AFP/Reuters CAIRO
3Egypt’s army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who led the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, has been promoted to the rank of field marshal, the highest in the military, the presidency said Monday.
“Interim president Adly Mansour issued a presidential decree promoting General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, minister of defence, to the rank of field marshal,” the presidency said. Egypt’s military rarely promotes senior officers to the rank of a field marshal. Long-time ruler Hosni Mubarak, toppled by a popular uprising in 2011, and his predecessors, who all came from the military, were never promoted to the highest military rank.
However, Hussein Tantawi, the former military chief who ruled Egypt between Mubarak’s ouster in February 2011 and Morsi’ election in June 2012, also holds the rank. Morsi replaced Tantawi with Sisi as army chief and defence minister in August 2012.
 Meanwhile, Egypt’s top military body Monday backed its commander Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to run for the presidency, which he is assured to win after ousting the democratically elected leader in July.
Sisi, wildly popular for overthrowing Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, is now expected to resign as army chief and put himself forward as a candidate in the election scheduled for mid-April.
The army’s announcement came after a weekend in which dozens were killed in street clashes between Morsi’s supporters and police and militant attacks, underscoring the difficulties Sisi will face from the Islamist’s backers.
A victory by Sisi will continue a tradition of Egyptian presidents drawn from the military, after the army overthrew Morsi, the first civilian president, on July 3 following mass protests demanding his resignation. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces said “the people’s trust in Sisi is a call that must be heeded as the free choice of the people”. The statement said Sisi thanked the military leadership for allowing him “the right to respond to the call of duty”.
To his supporters, Sisi, who will have to give up his military uniform to stand for election, is the best option for ending three years of instability following the 2011 uprising that ended the presidency of Hosni Mubarak, another former military officer. Earlier on Monday, interim president Adly Mansour issued a decree promoting Sisi, who would have to step down from the army to run as president, to the rank of field marshal. “I think this is goodbye to Sisi as army chief,” said an official of the promotion.
Egypt’s military rarely promotes senior officers to the rank of field marshal. A senior official said “the promotion was meant to honour Sisi” before he steps down from the army, without giving a timing. And a government official, on condition of anonymity, said the promotion “could be an honour bestowed on Sisi before he leaves military service.”
Such a promotion is “usually bestowed only after an important military victory, which means that the current repression and the ‘war against terrorism’ is considered as equal to a victory on the battlefield,” said Karim Bitar, an analyst with the Institute of International and Strategic Relations. “I see this (promotion) as a new step in the construction of the saviour myth, the hero, the providential man.”
Since Morsi’s overthrow, months of bloodshed have accompanied a government crackdown on his Islamist supporters that has left more than 1,000 people killed, and by militant attacks in the Sinai peninsula where scores of security personnel have died.
Egyptians expect Sisi to formally announce his bid for the presidency in coming days, after Mansour on Sunday said a presidential election will take place ahead of a parliamentary vote, in a move seen as tailored to allow the army chief to pitch for the top job.
Mansour said the presidential poll will be held before mid-April, after he amended a roadmap drawn up by military-installed authorities following Morsi’s ouster. “I would have preferred a presidential election comprising civilian candidates to install a civilian democracy,” said Alfred Raouf, a member of the liberal Al-Dostour party. “But I can understand that people want Sisi to be candidate, as given their security fears they want a strong man” to head the country.
Sisi, if he stands and wins, will influence the outcome of parliamentary elections by forming a party that would attract leading candidates, analysts said.
“There are no doubts that the (new) president will announce his preferences and his political tendencies,” said Gamal Abdel Gawad Soltan, a professor of political science at the American University in Cairo.
“The political currents which the (new) president says are closer to him will benefit from it.” But the general, accused by Morsi supporters of carrying out a coup ending the elected Islamist president’s rule, faces a determined opposition and a semi-insurgency.
At the weekend, at least 49 people were killed across Egypt in clashes between Islamist protesters and police, as thousands rallied in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in support of Sisi at state-backed celebrations of the third anniversary of the anti-Mubarak revolt.
Five soldiers were killed on Saturday when a military helicopter came down in the Sinai, after which Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, an Al-Qaeda inspired jihadist group, claimed it shot down the aircraft with a missile.
Egyptian authorities say the crash was “an accident”. Ansar Beit al-Maqdis also claimed responsibility for a car bombing outside police headquarters in Cairo on Friday that killed four people.

Meanwhile, a Libyan militia commander was released in Egypt after Egyptian diplomats kidnapped in Tripoli were freed, the Libyan ambassador to Cairo told Egyptian state television on Monday.
Libyan and Egyptian government officials said there had been no deal to free Shaban Hadia, also known as Abou Abeida, in exchange for the diplomats.
“Shaban has been released,” Fayez Jibreel told Egyptian state television, saying Hadia had been arrested for staying in Egypt after his residency permit had expired.
Libya’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abdul Razak Al-Grady announced on Sunday that the five Egyptian diplomats kidnapped last week in response to Hadia’s detention had been freed.
Their abduction in the Libyan capital illustrated the fragility of government control over former rebels and militias who two years ago helped topple Muammar Gaddafi.
Egypt’s Interior Ministry issued a statement late on Sunday saying authorities were examining Hadia’s presence in Egypt as his residency permit had expired.
“It is a completely separate issue from the release of the Egyptian nationals,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Badr Abdelatty told Reuters. “They are all ok, hopefully they will come back today on a flight from Tripoli,” Abdelatty said. Hadia is expected to travel to Libya later on Monday, Alexandria-based security sources said.