Egypt’s Defense Minister Gen. Abdul-Fattah El-Sisi, 59, announced Wednesday, March 26, that he had resigned from the army after 45 years in order to run for president. No date has been set for the election, but it is expected to take place no later than July. His popularity as a strong leader in a country that craves stability above all after three years of turmoil is such that he can count on winning.
debkafile’s military sources disclose that in recent weeks Gen. El-Sisi took time off to create a new rapid intervention force as a powerful vehicle for buttressing his regime.
Maj. Gen. Tawfik Abdel-Samei, head of the Egyptian army’s central command, was chosen to head the force. He and El-Sisi handpicked 10,000 of the most able commando fighters from the various army units and consolidated them through intense courses into a special airborne force. Equipped with air transport and helicopters, it is capable of flying to the ends of the country in a crisis, along with tanks, self-propelled artillery and counter-terror measures.
This force will be available for the new president to pursue his war on the Muslim Brotherhood after unseating its rule last summer.
In the meantime, Egypt’s courts are running Brotherhood leaders including the deposed president Mohamed Morsi and thousands of activists at a rapid pace through short trials and passing out death sentences for hundreds of defendants.
Shortly before his announcement, El-Sisi had Chief of Staff Sedki Sobhi promoted to the rank of colonel general, naming him the next defense minister.
In his address to the nation, the presidential contender promised he would work to free Egypt from the threat of terrorists. He also promised to tackle the country’s disastrous economic situation, without saying how he would do this.
El Sisi has enjoyed a generous financial lifeline from Saudi Arabia and Gulf emirates since he seized power last year. It is expected to continue. As president, he can also count on four props, say debkafile’s Middle East sources.
1. The top military elite, although some of the generals have reservations. When he appeared to hesitate before deciding to run for the presidency, former chief of staff Lt. Gen. Sami Annan started organizing a support group for his candidacy, but then backed down.
Another critic is Gen. Ahmed Wasfi, the charismatic chief of the Second Army. Despite his popularity, the counter-terror operation Wasfi led in Sinai failed to root out al Qaeda and its allies, who tried more than once to assassinate him, and he was relieved of this mission.
2. The judiciary is another part of the Egyptian leader’s support system, especially since he made its head, Adly Mansour, interim president.
3. The United Arab Emirates vice ruler and prime minister, Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid al Maktoum, is one of El-Sisi’s two foremost champions in the Arab world.
Their relations have a Palestinian sideline: Maktoum is a deadly foe of Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas and backer of his rival, Mohammed Dahlan. Sacked as a high official in the Palestinian Authority, Dahlan has spent most of the last three months in Cairo as an adviser to El-Sisi especially on Palestinian affairs.
4. His other champion is Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, Director of Saudi Arabia’s General Intelligence service, who has just been restored to high favor in Riyadh after some weeks of absence. Bandar was the go-between for El-Sisi’s connection with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He also presented Riyadh’s offer to bankroll their two-billion dollar arms transaction.
The announcement of his candidacy for president two days before US President Barack Obama arrives in Riyadh for talks with Saudi leaders is no coincidence. Since El-Sisi eliminated Muslim Brotherhood rule, a chill has overlaid Washington’s relations with Cairo. The Egyptian strongman was making sure that the US president understood that he was there to stay.