Egypt's Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi stays on as military leader

Egyptian military leader Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who many expect to run for the country’s presidency, has announced he will stay on as defence minister.
Egypt's military leader Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi says he has resigned from the military in order to make a bid for the presidency. (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters)

Egyptian military leader Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who many expect to run for the country’s presidency, has announced he will stay on as defence minister for now.

A source told Reuters el-Sissi, who ousted the Islamist President Mohammed Morsi earlier in February, has not ruled out running for president. El-Sissi would have to resign his defence minister post to become eligible.

"He is expected to continue in his post until all the issues regarding the election laws are resolved," the source said.

Egypt’s government resigned on Monday in a surprise move that many believed gave el-Sissi a clear path to power.

The government's resignation, announced by interim prime minister Hazem el-Beblawi, came amid a host of strikes, including one by public transport workers and garbage collectors. An acute shortage of cooking gas has also been making front page news in Egypt.

"There is a need for a fresh face to deal with the strikes," said MohammedAboulGhar, head of the Egyptian Social Democratic party, from which el-Beblawi hails.

"El-Beblawi was supposed to stay for two more months but the strikes propelled a speed-up in pushing through the changes."

A change of government before the presidential vote would also spare el-Sissi the disruption associated with forming a new one if he becomes president, a near certainty given his sweeping popularity and the relative weakness of his rivals likely a leftist politician and a retired general.

The surprise resignation of el-Beblawi's Cabinet and its swift replacement also reflects that the country's economic woes are enough to daunt anyone who fills the land's highest office.

26 sentenced to death for Suez Canal plot

Meanwhile, an Egyptian court sentenced 26 people to death over allegations of forming a terrorist group and targeting the vital Suez Canal water corridor.

Cairo Criminal Court issued its verdict on Wednesday. All defendants but one was tried in absentia.

The prosecutors charged the group with planning attacks on ships passing the canal last year, security buildings, foreign tourists, Christians and police.

An al-Qaeda-inspired group has claimed responsibility for a rocket-propelled grenade attack targeting the canal last year.

In 2012, an Egyptian court sentenced 14 militants to death on charges related to attacks on police and civilians in the volatile Sinai Peninsula in the aftermath of the 2011 uprising.

Eight are in prison while the rest were tried in absentia. They allegedly belonged to the extremist Tawheed and Jihad group.

Egypt has been hit by a wave of bombings and suicide attacks since the July military ouster of Morsi, Egypt's first elected president. Morsi was removed followed days of demonstrations by millions of Egyptians demanding he step down, accusing him of abusing power.

After Morsi's fall, security forces launched a heavy crackdown on Morsi supporters who held mass demonstrations denouncing the military takeover and demanding that he be reinstated. Hundreds were killed in the summer and thousands jailed.

The interim government has labelled Morsi's group, the Muslim Brotherhood, a terrorist organization, blaming it for the recent attacks. The Brotherhood, which officially renounced violence in the 1970s, denies being behind the attacks.

Reuters, CBC