Almost all Egyptian pundits agree that if the Defense Minister, Gen. Abdelfattah al-Sissi, decided to run for president in the next elections, he would easily win. Many of his potential adversaries have even stated that they would not take part in the polls if al-Sissi were to run. Hence, the Egyptian General has the presidency in his pocket. In most countries, this context would make for aneasy decision. But not in Egypt today. In fact, his entourage has given contradictory signals in the last months, which shows he is facing a real dilemma. Nonetheless, his last statemtents strongly suggest that he will be a presidential candidate.
The main argument against running is that it would expose the army, the most respected national institution, to popular anger. That was precisely the experience of the SCAF, the military junta that ruled Egypt after the Revolution and until the election of deposed president Morsi. When the SCAF stepped down on 30 June 2012, its image had been severely deteriorated after only 16 months in power.
At the time, many experts and military sources argued that the army did not really want to govern the tumultuous post-revolutionary Egypt, but preferred to have rather a “supervisory” role. That is, keeping the capacity to manage its own business and budget, while having a say in the political sphere when needed. Some people compared it to the pre-Erdogan “Turkish model”. This would garantee that prime ministers and presidents rise and fall, bearing the brunt of popular dissatisfaction for unmet expectations, while the army maintains its influence and prestige intact.
Another reason against it is that it would provide the Muslim Brotherhood with a powerful argument in their battle of wills against the Generals. The official version of Morsi’s toppling is that the army stepped in the political sphere in order to save Egypt from a bloody civil confrontation. On the contrary, the Brotherhood narrative asserts that al-Sissi acted just driven by his thirst for power. If he finally decides to become the next president of Egypt after having denied possessing political ambitions a few months ago, the Brotherhood will feel its position has been vindicated.
However, there are also pretty strong arguments in favor of running. To begin with, it may be too late now to chose a merely “supervisory” role for the army. A large part of the society does not see the army as a neutral entity anymore. Toppling Morsi was al-Sissi’s personal gamble, and this is why his pictures and posters are everywhere in Cairo. He owns the current political time. And if the current regime fails, al-Sissi will receive a good deal of the blame, even if he stays in his post of Defense Minister.
Al-Sissi’s problem is that there does not seem to be any potential candidate that the army can trust, who is a capable politician and enjoys a high degree of popularity. The political and economic situation of Egypt is dismal, so it will need a skilled pilot to lead it through strong turbulences. Tough and unpopular decisions will have to be implemented, like cutting energy subsidies. It is difficult to see how a weak president will be able to survive such an atmosphere.Therefore, al-Sissi may rightly think that he is the best candidate to assume power in this difficult time.
In any case, all these considerations may not be the most important factors when taking a decision. Al-Sissi’s personal ambitions may also play a role. As well as the omen he has been seing in his dreams for more than 20 years and that predict that he will rule Egypt.