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The dramatic shows of popularity now could mean little later in a divided nation that has turned against two rulers the past three years. The difference this time is the overt commitment that the military, Egypt’s most powerful institution, has invested after its top body of generals, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, publicly gave its backing to an el-Sissi candidacy on Monday.

“The military’s reputation is bound up with an el-Sissi presidency,” said Michael Hanna, an Egypt analyst and senior fellow at the Century Foundation in New York.

If el-Sissi cannot stop the mounting insecurity and the further deterioration of the economy, the public backlash could come against the military as an institution, a situation that “if anything, could create divisions within the military,” he said.

El-Sissi knows the dangers. During Morsi’s presidency, when Islamists and their opponents were clashing in the streets, he warned in speeches that if the military intervened in the political conflict, it could take decades for it to return to the barracks. In a meeting with army officers late in 2012, he warned that military interference in politics is dangerous for both the state and the army, pointing to Syria, where the military backed President Bashar Assad against an uprising and the nation crumbled into civil war.

“It is not patriotism to take sides … this is not my business,” he said. “The vendetta won’t end, the divisions will continue and chaos will persist for two, five, 10 years. The Syrian state is over.”

El-Sissi has not announced that he will run, though Egyptian media trumpet that he will imminently. This week, el-Sissi was promoted from general to field marshal, the military’s highest rank, a step seen by many as a final honor before he leaves the military, a step required by law before he could run.

The 59-year-old el-Sissi was the head of military intelligence before he was named by Morsi as army chief and defense minister. His inner circle remains filled with spy masters. Among them is Mahmoud Hegazy, the current military intelligence chief whose daughter is married to one of el-Sissi’s sons; Murad Mawafi, the former chief of general intelligence; and Farid el-Tohami, that agency’s current head.

The Brotherhood learned the dangers of trying to read el-Sissi.

A Morsi aide, Wael Haddara, wrote after the coup that el-Sissi was the youngest of the top brass and “so it was expected he doesn’t have cronies and has no real backing” within the military. His comments were made on a publicly viewable Facebook page.

Many in the Brotherhood leadership thought he was sympathetic to the Islamist movement, since he was known as a pious Muslim. That belief was so pervasive that one of the most vehement critics of the Islamists in the media, TV personality Tawfik Okasha, at the time warned that el-Sissi was “the Muslim Brotherhood’s man in the military.” Now Okasha is a fervent el-Sissi cheerleader.

A paper that el-Sissi wrote while studying at the U.S. War College in 2006 shows a political mind well aware of what underpinned Mubarak’s police state and of the challenges of creating a democracy.

He says democracy can only come in the Mideast in its own form, meaning anti-U.S. Islamist parties must be allowed to participate and “legitimately elected parties (should) be given the opportunity to govern.” He writes that Mideast democracies will have to reflect the region’s Islamic culture - “established upon Islamic beliefs,” though not a theocracy.

He criticizes the region’s autocracies for fixing elections, relying on patronage and controlling the media, all features of Mubarak’s rule. One obstacle to democracy, he writes, is that police and military in Arab states are loyal to regimes and ruling parties, not the nation.

He concludes that building democracy could take a transition as long as 10 years, and that populations must be prepared by improving education and reducing poverty.

Proponents believe a strongman like el-Sissi is needed to guide that transition.

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