Two major developments on Monday show that Egypt's army chief Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi will very soon officially launch his bid to run for president in the country's upcoming elections.
The first was El-Sisi's limited but surprising reshuffling of the army's top posts, including the second army and southern military zones.
Political observers say that El-Sisi's "exceptional step" was necessary to help both tighten his grip on the army and pave the way for his candidacy.
Mostafa Bakri, editor-in-chief of the independent weekly Al-Osbou, who is known for his closeness to the army, said that the reshuffle was El-Sisi's "semi-final decision" as defence minister before he announces his candidacy.
The final move, Bakri says, will be when the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) meets to accept El-Sisi's resignation and appoint a new defence minister, who will most likely be chief-of-staff Sedki Sobhi, he predicts.
The second event on Monday that suggests El-Sisi's candidacy was an announcement by the Presidential Elections Commission (PEC) – the five-member judicial body tasked with supervising the upcoming polls – that it had finalised the 55-article executive regulations concerning an elections law issued by interim President Adly Mansour on 8 March.
After much delay – the elections law was supposed to be issued in February – it looks like the door for candidacy will be soon officially opened, which means El-Sisi will have to make a move.
Some have said that the delays were manufactured to give El-Sisi more time to prepare his campaign.
Khaled Ali, director of the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights, said that the elections law was delayed by more than a month "in order to let one candidate (referring to El-Sisi, who he called Al-Pasha) declare his candidacy."
Speaking with reporters on Monday, PEC secretary-general Hamdan Fahmi denied claims that the delays were purposeful and for El-Sisi's benefit, insisting that the process of drafting the executive regulations had been lengthy and involved.
Procedural preparations for the elections were further slowed down by debates concerning the law issued by Mansour, especially its article 7, which makes the PEC's decisions immune to appeals.
Critics say the article is "unconstitutional."
Mansour, however, has defended it, insisting that allowing appeals could delay the elections' results up to nearly five months and create a "power vacuum."
Some factions of Egypt's political forces still have not delivered Mansour a final answer on the article, said Mohamed Anwar El-Sadat, chairman of the liberal-oriented Reform and Development Party, who added that most parties had already gotten behind Mansour's opinion.
El-Sadat said that Mansour has vowed to address the nation on the importance of the article if the majority of political parties insist on rejecting it.
El-Sisi vs. Sabbahi?
So, after Monday's announcement by the PEC, what comes next?
Bakri told Ahram Online that he expects the PEC will hold a press conference at the end of this week to announce its final arrangements for the elections, including setting a date for candidates' registration.
The door for registration will be open for three weeks to give each candidate enough time to collect as many as 25,000 endorsements from citizens in at least 15 governorates, in accordance with article 2 of the new elections law, said Bakri.
This will be followed by the announcement of the final list of candidates and a three-week period of campaigning, he said.
Meanwhile, the battle lines of the upcoming presidential election have almost taken shape.
Two main contenders have withdrawn their candidacy in the last few days – the army's former chief-of-staff Sami Anan and human rights activist Khaled Ali (mentioned above).
Anan said his decision was taken for the respect of the country's unity, which can be taken to mean, according to Bakri, that he didn't want to cause any infighting over the military fielding two candidates.
Ali, who finished seventh in the 2012 presidential elections, has called the upcoming election a "farce."
Last month, Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh, leader of the Strong Egypt Party and a former Muslim Brotherhood official, said that he would also not contest the elections, claiming that the electoral process was certain to be lacking in integrity.
This leaves the elections to either El-Sisi or Nasserist figure Hamdeen Sabahi, an outspoken critic of the elections law, but who has nevertheless said that he will run for the presidency despite any "political setbacks."
Addressing a conference for the Al-Karama Party ("Dignity") on 14 March, Sabbahi urged all "Nasserist and revolutionary movements" to work together for a victory in the elections.
According to a recent poll by Egyptian polling centre Baseera, 1 percent of those interviewed said they would vote for Sabbahi. The same poll said 51 percent would vote for El-Sisi.
Sabbahi is still well known, though. He finished third in the 2012 polls and, most recently, has garnered attention for being one of the main organisers behind the 30 June demonstrations that led to the ouster of former president Mohamed Morsi.
The PEC's announcement on Monday came a day after the commission's head Anwar El-Assi, who is also deputy chairman of the High Constitutional Court, met with Atef Helmy – minister for telecommunications and information technology – to discuss the electoral process's final measures.
Fahmi, the PEC's secretary-general, said that the meeting produced a finalised design for the forms candidates will use to collect endorsements from citizens.
According to article 11 of the new elections law, the forms must be certified by either a public notary or First Instance Courts, said Fahmi.
Other notes of interest from Sunday's meeting with El-Assi and Helmy, according to Fahmi, along with further PEC developments:
-- the PEC discussed mandatory electronic facilities to help citizens easily find the name and address of the polling stations where they are registered.
-- the health ministry's Specialised Medical Councils (SMC) will conduct medical check-ups on hopeful candidates to make sure they are free of mental or physical illness, in accordance with the election law's article 1. The detailed medical reports will be sent to the PEC.
-- each hopeful candidate must submit 12 documents to the PEC, including the candidacy endorsement form; an original birth certificate; a photocopy of his national identity card; a photocopy of a high school education certificate; a criminal record certificate and a certificate showing whether he performed military service or was exempted from conscription. The submission of these documents is stipulated by article 12 of the PEC's executive regulations, in accordance with article 1 of the elections law.
-- candidates must prove that they hold Egyptian nationality, were born to Egyptian parents and that neither their parents or spouse hold dual nationality.
-- candidates must also provide detailed financial statements and proof that they have never been convicted of any crimes.
-- each candidate must pay the PEC LE20,000 in insurance costs, which will be refunded after the results of the election are announced.
-- candidacy applications must be submitted from 9am to 8pm, and from 9am to 2pm on the final day of registration.
-- article 4 of the PEC's executive regulations states that "once the call for citizens to vote in 2014's presidential polls is issued, any change in the voter lists cannot be introduced."