CAIRO — In dark sunglasses and a uniform studded with medals, Egypt's top general is everywhere, looking down from posters and banners proclaiming him "lion of the nation." Adoring songs vow "We are behind you."
Barely a month after he removed the elected president, Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi is riding a wave of adulation, drawing comparisons between him and modern Egypt's first charismatic strongman, former President Gamal Abdel-Nasser, a military officer and the mastermind of a 1952 coup that toppled the monarchy. State media and pro-military TV channels and newspapers have done everything they can to fuel the fervor.
But some warn that the personality cult could pave the way to new authoritarianism after a coup that the army and its supporters insist was aimed at promoting democracy.
"I worry about el-Sissi and the possible arrogance of the victor. And I fear him if he decides that the army is stronger than any future president that he will control like a puppet," wrote Mohammed Fathy, a columnist in the newspaper Al-Watan. "The admiration for him has gone beyond normal levels and is now more like deifying him."
The hype has swelled to the point that some are convinced el-Sissi will take off his uniform and run for president in elections due to take place early next year. A military spokesman denied el-Sissi has any intention to do so. That has done nothing to end the speculation by those for and against the idea.
"Bottom line, el-Sissi will be president because he has no choice but to be. People have already started treating him as such and because he is de facto ruler," Fathy wrote in a column on Monday, adding that media are depicting the general as "Nasser 2013."
The raving over el-Sissi is rooted in the satisfaction many Egyptians took from his July 3 coup removing President Mohammed Morsi. It came after four days of massive protests by millions nationwide demanding the president step down, accusing him of failing to manage the country and handing power over to his Islamist allies.
The nationalist fervor and resentment of the Islamists has so far all but drowned out arguments by Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi's other supporters that the coup against Egypt's first freely elected president has wrecked democracy. Two killings of dozens of pro-Morsi protesters in clashes the past three weeks have won them little sympathy amid a public attitude — again fueled by the military, officials and many media outlets — that the protesters are violent extremists.
But the celebration of el-Sissi also speaks of a nation looking for a leader it can rally behind. It underscores a close bond between the Egyptian public and the armed forces. As a mostly conscript army, there is hardly an Egyptian family that hasn't sent a son to the military.