Thomas Hartwell, Associated Press
CAIRO — In an audiotape, Egypt's military chief talks about his dreams, saying that in one nighttime vision he was brandishing a sword and that in another he told the late Anwar Sadat that he himself would be president one day. The tape, apparently leaked by opponents to embarrass the general, kicked off an online storm of parodies and mockery.
But to most Egyptians, among whom dream interpretation is commonplace, it only deepened an image of the country's most powerful figure — and very possibly its next president — as a spiritual man, in touch with the nation's traditions.
The twist illustrates the seemingly inexorable momentum for Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to run for president in elections due in 2014, the crowning step in the transitional roadmap laid out by the military after the general removed Islamist President Mohammed Morsi from office and threw him in prison.
For his supporters, he seems unable to do wrong. Since the July 3 coup, there has been a fervor for el-Sissi among the public, fed by a stream of support in pro-military media but also by a yearning among many Egyptians for a strongman savior who can bring stability after nearly three years of turmoil and instability.
"Apparently, those who leaked the last tape have not sufficiently studied the nature of Egyptians," said Negad Borai, a prominent rights activist and a lawyer.
New political alliances have sprung up to pressure el-Sissi to run. This week, one grouping called "Masr Balady" or "Egypt is My Country" — which brings together prominent figures, including a former interior minister and senior Muslim cleric Ali Gomaa — called on Egyptians to take to the streets next month to support his presidency.
El-Sissi's chief opponents are Morsi's Islamist supporters, who describe the coup as treason and brand the general as a murderer for the deaths of hundreds in a ferocious crackdown on pro-Morsi protesters that has been underway since the ouster. Faced with his soaring popularity, the Islamists have been striving to cast el-Sissi as a ruthless dictator, an enemy of Islam or an agent of America and Israel.
El-Sissi also faces opposition from secular activists who are worried over the power of the military and believe that if he became president it will lead to a new autocracy like that of Hosni Mubarak, ousted in the 2011 revolution.
"There is no way a military commander like el-Sissi who has no political background should be expected to believe in democracy as we see it in the West," said Borai. "El-Sissi, rightly or wrongly, is a reflection of the mood on the street, which has discovered that the cost of democracy is way too high."
The tape, which emerged last week, was the latest in a string of private conversations by el-Sissi believed to have been leaked by his opponents in an attempt to smear him. But often the leaks have fed his popularity, making him appear a committed soldier, pragmatic, modest, religious and close to the people.
El-Sissi has not ruled out a run. The latest leak, however, left little doubt in the minds of many that he will seek the job.
The audio recording was from comments he purportedly made to the editor of a privately owned newspaper on the sidelines of a recent interview. On the tape, he says he began to have dreams and visions starting 35 years ago but that he had stopped talking about them in 2006.
He said he saw himself in one dream carrying a sword inscribed with Islam's declaration of faith, "There is no god but God," in red letters. In another, he had been told "we will give you what we have never given anyone before."
He also cited another dream in which he was speaking to Sadat, the Egyptian president assassinated by Islamists in 1981 after 11 years in office. Sadat tells el-Sissi that he had known he would be president, and el-Sissi replied, "I will be president of the republic."
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