CAIRO — Egypt's army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said on Saturday he would run for president if the people asked him to and if the army backed him, state-run newspaper Al-Ahram reported on its website.
Sisi, who ousted Egypt's first democratically elected leader Mohammed Morsi last July after mass protests, is widely expected to seek the top job. Saturday's statement was the clearest indication so far of his intention.
"If I run then it must be at the request of the people and with a mandate from my army . . . We work in a democracy," he said, speaking at an army seminar in Cairo.
After the army overthrew the Islamist Morsi amid the mass protests against his one-year rule, it appointed an interim president and outlined a roadmap for democratic transition.
Muslim Brotherhood supporters of Morsi accuse the army of staging a coup and have held frequent protests calling for his reinstatement. But the security forces have launched a wide crackdown against the group, arresting thousands on charges of violence.
Egypt is set to hold a referendum on a new constitution on Jan. 14-15, a major milestone in that roadmap which will clear the way for presidential and parliamentary elections.
There is little doubt the popular Sisi would win the election, turning the clock back to the days when the presidency was controlled by military men - a pattern interrupted by Morsi's 2012 win and his one year in office.
The state MENA news agency quoted Sisi on Saturday as urging Egyptians to "assume national responsibility and turn out in force to vote in the constitutional referendum in order to correct the democratic path and build a modern democratic state."
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