SHIBIN EL KOM, Egypt -- At a tent in front of the local headquarters of provincial security forces, campaign workers grabbed freshly printed posters bearing the picture of Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, Egypts defense minister, who overthrew Mohammed Morsi in July and is now the countrys de facto leader.
A recently composed anthem praising the army for moving against Morsi, Bless Your Hands, looped over and over through loudspeakers, providing a stirring backdrop to the days activities.
As throngs of residents shouted their approval, police officers joined in. El-Sissi, they said, was the only person who could lead this polarized, embattled nation.
This is the look of the most aggressive political campaign in Egypt today as the country moves toward an as-yet-unscheduled presidential election next year. It says something about the state of politics here that the leading candidate is a general who toppled the countrys first democratically elected president and claims to have no interest in public office.
The 2011 demise of Hosni Mubarak was thought to have put an end to Egypts tradition of being run by men whod retired after long military careers. But the vehemence of the draft-el-Sissi campaign has the eerie feel of elections gone by, when Mubaraks rule was simply ratified every few years.
For some, the call for an el-Sissi candidacy suggests that Egypt is headed back to what it knows, after three years of turmoil.
The nations most influential forces are lining up to support an el-Sissi run. Businessmen are financing the effort, state media are promoting it and the states security officers are urging citizens to join the campaign.
The militarys spokesman has said repeatedly that el-Sissi wont run. But el-Sissi himself has been less clear. In a recent interview with the newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm, the general gave an opaque answer: I think that its not the right time to ask this question under the circumstances that the country is going through.
The campaign for el-Sissi announced this week that it had gathered more than 15 million signatures.
El-Sissis ascending popularity shows how quickly Egyptians want to put behind them the yearlong rule by Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood. Just two years ago, el-Sissi, who was then the head of military intelligence, had enraged Egyptians when he defended soldiers whod carried out virginity tests on female detainees. That anger helped spur calls for the elections that ended the transitional military government and brought Morsi to the presidency.
But now many Egyptians think their country should be governed only by a president with a military background. The democratic promises of the past three years brought only instability, a flagging economy and incompetent civilian leaders, they argue. Its time for Egypt to go back to what it knows.
We have tried Mohammed Morsi, the only civilian man. Unfortunately, it was a miserable year. It was a nightmare to Egyptians, said Abdel Naby Abdel Sattar, the chief editor of Al Ghada newspaper and a co-founder of the pro-el-Sissi campaign. One year that took us back 20 years.
Abdel Sattar said the founders of the pro-el-Sissi complete your favor campaign conceived the idea on June 30, when millions poured into the streets calling for Morsis ouster.