts in the Middle East and Afghanistan for the Christian Science Monitor, GlobalPost and The National.
Abigail Hauslohner covers D.C. politics -- and the people affected by D.C. politics. She came to the local beat in 2015 after seven years covering war, politics, and corruption across the Middle East and North Africa. Most recently, she served as the Post’s Cairo Bureau Chief.

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