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Petition urges top general to seek presidency in Egypt

Troops retake town that Morsi backers seized

Villagers cleaned an ancient chapel in a monastery that had been looted and burned by Islamists in Dalga.

Roger Anis/El Shorouk/Associated Press

Villagers cleaned an ancient chapel in a monastery that had been looted and burned by Islamists in Dalga.

CAIRO — A group of Egyptian professionals, lawyers, and former army officers on Monday launched a campaign to collect signatures urging the country’s military chief to run for president, just two months after he ousted the first elected leader.

Organizer Rifai Nasrallah, a judge, said the goal of the petition titled ‘‘Complete Your Good Deed’’ is to make General Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi give in to popular will and run for president, by collecting more than 30 million signatures around Egypt.

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‘‘We are here today because we want you as leader, a chief, and a president for Egypt,’’ Nasrallah told the launch gathering at a hotel in Cairo. Addressing Sissi, he said: ‘‘Don’t forget that you told the Egyptian people to ask and you will respond. Here we are asking you to be president of Egypt.’’

The petition is modeled after Tamarod, or Rebel, a campaign which spearheaded protests against President Mohammed Morsi. Tamarod said it collected 22 million signatures demanding Morsi, an Islamist, step down.

After days of protests, Sissi removed Morsi, and appointed an interim civilian leader. Morsi supporters still protest the coup, but Sissi and other supporters of his moves said the military chief was only acting in response to the people’s demands, dismissing charges it was an orchestrated military coup.

According to the road map announced by the interim civilian president, Adly Mansour, and backed by the military, presidential elections are expected in early 2014, after a referendum on constitutional amendments and parliamentary elections. Organizers say they do not have a deadline for their petition and once they collect the signatures, they plan to deliver them to Sissi.

Also Monday, Egyptian security forces backed by armored vehicles and helicopters stormed a town south of Cairo that had been held for over two months by militants loyal to the ousted president, swiftly taking control despite some resistance from gunmen.

The predawn operation to retake Dalga in Minya province highlighted the resolve of the military-backed government to pursue Islamic militants behind a wave of violence in several parts of the country after the ouster of Morsi in a July 3 military coup. Minya in particular suffered a collapse of security, with militants torching and looting courthouses, churches, local government buildings, and police stations.

Army troops are also going after militants in the strategic Sinai Peninsula, where attacks on security forces have grown more frequent, and deadlier, since Morsi’s ouster. On Monday, militants in Sinai struck a police bus with a roadside bomb, wounding nine people, and then shot to death a young conscript who had survived the blast, security officials said.

Since Morsi’s ouster, Sissi’s star has risen. Songs of praise for him and the military are flooding the airwaves, posters of him in his trademark dark glasses and military cap fill street walls, and videos of him addressing troops are a staple on some private media.

The wave of adulation fed speculation that he will be running for president, reports that a military spokesman denied in an interview with an English-language daily. The spokesman, however, said there is nothing stopping the general from running if he retired.

Support for a strongman to lead Egypt follows nearly three years of turbulent political transition, with almost daily protests that had progressively turned violent, and an economy in tatters.

Many Egyptians have also been disappointed in the youth groups and new political parties that arose after the ouster of Hosni Mubarak.

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