Mubarak's last PM backs army's Sisi for Egyptian president

CAIRO Mon Sep 9, 2013 6:23am EDT

An anti-Mursi supporter of Egypt's army walks in front of his shop, with huge posters of Egypt's army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi with cross and crescent symbol of the unity of Egyptians in downtown Cairo August 7, 2013. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

An anti-Mursi supporter of Egypt's army walks in front of his shop, with huge posters of Egypt's army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi with cross and crescent symbol of the unity of Egyptians in downtown Cairo August 7, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

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CAIRO (Reuters) - Former Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq says he will back army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi for president, adding to speculation that the man who led the overthrow of President Mohamed Mursi could become head of state.

Shafiq, a former air force commander who came second in last year's presidential election, said he would not run if Sisi stood in the election expected next year.

The comment suggests why, just months before the election, there are no declared candidates as politicians wait to see if Sisi is going to run before announcing their own intentions.

In separate comments, former Arab League chief Amr Moussa, who also ran in last year's election, said Sisi would win by a landslide. Egyptians had become "angry and afraid of anarchy and terrorism" and wanted a decisive leader, he said.

Sisi has said he does not seek authority though speculation he will run has mounted since he toppled the Muslim Brotherhood's Mursi from the presidency on July 3. He is feted on state TV, while his picture appears across Cairo.

In an interview with Dream 2 television, Shafiq said he would run for president if he had broad support but he would not contest an election if Sisi did.

"May God give him good fortune. We would all support him and I am the first one to support him," said Shafiq, who came second to Mursi in the presidential election in 2012. "If Sisi is nominated I will not run."

The last election, which followed the ousting of strongman Hosni Mubarak, was the first time Egyptians had freely chosen their head of state. It was preceded by months of frenzied campaigning, in stark contrast to now.

Mursi was the first civilian to run Egypt since the army overthrew the monarchy in 1952. A Sisi presidency would mark a return to rule by men from the military.

Sisi has emerged as the public face of the new order, enjoying fawning coverage in Egyptian media and sowing doubts about the military's promise to hand over to full civilian rule with a "road map" to parliamentary and presidential elections.

The army-backed interim government, with the support of a sizeable section of the population, has been cracking down hard on the Muslim Brotherhood, a million-member movement that emerged from decades of repression under Mubarak's military-backed rule to win five popular votes in all.

More than 2,000 Islamist activists have been arrested since Mursi was ousted and most of the Brotherhood's leaders, including Mursi, have been jailed on charges of inciting or taking part in violence. Some have also been accused of terrorism or murder.

Over the same period, more than 1,000 people have been killed in political violence. Most were protesters killed by security forces breaking up pro-Mursi camps in Cairo. Abound 100 were members of the security forces.

Even if Sisi does not run, analysts say the military will remain at the heart of power, curbing the influence of the next head of state. Analysts have suggested retired or serving military officers might run if he does not.

Amr Moussa, who came fifth in last year's election, told Al-Shorouk newspaper that he did not intend to run.

He said Egyptians wanted a president able to take "decisive decisions regardless of their political impact".

A military president "immediately comes to the Egyptian mind", he said, adding that Sisi was the most popular person in the country.

"If he runs he will win a landslide, according to the current situation and the current moment," he said.

Hamdeen Sabahi, a leftist politician who came third in the 2012 election, has also said Sisi would win, while sidestepping questions on his own intentions.

The Brotherhood has accused Sisi of trying to rehabilitate the old order that ran Egypt for 30 years under Mubarak.

(Additional reporting by Tom Perry; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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