Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the Egyptian military chief who last summer removed the elected Islamist president, has announced he has resigned from the military and will run for president.
In a nationally televised speech, el-Sissi appeared in his military uniform, saying that it was the last time he would wear it because he was giving it up "to defend the nation" by running for president in next month’s elections. He said he was "responding to a call from the people".
Egyptian law says only civilians can run for president, so his resignation from the military, as well as his posts of military chief and defence minister, was a required step.
El-Sissi is widely expected to win the vote, after months of nationalist fervour since he removed Mohammed Morsi, who in 2012 became Egypt's first freely elected and civilian president. The ouster in July came after massive protests demanding Morsi go after only a year in office amid public resentment that his Muslim Brotherhood was monopolising power.
Since then, the military-backed interim government has waged a fierce crackdown on Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, arresting thousands of members and killing hundreds of protesters in clashes. At the same time, militants have waged a campaign of attacks on police and the military, and el-Sissi has repeatedly declared a war on terrorism.
In his address on Wednesday night (today, NZT), el-Sissi gave a campaign-style speech, promising he intended to build a "modern and democratic Egypt". He spoke of the challenges facing the country, including millions of unemployed and a "weak economy".
In an apparent goodwill gesture despite the crackdown, he promised "no exclusion. ... I extend my hand to all at home and abroad - all those who have not been convicted".
"There will be no personal score-settling," he said.
However, on the ground there have been no signs of any move toward reconciliation with Morsi's supporters and the Brotherhood, once the country's strongest political force. Authorities on Wednesday announced the latest in a series of mass trials of suspected Islamists, including the top leader of the Brotherhood Mohammed Badie, on murder and other charges in connection to violence the past months.
Morsi supporters have continued near daily protests against el-Sissi and the interim government. On Wednesday, students in several universities, most of them Islamists, held protests that turned into clashes with security forces. An 18-year-old student was killed in the violence at Cairo University, the Health Ministry said.