CAIRO: Egypt's military chief, Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, gave his strongest indication yet that he intends to enter presidential elections, saying in a speech Tuesday that he "can't turn his back" if Egyptians want him to run.
El-Sissi is considered almost certain to win if he runs for president, riding on a wave of popular fervor since he ousted the country's first freely elected president, Islamist Mohammed Morsi, who had faced massive protests demanding his removal after a year in office.
Since the ouster last summer, a heated anti-Islamist and nationalist media campaign has fanned support for el-Sissi, touting him as the nation's savior.
For weeks, pro-military media have been saying the field marshal will announce his candidacy imminently. Last month, the top body of military generals, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, publicly gave its backing to an el-Sissi run.
El-Sissi's comments Tuesday in a speech to military cadets stopped only a hair short of officially announcing he will run. He hinted he was waiting for the issuing of a law governing the presidential vote and setting a date for it. The vote is to be held by the end of April.
When asked by the cadets about his possible candidacy, el-Sissi replied, "No one who loves his nation and loves Egyptians can ignore the desire of so many of them, or turn his back on their will," according to excerpts of the comments released on the Facebook page of the military spokesman.
"The coming days will see the completion of the procedures that are officially necessary in this context," he added.
"Don't imagine that Egypt can stand up unless we help each other and put our hands together to solve the problems that piled up over more than 30 years," he said. "No one can solve these problems alone, but only when Egyptians stand shoulder to shoulder."
If he becomes president, el-Sissi faces a host of economic, security and social woes that would pose real test to his popularity. Also, the generals' backing of his candidacy has staked the military's reputation on his presidency, meaning the country's most powerful institution could be tarnished by any political turmoil.
El-Sissi was appointed defense minister and army chief by Morsi. Since Morsi's ouster, the military-backed interim government has been waging a fierce crackdown on his Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists, while facing a growing insurgency by Islamic militants in retaliation for Morsi's removal.
Over the past weeks, the 59-year-old U.S.-trained army chief he has been increasingly acting in a presidential fashion, most notably a visit last month to Russia, where he secured the Kremlin's blessing for his likely presidential bid.
Last week, his wife made her first public appearance: Intisar el-Sissi was seated next to him during a ceremony honoring senior officers.
Posters of el-Sissi next to a lion are plastered on walls and hoisted on lampposts across much of the country. Songs praising him are played on radio and blare from coffee shops. Supporters often tout him as the new Gamal Abdel-Nasser, the legendary Arab nationalist who ruled in 1950s and 1960s.
The law governing the upcoming presidential vote was given on Tuesday to the Cabinet for consultations, after which it will be given to interim President Adly Mansour to issue.
Ali Awad, the president legal adviser, said that one article in the new law provides that if only candidate runs, the vote will be a referendum on the candidate. Another article would allow for the results of the voting to be appealed if a complaint is filed within a week of their announcement. But he said the articles will still be debated by the Cabinet.
If confirmed, the one-candidate vote would be a throwback to the era of autocratic President Hosni Mubarak, who for most of his rule was repeatedly re-elected in one-man yes-no referendums. He stood in a multicandidate vote once, in 2005, and was ousted in the 2011 popular uprising.
Meanwhile, a court on Tuesday banned of all activities in Egypt of the Palestinian militant group Hamas and ordered the closure of Hamas offices.
Hamas, which rules the neighboring Gaza Strip, is the Palestinian branch of the Brotherhood. Authorities accuse Hamas, in cooperation with the Brotherhood, of training and arming the al-Qaida inspired group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, which has carried out a string of bombings and attacks on police and the military. The Brotherhood and Hamas both deny the accusation.
Morsi and many Brotherhood leaders are facing multiple trials, including one on charges of working with Hamas to undermine national security. Several Hamas members are co-defendants in the case.
In Gaza, senior Hamas official Izzat Rishq condemned Tuesday's ruling, saying the movement viewed it as a "political decision" directed against the Palestinian people and their resistance. His comments came in a statement sent by email.
On his Facebook page, Hamas leader Moussa Abu Marzouk wrote that the group has no affiliates in Egypt and all its past meetings or visits in Egypt were carried out with the knowledge of Egypt's general intelligence agency.
Tuesday's ruling by the Court of Urgent Matters was the result of a case brought by an Egyptian lawyer seeking a verdict branding Hamas a terrorist organization and suspending any dealings with it. The ruling did not directly declare the group a terrorist organization.