New Egyptian petition: Run, General, run

Sep 16, 2013, 2:22 PM EDT
Supporters of Egypt's Defense Minister Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, Gamel Soliman, left, and Islam el-Nabwi, hold a campaign to nominate the minister to run for president at a hotel in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Sept. 16, 2013.
(AP Photo/Hiro Komae)

CAIRO (AP) — A group of Egyptian professionals, lawyers and ex-army officers on Monday launched a campaign to collect signatures urging the country's military chief to run for president, just two months after he ousted the first elected leader.

Organizer Rifai Nasrallah, a judge, said the goal of the petition titled "complete your good deed" is to make Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi give in to popular will and run for president, by collecting more than 30 million signatures around Egypt.

"We are here today because we want you a leader, a chief, and a president for Egypt," Nasrallah told the launch gathering at a hotel in Cairo. Addressing el-Sissi, he said: "Don't forget that you told the Egyptian people to ask and you will respond. Here we are asking you to be president of Egypt."

The petition is modeled after Tamarod, or Rebel, a campaign which spearheaded protests against Islamist President Mohammed Morsi. Tamarod said it collected 22 million signatures demanding Morsi step down.

After days of protests, el-Sissi removed Morsi, and appointed an interim civilian leader. Morsi supporters still protest the coup, but el-Sissi and other supporters of his moves said the military chief was only acting in response to the people's demands, dismissing charges it was an orchestrated military coup.

According to the roadmap announced by the interim civilian president Adly Mansour, and backed by the military, presidential elections are expected early 2014, after a referendum on constitutional amendments and parliamentary elections. Organizers say they don't have a deadline for their petition and once they collect the signatures, they plan to deliver them to el-Sissi.

Since Morsi' ouster, el-Sissi's star has risen. Songs of praise for him and the military are flooding the airwaves, posters of him in his trademark dark glasses and military cap, filled street walls and videos of him addressing troops or training with them are also a staple on private media.

The wave of adulation fed speculation that he will be running for president, reports that the military spokesman denied in an interview with an English language daily. The spokesman however said there is nothing stopping the general from running if he retired.

Support for a strongman to lead Egypt follows nearly three years of turbulent political transition, with almost daily protests that have progressively turned violent, and an economy in tatters. Many Egyptians have also been disappointed in the youth groups and new political parties that sprung after the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, failing to see a potential leader that can realize the January 25, 2011 calls for change and improvement in living conditions.

The rise of Islamists to power also alienated many, including revolutionary groups who backed Morsi for president in the 2012 election, mostly because they wanted to keep his opponent in the race, a former Mubarak-era prime minister. Criticism quickly grew of Morsi and his allies, with many accusing them of monopolizing power and creating a new power-cliques instead of realizing demands for better wealth distribution, economic development, and improved freedoms.

Reda Said Mohammed, a Cairo resident, said he would back el-Sissi for president campaign because a civilian will not be able to reel in the country in hard times.

"Under a civilian president, things spiraled out of control," Mohammed said. "I would have like that el-Sissi would have waited a bit, so that he won't be accused of orchestrating a coup for his, but I will support him still."

Ex-military officer Metwalli Sherif, one of the organizers of the petition for el-Sissi, said the general passed the difficult test of responding to the will of the people and removing Morsi.

"He took hard decisions before," Sherif said, explaining why el-Sissi qualifies for the post. "He did something difficult and came down to the will of the people...This time it will also be the will of the people."