Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the Egyptian general who ousted his country's first freely-elected leader, has declared his candidacy for a presidential election he is expected to win easily.

He had to resign his posts of army chief and minister of defence so he could contest the election.

Mr Sisi toppled the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Mursi last July after mass protests against his rule.

He vowed to fight what he called the terrorist threat facing Egypt, a reference to attacks that have spiralled since last summer.

"True, today is my last day in military uniform, but I will continue to fight every day for an Egypt free of fear and terrorism," said Mr Sisi, still wearing his military fatigues, in a televised speech.

Seeking to cap some of the sky-high expectations, he warned he could not perform "miracles" in a country of 85 million that is steeped in poverty.

"I cannot make miracles. Rather, I propose hard work and self-denial," he said

"We must be truthful with ourselves: our country faces great challenges. Our economy is weak. There are millions of youths who suffer from unemployment in Egypt. This is unacceptable."

If Mr Sisi is elected, as widely expected, it would mark a return to the days when Egypt was led by men from the military - a pattern interrupted by Mr Mursi's one year in office after he won the first democratic presidential election.

Mr Sisi would assume leadership of a country reeling from three years of political turmoil.

Since Mr Mursi's removal from power, Egypt has suffered the worst internal strife in its modern history.

The security forces killed hundreds of his supporters after his removal from power, while police and soldiers have become the main targets in a campaign of bombings and shootings.

There were reminders of the instability today, when one student was killed in protests at Cairo University ignited by a court's decision to sentence 529 members of the Muslim Brotherhood to death on Monday.

The brotherhood has been outlawed and driven underground since Mr Mursi's ousting.

The state has formally declared the movement, Egypt's best organised political party until last year, a terrorist group.

Monday's court ruling marked an escalation in the state's campaign against the Islamist opposition and drew criticism from international human rights groups and Western powers.

The United States lodged fresh criticism of Egypt this afternoon, with Secretary of State John Kerry saying he was "deeply, deeply troubled by the sudden and unprecedented decision" by the Egyptian court to issue death sentences for 529d efendants "after a quick mass trial."

"I urge the interim Egyptian government to reverse the court ruling and ensure due process for the accused.

“Anything less would dishonour the bravery of all who sacrificed their lives for democratic values," Mr Kerry said, referring to the earlier Egyptian street protests.

Mr Kerry said it was impossible to believe the court proceedings "satisfied even the most basic standards of justice."

He said on 12 March he would decide "in the days ahead" whether to resume US aid to Egypt after suspending thef unds last year over the ouster of Mr Mursi.

European Council President Herman van Rompuy said after meeting US President Barack Obama that the United States and the European Union were "appalled" by the sentences.

"We urge the Egyptian authorities to restore the rule of law," he told a news conference.