- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 6, 2014

CAIRO (AP) - In his campaign for president, Egypt’s former army chief is casting himself as a strong-handed disciplinarian able to solve the nation’s mounting problems and turmoil with good planning and efficiency, swinging between big-hearted shows of sympathy for Egyptians’ woes and a military man’s impatience with dissent.

Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi’s appearances so far have been tightly controlled, including meetings with selected groups and a pre-recorded interview with pro-military TV channels aired Monday and Tuesday. That is likely to be his method throughout his campaign to the May 26-27 vote, with few if any street appearances, a style that has raised criticism from supporters and opponents alike.

The message he has pushed is that the public must get in line behind him, while aiming to show he is in touch with a population weary of instability and deteriorating economic conditions.

In an appearance with a group of women, segments of which were broadcast Tuesday, the 59-year-old el-Sissi wooed the crowd by conjuring images of a woman taking care of her family.

“I will talk about the difficult circumstances facing our country, to the Egyptian woman who fears for her home and turns off the heater and cooker and electricity. She is protecting her home and children,” el-Sissi said, speaking in soft tones and giving adoring looks. “I am asking you to protect not your small home, your big home, Egypt.”

“I don’t have time … to argue. I have a big problem and we want to break it down and get rid of it,” he said, striking a tone he has frequently shown as a firm problem-solver.

“We are with you in good and in bad!” one woman in the audience chanted. El-Sissi flashed a smile, replying, “God bless you.”

Moments later, el-Sissi goes: “Love is not just talk,” an expression he has used repeatedly to show he is not only an emotional man.

El-Sissi is seen as the certain winner of the upcoming vote, bolstered by a wave of nationalist fervor touting him as the country’s savior after he ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, the country’s first democratically elected president, last summer. El-Sissi retired from the military in March with the rank of field marshal to launch his candidacy.

During Morsi’s year in office, opposition against him swelled, culminating in protests by millions demands him removal, , accusing his Brotherhood of monopolizing power and seeking to change the country’s identity along the lines of Brotherhood ideology. El-Sissi overthrew Morsi on the fourth day of those protests. Since then, security forces have waged an unrelenting crackdown on the Brotherhood and its Islamist allies, killing hundreds and arresting thousands, as Morsi’s supporters struggle to continue protests against what they call a coup against democracy.

The turmoil on multiple fronts has worsened an economy already suffering from instability since the 2011 ouster of autocrat Hosni Mubarak. Islamic militants have waged a campaign of attacks on police and the military since Morsi’s fall. Secular pro-democracy activists fear that increased prominence of the security agencies - and the rise of another military man to the presidency - will mean a return to Mubarak-style autocracy.

In his appearances, el-Sissi has repeatedly said that Egypt has changed since 2011 and that no president can defy public opinion any more. But at times, he has switched from his charm offensive to sharp warnings that Egypt can no longer tolerate chaos.

In the first part of the two-part TV interview, aired Monday night on the private TV stations ONTV and CBC, he said unequivocally that the Muslim Brotherhood will never return as an organization, accusing it of using militant groups as cover to destabilize the country. The government has already declared the Brotherhood a terrorist organization, though the group denies any link to militant groups.

But el-Sissi also had strong words when asked about a draconian protest law passed late last year that bans any demonstrations without police permit. In one of his few shows of temper in the interview, he said protesters are “wrecking the country.”

He had another flare of anger when one of the interviewers - an el-Sissi supporter - used a word for military used by critics of the army’s role in Egypt. “I will not allow you to use this term,” el-Sissi snapped.

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