Egypt's army chief General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi gave his clearest signal yet on Saturday of his interest in becoming president, a move that could turn the clock back to the days when the presidency was controlled by men from the military.
Sisi, who ousted Egypt's first democratically elected leader Mohamed Mursi last July after mass protests against his one-year rule, is widely expected to seek the top job but has not yet announced plans to run.
"If I run then it must be at the request of the people and with a mandate from my army... We work in a democracy," he said, speaking at an army seminar in Cairo.
After the army overthrew Mursi, it appointed an interim president and outlined a roadmap for democratic transition.
Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood supporters, who accuse the army of staging a coup, have held frequent protests calling for his reinstatement. But the security forces have launched a wide crackdown against the group, arresting thousands on charges of violence.
Egypt is set to hold a referendum on a new constitution on January 14-15, a major milestone in that roadmap which will clear the way for presidential and parliamentary elections. Analysts and politicians say it is unlikely that Sisi will announce plans to run before the referendum is complete.
The referendum marks the first time Egyptians have voted since Mursi's removal and is seen to be as much a public vote of confidence in the roadmap and Sisi as in the charter itself.
The state MENA news agency quoted Sisi on Saturday as urging Egyptians to "assume national responsibility and turn out in force to vote in the constitutional referendum in order to correct the democratic path and build a modern democratic state."
There is little doubt the popular Sisi would win the presidential election. He has had songs dedicated to him and his face appears on chocolates and posters on the streets of Egypt.
Mursi's supporters view him as the mastermind of a bloody military coup against the country's first freely elected head of state. Sisi's candidacy would further deepen the divisions between the many Egyptians.
Security forces have launched a massive crackdown against Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood, which it calls a terrorist group, arresting its leaders and forcing others underground.