Egypt's leader said in a television interview that he does not favor amending constitutional provisions that bar the president from staying in office beyond two, four-year terms.
General-turned-president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi was elected to office in 2014, a year after he led the military's ouster of Egypt's first freely elected civilian but divisive president, Mohamed Morsi of the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. He has strongly suggested he would seek a second term in office in elections next year, but he has yet to make a formal announcement.
El-Sissi's comments, made in an interview with CNBC television that aired late Monday, were his first to publicly detail his thoughts on the constitutional clause limiting to two the number of terms that presidents can serve. Loyal lawmakers and media celebrities have in recent months been calling for the constitution to be amended to make presidential terms longer than four years.
They argued that the existing four-year terms were not long enough to allow el-Sissi to implement his ambitious plans to overhaul the economy, upgrade the country's infrastructure and crush an insurgency by Islamic militants.
"I am with preserving the (clause on) two, four-year terms and not change it," he said. "We will not interfere with it."
But el-Sissi appeared to give himself some leeway, using his hallmark phrase of "the people's will" as the deciding factor on who gets to be president. "I am not in favor of amending the constitution in this period," he said.
"It does not suit me as a president to stay one day (in office) against the Egyptian people's will," he said. "This is not just talk for television, these are values I embrace and principles I am keen on. A president who respects his people and his principles will not stay one day against the will of his people."
El-Sissi's critics see him as a populist who, together with large segments of the media loyal to him, tirelessly projects an image of protector of the people and a safe pair of hands at a time when the region is mired in turmoil and the country struggling to contain an Islamic insurgency.
His government, critics say, has consistently trampled on the constitution, a 2014 charter that provides iron-clad guarantees for freedoms and human rights. Egypt's police are operating with impunity and a series of laws enacted under el-Sissi have placed draconian restrictions on civil society groups, freedom of expression and political activism.
The state media operates as a mouthpiece of the government, while privately owned television networks and newspapers have been taken over by businessmen loyal to el-Sissi.
Egypt has been ruled by men of military background like el-Sissi for all but two years since a group of young officers seized power in a 1952 coup that toppled the monarchy. His military predecessors ran the country as outright dictators, or autocrats hiding behind a facade of a democratic system. He, however, insists that Egypt has changed since a 2011 uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak and that he is working to establish a "civilian and democratic" state.
El-Sissi's comments to CNBC surfaced just hours after a prominent rights lawyer declared he would run against el-Sissi in next year's elections, a move unlikely to pose a serious challenge to the incumbent but which would provide a test for his popularity at a time of economic hardship and an ongoing crackdown on dissent.
"Egypt is in crisis after four years of rule by Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi," Khaled Ali, the lawyer, told a news conference Monday to announce his candidacy. "We have the right to have democratic elections ... (but) we are expecting a crackdown and repression."