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General's promotion pushes him closer to leading Egypt — as president

| Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014, 3:21 a.m.
In this Wednesday, April 24, 2013 file photo, Egyptian Defense Minister Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi salutes during an arrival ceremony for U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel at the Ministry of Defense in Cairo.

CAIRO — Egypt appears closer to having a new military general as president, as its top officer was promoted in rank and as a candidate.

Army Gen. Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, who led the July ouster of Mohamed Morsy as president, was promoted on Monday to field marshal, the country's highest military rank.

Hours later, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces said it “respects” the will of Egyptians that Sisi become a presidential candidate, calling it a “mandate and obligation.”

Sisi, 59, has made no commitment but is widely expected to run — and to win.

He is popular with a large swath of Egyptians, who crave stability and security after three years of bloody turmoil. Many say that only a strongman can restore the teetering national economy and end growing violence committed by Morsy supporters and Islamist terrorists.

On Saturday — the third anniversary of the revolution that ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak and led to Morsy's election — hundreds of thousands of Egyptians celebrated in the streets, many carrying Sisi posters.

Candidates cannot register until mid-February for the presidential election, which will be held before May 1.

Three other generals ruled Egypt from the 1950s until Morsy, a former Muslim Brotherhood leader, was elected in 2012.

The military council commended Sisi for boosting the military's morale and combat skills. It called on him to decide on a presidential run based on “his national conscience.”

Sisi thanked the council for allowing him to “respond to the call of duty.”

Morsy appointed Sisi as armed forces commander and defense minister in 2012. A year later, the general deposed Morsy because millions of Egyptians demonstrated against the Islamist president and the Brotherhood, which controlled parliament.

Weeks later, Sisi — who attended the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., in 2006 — called on Egyptians to rally against “terrorism.” Huge crowds answered his call, demonstrating in the streets against the Brotherhood.

In the past seven months, more than 1,000 Islamists have been killed in street battles, and most Brotherhood leaders have been jailed or gone into hiding.

Sisi's popularity remains high, despite continued political and economic turmoil. Egyptians often bake cookies or chocolates bearing his image, or wear necklaces with the English initials “CC,” referring to him.

A popular liberal Egyptian blogger who uses the pen name “Big Pharaoh” believes Sisi's candidacy is “a done deal ... you cannot negate the fact that he is popular.”

“From a pragmatic point of view, whether you like him or not, Sisi is the only safety valve in this country,” he said. “The army is the only entity holding the country together.”

He said Egypt “cannot stand another revolution — the country (would) collapse.”

Betsy Hiel is the Tribune-Review's foreign correspondent. Email her at bhiel@tribweb.com.

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