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Egyptian army chief hints at run for higher office

By Laura Smith-Spark, CNN
updated 5:33 AM EST, Mon January 13, 2014
Abdel Fattah el-Sisi:
Abdel Fattah el-Sisi: "Egypt has room for everybody, and we are keen to save every drop of Egyptian blood."
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Egypt's army chief Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi says he may run for president
  • But only if the people want him to, he says
  • A referendum on a new constitution could usher in elections

(CNN) -- Egypt's army chief Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi said Saturday that he would run for president if the Egyptian people wanted him to, state media reported.

El-Sisi, the country's defense minister, said that "If I run for presidency, it would be by the request of the people and by a mandate from my army, as we work within a democracy," according to the official MENA news agency.

El-Sisi's words come as Egypt prepares to hold a referendum Tuesday and Wednesday on a new constitution that would ban religious parties and put more power in the hands of the military. If the constitution is passed, elections should follow.

El-Sisi also called on people to participate in the referendum.

Mohamed Morsy's trial delayed

The country has seen months of political turmoil since its first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsy of the Muslim Brotherhood, was deposed by the military in July and an interim, military-backed government was installed in his place.

Detractors said he was a tyrant trying to impose conservative values, but Morsy's supporters say that the military has returned to the authoritarian practices of longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak, who was deposed in a popular uprising in 2011.

Hundreds died in clashes between Egyptian security forces and Morsy supporters in the weeks which followed his ouster. Many in the Muslim Brotherhood hold el-Sisi, as the military chief, responsible for the bloodshed.

In a statement issued amid the crisis, el-Sisi said "Egypt has room for everybody, and we are keen to save every drop of Egyptian blood." He added, "The Egyptian people are free to choose whoever to govern them, while the armed forces will remain the safeguard of the will of the people and of their choice."

Morsy has been in detention since July and faces trial on charges of inciting the murders of at least three protesters outside the presidential palace in late 2012.The protests were over a constitution that Morsy shepherded into effect.

The second session in the trial is due February 1, after a hearing last week was postponed when bad weather prevented Morsy from being brought by helicopter to court.

Morsy has said he doesn't recognize the court's authority, claiming he still is Egypt's legitimate President.

Muslim Brotherhood members have continued their protests, even though the government declared the group a terrorist organization last month.

The government has threatened to arrest anyone who attends Muslim Brotherhood protests or provides financial support to the organization.

READ: Trial of former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy postponed

READ: Five killed in clashes between Egyptian police, Muslim Brotherhood protesters

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