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Sohair Mohammed, a housemaid with two children, expressed her admiration by saying: “I adore him. I hope he becomes president. If he does not run for president, I may kill myself.”

The Muslim Brotherhood won each of the five elections held since the revolution that deposed autocratic leader Hosni Mubarak in early 2011. Consequently, there was an anti-democratic veneer to the July 3 coup and the government’s subsequent actions, which included a severe crackdown on protests, arrests of journalists and the establishment of hotlines, where people could report suspected members of the Brotherhood.

At the same time, however, el-Sissi seems to have tapped into widespread, genuine outrage at how Morsi and the Brotherhood ran the country, making it more Islamist during their year in power and contradicting campaign promises of an inclusive society.

For liberals who might be expected to oppose a military coup, el-Sissi offers an alternative to the nightmare scenario of an Egypt headed for theocracy, due in part to the automatic support of illiterate and conservative rural voters. The more progressive voters seem to have accepted the trappings of democracy that have been erected around the coup, embracing el-Sissi.

For the conservative Egyptians who probably voted for Morsi in the past, the general’s down-to-earth personality carries a lot of appeal. When Morsi picked el-Sissi to replace the previous military leadership, the army chief seemed to be that rare case of a devout senior officer who could be sympathetic - if not outright supportive - of the Brotherhood’s cause.

El-Sissi peppers his speeches with quotations from the Quran and has let it be known that he is a pious, though moderate, Muslim. On Monday, he shed a tear while listening to interim President Adly Mansour cite a moving Quranic verse.

“He’s going to give them ‘Islamism light,’” said Robert Springborg, a Middle East expert from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. “That’s what they want, and that’s what they are going to get.”

The combination of charm, personality and religious piety is somewhat unique in modern Egyptian political history - even if it appears to be part of a calculated campaign, orchestrated either by el-Sissi or a wider group.

El-Sissi’s sense of justice was on display when a leaked video showed him sternly warning army officers against mistreating troops. His support for a free-market economy was made evident when he said in another clip that he wanted cellphone users to be charged for calls they receive as well as those they make.

El-Sissi even benefited from another leak by a pro-Morsi activist group that was meant to hurt his image.

Showing that he shares a spirituality associated with dreams that is common among Egyptians, he told a newspaper interviewer in comments apparently not intended for publication about two visions he had: in one, he brandished a sword inscribed with an Islamic declaration of faith; in another, he saw himself telling the late Anwar Sadat that he himself would be president one day.

In the long run, however, el-Sissi is not likely to lose his reputation as a military leader with little or no tolerance for criticism.

“The military is known for its incredible hierarchy and giving orders, while politics is supposed to be about give and take,” said Samer Shehata, a Middle East expert at the University of Oklahoma. “Can you imagine someone legitimately criticizing the president in this context?”

Government officials and pro-military commentators have suggested that el-Sissi would view the referendum’s passage by a comfortable margin with a decent voter turnout as legitimizing what he has done since July, as well as a signal that the people want him to run for president.

On Thursday, officials said nine out of 10 voters supported the charter. Reports suggested that participation was higher than the one-third that cast ballots in December 2012, when Morsi rammed through a more Islamic constitution and liberals boycotted the referendum.

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