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Army denies military chief Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi said he will run for president

By Reza Sayah and Hamdi Alkhshali, CNN
February 6, 2014 -- Updated 2130 GMT (0530 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "I have to fulfill the people's demands," he says
  • His chances of winning are very high
  • He is Egypt's most-adored man
  • But activists are urging caution

Cairo (CNN) -- Egypt's military was quick to quash a newspaper report Thursday that quoted army chief Abdel-Fatah El-Sisi as saying he will run for president.

The interview appeared in the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Siyasa earlier Thursday. And in it, El-Sisi appeared to confirm what many have long considered a foregone conclusion: that he'll run for president.

"The decision has been made," he is quoted as saying. "I have to fulfill the people's demands."

"We don't have a magic wand but we will not tamper with the people's dreams and aspirations," he added. "Let's hold our hands together and work for the country."

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Soon afterward, the army responded.

"What was published in the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Siyasa is merely journalistic speculation and not a direct statement from Field Marshal El-Sisi," it said in a statement.

If he does run, El-Sisi will have to resign his military post. But with no clear contender, his chances of winning the presidency are high.

He will become the sixth military leader to rule Egypt since its independence.

The only one who was democratically elected, Mohamed Morsy, was ousted by the military on July 3 after months of mass protests against his rule.

The interim government has not yet set a firm date for elections; candidates can officially declare themselves on February 18.

A most adored man

If one man can claim the title of Egypt's most-adored, it would be El-Sisi.

Many Egyptians speak of him reverentially. "A hero," or "a man of respect" are some of the terms thrown around.

"If he could be my father, that would be great," said a repairman who gave his name as Mahmoud.

Last week, Egypt's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces gave El-Sisi its blessing to run, calling his candidacy "a mandate and an obligation."

The same day, he was promoted from general to field marshal. He was defense minister under Morsy.

Urging caution

But not everyone is enamored.

It was El-Sisi who announced Morsy's ouster, sparking wild celebrations.

It was El-Sisi who oversaw the appointment of Egypt's interim leaders.

Rights groups say talk of an El-Sisi run shouldn't be cause for celebration, but reasons to worry.

"One has to be a little more worried about a return to military dictatorship," said political analyst Sarah Eltantawi.

"This country has been under military dictatorship since 1952. Anyone during that period who tried to organize politically, democratically was jailed and stymied in one way or another. "

Allegations of abuse

The Egyptian army has long been marred by allegations of abusing its power.

It was accused of beating and killing protesters who took to the streets to demand then-President Hosni Mubarak's ouster.

And when Morsy supporters demonstrated, the army was accused of doing the same.

Furthermore, El-Sisi is the same general who defended the use of virginity tests on female protesters. They were meant to shield soldiers from false accusations, he told state media.

Grievances gone

But for many Egyptians, the grievances are gone.

"People's livelihooods have really plummeted in the past year, two years, " said Eltantawi. "They want stability and the only form of stability that several generations of Egyptians have had have been in the form of the military."

For now, like it or not, the military seems to be playing a central role in post-revolution Egypt where establishing democracy is still the stated goal.

But the path to getting there isn't always democratic.

READ: Democracy: Egypt's beautiful dream in the wrong hands

READ: Military rule popular with Egyptians, study finds ahead of vote on constitution

READ: Is Egypt back where it was in 2011?

CNN's Reza Saya reported from Cairo; Hamdi Alkhshali from Atlanta

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