Egypt appoints new defence minister

Egypt’s interim president has sworn in a new defence minister after the country’s army chief resigned so he could run in presidential elections.


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Published: Fri 28 Mar 2014, 7:35 PM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 5:29 AM

The appointment of Gen. Sedki Sobhi on Thursday came one day after Egyptian strongman Field Marshal Abdel Fattah Al Sisi announced his much-anticipated presidential bid.

Also Thursday, Mahmoud Hegazy was appointed as chief of staff. His daughter is married to one of Al Sisi’s sons.

Declaring his widely anticipated candidacy in a televised address on Wednesday, Sisi vowed to fight “terrorism” and work towards restoring the battered economy.

The wildly popular Sisi faces no serious competition in the election to be held before June, and is widely seen as the only leader able to restore order after more than three years of turmoil since the Arab Spring overthrow of veteran strongman Hosni Mubarak.

“With all modesty, I nominate myself for the presidency of Egypt,” Sisi said in the address, wearing his uniform.

He vowed to fight militancy which has killed more than 200 policemen and troops since the military ousted elected president Mohammed Mursi last July.

US deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Washington was not backing any candidate in the election, saying it was up to the Egyptian people to decide.

But it was “critical that they are able to do so in an environment that allows the free expression of political views without intimidation or fear of retribution”, Harf said.

Government spokesman Hany Salah told reporters the cabinet praised “the patriotic and fundamental role played by Sisi in the success of the June revolution”, referring to Mursi’s ouster after mass protests against the Islamist’s one-year rule.

A separate cabinet statement praised Sisi for “facing the forces of terrorism and destruction with full force and vigour”.

State television broadcast footage of Sisi meeting his election campaign team.

Egyptian media hailed Sisi’s speech on Wednesday, splashing it across their front pages.

The announcement was also welcomed on the street, with people saying Sisi becoming president was inevitable.

“Sisi is too powerful. If he had remained as defence minister, he would have become a headache for any president. Therefore there is no alternative to him” but to become president, said tour operator Ali Amin.

For those who want an end to the violence that has scared off investors and tourists, Sisi’s military background is an asset.

The army is seen as the country’s most stable institution, and Sisi can count on further aid from friendly Gulf states that have pumped billions of dollars into Egypt since Mursi’s ouster.

Analysts say Sisi will face stiff challenges.

“To turn the economy around, deep and painful restructuring is needed, something the military-backed government has avoided so far,” said James Dorsey, Middle East Expert at Singapore-based S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

“He will lead a deeply divided country in which a significant minority feels disenfranchised. He would need to build bridges to prevent further polarisation and violence.”

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