In an unanticipated statement read on live TV, Egypt’s interim Prime Minister declared the resignation of his Cabinet on Monday, a move likely to open the way for the country’s popular Defense Minister to run for the presidency in upcoming elections.
For many Egyptians, that will be the announcement that can’t come fast enough. Already the streets of Cairo are draped in banners celebrating Field Marshal Abdul Fattah al-Sisi. His face adorns nightgowns and teapots in local shop windows, and one popular poster depicts him last in a series of great Egyptian leaders, starting with a picture of a pharaoh followed by portraits of King Fuad, Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat (the poster appears to elide over the more recent unpleasantness of former Presidents Hosni Mubarak and Mohamed Morsi). In Egypt, it’s not a question of if al-Sisi will declare his intention to run, but when. Already the country’s best-known business tycoon, Naguib Sawiris, has endorsed al-Sisi’s presidency in an interview with the prominent Al-Ahram newspaper.
Though interim Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi did not give a clear reason for the Cabinet’s resignation, it is largely seen as the first step toward al-Sisi’s declaration of his candidacy. Cabinet members are not permitted to run for office according to Egyptian law. While al-Sisi could have simply resigned himself, the Cabinet’s mass resignation would be an indication of support, one that is echoed across the nation.
Al-Sisi has been hailed as a hero among a large swath of the Egyptian population ever since he ousted the deeply unpopular Morsi in a coup d’état in July last year. Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected President, came to power in the wake of a largely peaceful revolution that saw the overthrow of Mubarak, a strongman who had been in power for 30 years. But Morsi’s tenure was plagued by mismanagement, incompetence and fears that his Islamist leanings would forever alter the fabric of Egypt’s pluralistic society.
When Egyptians protested in mass against Morsi’s reign last summer, al-Sisi — Morsi’s Defense Minister — stepped in and took over. There are sure to be other candidates for the presidency when elections are announced some time later this year, but it is widely accepted that al-Sisi will win handily. And that, says Sawiris, is part of the appeal. “When 30 million went to the streets, Sisi took the dangerous and brave decision to support the people,” he says. “That shows leadership skills that Egypt desperately needs.” The country, Sawiris tells TIME, needs a leader that the entire nation can rally around, particularly as it enters a phase of economic hardship brought on by necessary economic reforms. “Only Sisi can align the population behind him to move the country in the right direction,” Sawiris says.
Still, the blind hero worship strikes some as dangerous, particularly as the interim government that backs Sisi embarks on a vicious campaign of intimidation and discrimination against Morsi’s supporters. “I have no problem if people like him because he has a strong presidential platform,” says 25-year-old stockbroker Remon Amin. “However, there is a problem if they elect him because they think he is a savior god. A man doesn’t thank his wife every morning for not cheating on him, and we shouldn’t celebrate Sisi for doing what he was supposed to do as a servant of the people.” Amin says he probably won’t vote when elections take place, since it’s already clear who will win. “Why do we Egyptians insist on making a pharaoh and then worshipping him?” he asks with a sigh. “It doesn’t make sense to get rid of a Mubarak only to get a Sisi.”