CAIRO: Egypt’s presidential frontrunner may come across as a polished civilian after shedding his military uniform, but his brutal crackdown on opponents has raised fears of a slide back into autocracy.
Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who toppled elected Islamist president Mohamed Morsi last July, is so sure of victory in the May 26-27 election that he has not even unveiled his election program.
The 59-year-old became Egypt’s most popular political figure and de facto head of state after leading the July 3 ouster of Morsi following massive rallies demanding the Islamist’s resignation.
A subsequent brutal crackdown on Morsi’s supporters killed at least 1,400 people and jailed thousands.
Since campaigning began on May 3, Sisi has preferred to address the people through television interviews, appearing in crisp suits and often smiling.
Sisi has said that for him, “national security” takes precedence over democratic freedoms.
It could take “20 to 25 years to achieve true democracy,” he told Egyptian newspaper editors in an interview.
Such remarks have sparked concern of a return to autocracy worse than under Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted by a popular uprising in early 2011.
Sisi himself served as Mubarak’s military intelligence chief, the youngest officer to hold the post.
Mubarak’s successor Morsi promoted Sisi to defense minister in what was seen at the time as an assertion of civilian control over the military, which ruled between Mubarak’s overthrow and Morsi’s election in June 2012.
Since the government was installed by the military last July after Morsi’s ouster, more than 1,400 people have been killed in a crackdown on Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood.
More than 15,000 people have been jailed, with hundreds sentenced to death after cursory trials, triggering widespread international outrage.