Profile: Egypt's ex-armed forces chief Abdul Fattah al-Sisi

General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi (May 2013) Abdul Fattah al-Sisi's popularity rocketed after the overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi

The head of Egypt's armed forces, Field Marshal Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, stepped down from his position on 26 March in order to run for president.

It came nine months after he helped to topple the previous president, Mohammed Morsi, who had made him commander-in-chief of the armed forces in the first place.

A central figure in the army-backed post-Morsi interim government, Field Marshal Sisi became the object of almost cult-like popular devotion, while showing a deft hand for political tactics.

Egypt's top military body, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf), last month gave him the green light to stand for president, in what it said was a response to the "desire of the masses".

At the same time, interim President Adly Mansour promoted him from general to field marshal - Egypt's top military post.

New strongman?

Few doubt he has a good chance of winning the presidency. He is wildly popular and currently has no serious rivals. The Muslim Brotherhood that underpinned Mr Morsi's presidency has been banned and declared a "terrorist group" since its ouster.

A supporter of Mohammed Morsi holds up a poster saying: "Sisi traitor" at a protest in Nasr City, Cairo (4 July 2013) Supporters of Mr Morsi say the field marshal launched a coup. This poster brands him a "traitor"

Field Marshal Sisi's personality has also proved attractive to many Egyptians. Far from a stern military figure, he is a softly-spoken but charismatic presence, often seen smiling and known for emotional speeches. At a concert in 2012, his words famously had artists on the stage with him in tears.

Many Egyptians see in him the strong leader needed to overcome the instability that has beset Egypt since the mass protests in Cairo's Tahrir Square ended President Hosni Mubarak's long rule in 2011.

But his ascendancy has left some worrying that it heralds a return to the authoritarian security state that prevailed under Mr Mubarak, rendering the Tahrir Square revolution a brief experiment in democracy.

Only a day before the army backed Field Marshal Sisi's rumoured presidential ambitions, the interim government rearranged the post-Morsi authorities' "roadmap" to democracy to ensure that the presidential election will be held before parliamentary polls, and not after, as had been initially intended.

The move left some fearing that the new timetable will allow Field Marshal Sisi to use a likely landslide victory to cement near-complete control over the political system.

Fall of Islamists

Mr Morsi's decision to appoint Abdul Fattah al-Sisi as army chief in 2012 was then actually seen as an attempt to reclaim power from the military, which had assumed interim control after President Mubarak's fall.

The following year, nationwide protests erupted against the Muslim Brotherhood-led government, motivated by anger at at a perceived drift towards greater Islamist influence on public life, as well as continuing economic hardship.

A man waves an Egyptian flag next to an armoured personnel carrier in Cairo (3 July 2013) The military is the most powerful government entity in Egypt

After months of mounting pressure on the government, Gen Sisi effectively delivered the coup de grace with a televised ultimatum warning that the army would intervene if the government did not respond to "the will of the people" and end the crisis within 48 hours.

Hours later, army helicopters threw thousands of Egyptian flags over anti-Morsi protesters in Cairo's iconic Tahrir Square. The cheering crowds responded with chants of "the people and the army are one hand".

But Field Marshal Sisi's rise has not been without controversy.

He is blamed for the deaths of hundreds of people killed in the authorities' crackdown on Islamists since the ousting of President Mohammed Morsi in July 2013.

Hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters are thought to have been killed in August 2013, when security forces stormed two protest camps in Cairo set up by supporters of Mr Morsi demanding his reinstatement.

The crackdown in Cairo sparked a wave of violence across the country after pro-Morsi supporters attacked government buildings and dozens of Coptic Christian churches were burnt, prompting the authorities to declare a state of emergency.

More people have been killed since the military launched a major campaign against suspected Islamist militants in northern Sinai in September 2013.

The exact figure is not known but the Muslim Brotherhood said in August 2013 up to 2,200 of its supporters had been killed in the crackdown.

Aside from the bloodshed, in April 2012 Field Marshal Sisi also hit the headlines with a statement that appeared to defend "virginity tests" carried out on 17 women detained and beaten by soldiers at an anti-Mubarak protest in Tahrir Square in March 2011.

Gen Sisi said the tests had been done "to protect the girls from rape, and the soldiers and officers from accusations of rape".

Scaf quickly distanced itself from the comments, and Gen Sisi quickly promised to abolish such tests, but the incident was a blow to the military's image.

Military career

Despite a long military career, Field Marshal Sisi has little actual combat experience, latterly specialising mainly in military intelligence. On his appointment as army chief, he was the youngest member of Scaf.

Supporters of the Egyptian military hold up a poster of Abdul Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo's Tahrir Square (25 January 2014) On the third anniversary of the 2011 uprising, thousands called on Field Marshal Sisi to stand for president

Born in Cairo on 19 November 1954, he served in the infantry after graduating from the Egyptian Military Academy in 1977, rising to command a mechanised division.

He went on to serve as information and security chief at the Defence Ministry general secretariat, military attache in Saudi Arabia, chief-of-staff and then commander of Egypt's Northern Military Zone, before being appointed head of Military Intelligence and Reconnaissance.

Field Marshal Sisi has faced regular media speculation about his political loyalties.

In 2012, the Al-Tahrir daily reported that he had "strong ties with US officials on both diplomatic and military levels", frequently taking part in joint war games and intelligence operations.

BBC Monitoring reports and analyses news from TV, radio, web and print media around the world. For more reports from BBC Monitoring, click here. You can follow BBC Monitoring on Twitter and Facebook.

More on This Story

More Middle East stories



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.