Egypt's army chief Sisi promoted ahead of possible presidential bid

Shirts, some depicting army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, are displayed for sale in Tahrir Square during on October 6, 2013.</p>

Shirts, some depicting army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, are displayed for sale in Tahrir Square during on October 6, 2013.

Egypt's top brass on Monday weighed a possible presidential bid by its chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, hours after he was promoted to the highest rank in the military.

Sisi, who ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July after mass street protests, has shot up in popularity and is seen as a leader who could end the political instability and bloodshed that has roiled Egypt since 2011.

His election would mark the return of an army man as head of state, three years after Egyptians revolted against president Hosni Mubarak, an ex-air force chief.

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The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces met "to discuss developments on the security front ... (and) the peoples' demand for the defense minister (Sisi) to run for the presidency," state news agency MENA reported.

Earlier on Monday, interim president Adly Mansour issued a decree promoting Sisi, who would have to step down from the army to run as president, to the rank of field marshal.

"I think this is goodbye to Sisi as army chief," said an official of the promotion.

Egypt's military rarely promotes senior officers to the rank of field marshal.

A senior official said "the promotion was meant to honor Sisi" before he steps down from the army, without giving a timing.

And a government official, on condition of anonymity, said the promotion "could be an honor bestowed on Sisi before he leaves military service."

Such a promotion is "usually bestowed only after an important military victory, which means that the current repression and the 'war against terrorism' is considered as equal to a victory on the battlefield," said Karim Bitar, an analyst with the Institute of International and Strategic Relations.

"I see this (promotion) as a new step in the construction of the savior myth, the hero, the providential man."

Since Morsi's overthrow, months of bloodshed have accompanied a government crackdown on his Islamist supporters that has left more than 1,000 people killed, and by militant attacks in the Sinai peninsula where scores of security personnel have died.

Egyptians expect Sisi to formally announce his bid for the presidency in coming days, after Mansour on Sunday said a presidential election will take place ahead of a parliamentary vote, in a move seen as tailored to allow the army chief to pitch for the top job.

Mansour said the presidential poll will be held before mid-April, after he amended a roadmap drawn up by military-installed authorities following Morsi's ouster.

Egyptians want 'strong man'

"I would have preferred a presidential election comprising civilian candidates to install a civilian democracy," said Alfred Raouf, a member of the liberal Al-Dostour party.

"But I can understand that people want Sisi to be candidate, as given their security fears they want a strong man" to head the country.

Sisi, if he stands and wins, will influence the outcome of parliamentary elections by forming a party that would attract leading candidates, analysts said.

"There are no doubts that the (new) president will announce his preferences and his political tendencies," said Gamal Abdel Gawad Soltan, a professor of political science at the American University in Cairo.

"The political currents which the (new) president says are closer to him will benefit from it."

But the general, accused by Morsi supporters of carrying out a coup ending the elected Islamist president's rule, faces a determined opposition and a semi-insurgency.

At the weekend, at least 49 people were killed across Egypt in clashes between Islamist protesters and police, as thousands rallied in Cairo's Tahrir Square in support of Sisi at state-backed celebrations of the third anniversary of the anti-Mubarak revolt.

Five soldiers were killed on Saturday when a military helicopter came down in the Sinai, after which Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, an Al-Qaeda inspired jihadist group, claimed it shot down the aircraft with a missile.

Egyptian authorities say the crash was "an accident".

Ansar Beit al-Maqdis also claimed responsibility for a car bombing outside police headquarters in Cairo on Friday that killed four people.