Cairo: Egypt`s former military chief has made a rare appeal to the country`s youth who were behind calls for regime change since 2011, trying to win support among a key bloc in this month`s presidential election that he admitted he is struggling to reach.
Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, seen as certain to become Egypt`s next president in the May 26-27 vote, has been taken to task, even by supporters, for failing to reach out to the large youth vote.
Many youth groups have been critical of the military`s management of the transition following the ouster of Hosni Mubarak in 2011 and the subsequent crackdown on dissent after el-Sissi`s ouster last summer of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.
In his comments yesterday during an interview with Sky News Arabia he gave a nod to revolutionary youth groups, but also underlined his message that Egypt now needs stability which he has repeatedly said means an end to protests.
"They must be sure they are hugely appreciated not only by me. But I can`t get it to them frankly," he said yesterday when asked about the youth. He called their role in bringing about change "unforgettable."
"But the circumstances are hard for all of us. Recognize this, and stand by Egypt now and in the future," he said. He said he wants the youth groups to prepare to be future leaders, adding that if elected he would offer them positions as aides to governors, ministers and himself though made no mention of naming them as actual ministers.
Since removing Morsi, el-Sissi has rode a wave of nationalist fervor praising him as a savior for removing Islamists from office, after many complained they were monopolizing power and seeking to change the country`s identity. His popularity is also assisted by staunchly supportive media and the perception that the military is the country`s only stable institution after years of turmoil.
But he has antagonized many of the youth groups, many of whom also opposed Morsi. The crackdown on Islamists since Morsi`s ouster has widened to include secular and non-Islamist youth leaders and activists who criticized the military-backed heavy-handedness on dissent. Several of the most prominent activists in the uprising against Mubarak are now in jail on trial for breaking new anti-protest laws. Some have also left the country.
Also, el-Sissi has not addressed in his campaign youth demands for social justice and equitable distribution of resources or the issue of retribution for the hundreds of people killed during clashes with security or holding old regime officials accountable for past abuses.