With Eye on Presidency, Former Egyptian Military Chief Is Hazed Online

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The long, sarcastic headline on a new Facebook page informs readers that Lt. Gen. Sami Hafez Anan’s presidential election campaign is a great way to learn the ins and outs of Photoshop.

The page has only one goal: to display the talents of Photoshop artists in creating ridiculous images of the former Egyptian chief of staff.

Many people have contributed creations, which include the general dressed in civilian clothes and posing with the stars of the classic TV comedy “Friends,” or sitting beside Adolf Hitler as the two read newspapers. Or Anan is hosting the stars of Egyptian cartoon programs. Each image is accompanied by a short and sardonic text.

Anan is being subjected to the humiliating rite that afflicted deposed Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi. The reason is Anan’s declaration last month that he will run in the next presidential election. The announcement in Egypt’s newspapers Friday that a presidential election will be held in the summer has made the anti-Anan campaign even more caustic.

Who's behind the anti-Anan initiative? As rumors in Egypt indicate, the finger can be pointed at none other than Defense Minister Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who is steadily gaining popularity in the media and who himself is seen as a potential candidate. Asked to respond to Anan’s candidacy, Gen. el-Sissi replied that the army did not support any candidate, that every citizen was free to run and that the people would decide who should be president.

This kind of declaration sounds great, especially when it's being made by Egypt’s acting president and someone who has declared that he seized the reins of government to preserve democracy and comply with the will of the people. But el-Sissi has a score to settle with Anan that dates back to when Anan, as chief of staff, was the boss of el-Sissi, who at the time was head of Military Intelligence.

When Morsi appointed el-Sissi defense minister and chief of staff, he removed Anan from the latter post and made him a presidential adviser on security affairs. Now el-Sissi is trying to get Anan to step down from the public stage. He doesn't invite Anan to ceremonies, including the one commemorating the Yom Kippur War - in Egypt the October War - in which Anan fought.

In recent weeks the Egyptian media has been reporting on Anan’s immense wealth and close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and Ahmed Shafik, considered to have been one of ousted President Hosni Mubarak’s closest confidants and who lost the last presidential race to Morsi. Anan also reportedly proposed to former Defense Minister Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, who was also removed by Morsi, that he launch a quiet putsch against Morsi. Other allegations include that Anan was “America’s representative” during the Mubarak regime and that Washington was grooming him as a successor.

The same reports that insinuate that el-Sissi wants Anan out of politics are saying he wants a retired general, Magdy Hatata, another former chief of staff, to be a presidential candidate. But Hatata, who has unsuccessfully run for that office, is perceived as a candidate who would showcase el-Sissi as the only suitable man for the job.

Anyone for a civilian government?

In all these reports there is a conspicuous absence of a civilian candidate; it seems Egypt might restore the military junta that the revolution removed from power. Although the Muslim Brotherhood might field its own candidate, who would run on an independent ticket, many of its people have been arrested or are about to stand trial. The movement appears to have lost its clout; support for it is now regarded as treason. On the other hand, some commentators fear that a political and judicial offensive against the Brotherhood and fears of a return of military rule might play into the hands of the movement, which still has many supporters.

Meanwhile, the country’s liberal forces are in a deep crisis. Last week, senior members of the Al-Dostour party, which was founded by former interim Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei, announced that they were leaving the party because of its leaders' conduct, a lack of transparency and disputes over how to “realize the vision of the revolution.”

ElBaradei, who is expected to return to Egypt from abroad this week, was acquitted by an Egyptian court of breach of trust after he resigned following the deadly crackdown on Brotherhood protesters in July. But his name is considered a symbol of the betrayal of the latest revolution’s values because his resignation was perceived as support for the Brotherhood.

The National Salvation Front, which ElBaradei cofounded with secularists Amr Moussa and Hamdeen Sabahi, in effect no longer exists. It's expected that both Sabahi and Moussa, who heads a virtually Islamist-free panel tasked with amending the country’s suspended 2012 constitution, will both run for president.

That scenario could shatter the partnership that helped depose Morsi. But if el-Sissi decides he wants to be president, Moussa and Sabahi will find it difficult to run against him. The question is whether el-Sissi seeks to take on direct responsibility for governing Egypt and managing the profound economic and social crisis.

Judging from his shaky relations with the U.S. administration and the Muslim Brotherhood, it appears el-Sissi is enjoying the power he's wielding. It seems he believes he's the only person who can rescue Egypt from its dire predicament. That's also what Mubarak thought.

Egyptians rallying for army chief Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. He might run. Credit: AP

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