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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Heckling From Egyptian Activists as Military Leader Declares Presidential Ambition

As my colleague David Kirkpatrick reports from Cairo, the defense minister who led last summer’s takeover of the elected government in Egypt, Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, announced on Wednesday that he was resigning from the army and running for president.

The long-expected announcement, in an address to the nation broadcast on state television, seemed to realize the worst fears of Egyptian activists who helped topple another former military man, Hosni Mubarak, in the popular uprising that started on Jan. 25, 2011, as Egypt celebrated Police Day.

For months, activists and journalists have warned about what they see as a Mubarak-like cult of personality being constructed around Mr. Sisi, who was promoted to the rank of field marshal after the military seized power from Egypt’s first freely elected president, the Islamist Mohamed Morsi.

Although Mr. Sisi’s popularity with many Egyptians looking for a strongman to end the turmoil that followed the 2011 uprising is unquestioned, the news of his plans to stand for the presidency was greeted with anger, dismay and sarcasm online by activists, rights workers and commentators who had hoped for something other than a return to autocracy. Before, during and after his televised declaration, they heckled Mr. Sisi, the odds-on favorite for the presidency, on Twitter.

Some Cairene bloggers reminded readers that Mr. Sisi was almost unknown by most Egyptians until he was promoted by Mr. Morsi during the the Muslim Brotherhood leader’s single year in office.

Two foreign correspondents, Tamer El-Ghobashy of The Wall Street Journal and Jack Shenker of The Guardian, noted that one of Mr. Sisi’s few public statements before he was elevated by Mr. Morsi was in defense of the military’s right to carry out what they called “virginity checks” on female protesters detained during a demonstration in Tahrir Square in 2011.

The Egyptian journalists Hossam el-Hamalawy and Ahmed Aboul Enein, meanwhile, drew attention to video of the police attacking student protesters at Cairo University earlier on Wednesday, including graphic images that appeared to show at least one dead young man with a gaping head wound.

Follow Robert Mackey on Twitter @robertmackey.