Egypt election: sole challenger to Sisi registers at last minute - Washington Weekly
Saturday 18/08/2018 - 03:25 am


Egypt election: sole challenger to Sisi registers at last minute


2018.01.30 04:17

A little-known Egyptian politician has added his name to the candidate list for elections in March, minutes before a nomination deadline was set to pass with President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi the sole officially recognised candidate.

Any candidate representing genuine opposition to Sisi has either been arrested or intimidated into dropping out. After the rightwing politician Mortada Mansour rescinded his candidacy, a chaotic race to find a challenger – and provide a veneer of democracy to the election - stretched into Monday.

As the 2pm deadline loomed, a candidate from the pro-government centrist Ghad party suddenly emerged in the form of Mousa Mostafa Mousa.

Mousa reportedly found eleventh-hour endorsements from at least 26 members of parliament, as well as 47,000 signatures from the public, despite not publicly declaring his intention to run until the day before the deadline. According to local outlet Al-Masry Al-Youm, he submitted his candidacy just fifteen minutes before the deadline closed, although reports of his endorsements appeared in local media hours prior.

He told the privately-owned Youm7 tabloid that he had been contemplating running for the past ten days, and that those who endorsed him were “a group of old friends and acquaintances”. Mousa denied widespread allegations that he was cooperating with the government, saying “we are not puppets in this race”.

His party had previously collected signatures of support for Sisi until 20 January.

Screenshots of a Facebook page reportedly belonging to Mousa circulated in the Egyptian press on Monday, showing his personal support for Sisi’s candidacy.

Sisi had already received endorsements from more than 500 of the 596 MPs in Egypt’s parliament prior to announcing his intention to run again. Last week he presented endorsements from citizens along with his application to run in the March election.

The former army chief swept to power following a 2013 military coup that toppled his predecessor, the Islamist Mohamed Morsi, and won an election in 2014 with 97% of the vote. His rule has been marked by the suppression of dissent, including crushing civil society activity, a heavy crackdown on press freedom and the brutal repression of secular and Islamist political groups.

Over the weekend pro-government parties were in disarray over whether to cede to the state and submit a candidate, or continue to endorse Sisi, as many had already done. The head of the nationalist liberal Al-Wafd party, Al-Sayyid al-Baddawi, declined to run late on Saturday night following a heated internal debate within the party.

“There are no serious challengers on the ballot to the sitting president – something that different parts of the state apparatus is unlikely to be very pleased about,” said HA Hellyer of the Royal United Services Institute, a thinktank. “In this context, there is no contest – and that’s probably more down to a series of ad hoc, reactionary moves by different parts of the state, rather than a well thought out strategy.”

Four potential candidates representing voices critical of Sisi struggled to get on the ballot. Hisham Geneina, a running mate of former military chief of staff Sami Anan, sustained severe injuries following an assault by unidentified men on Saturday.

According to Anan’s lawyer and campaign staff, he is being held in a military prison after being accused by Egypt’s army general command last week of breaking military rules in order to run in the election.

Egypt’s former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq was reportedly deported from the UAE and held incommunicado for 24 hours before dropping out of the race in early January. Leftist lawyer Khaled Ali rescinded his candidacy and Mohamed Anwar al-Sadat, the nephew of Egypt’s former president, declined to run. Both cited intimidation of their supporters and violations that made proper competition impossible.

At a press conference on Monday, Dr. Mohamed Bahaa Abo Shokka, the spokesman for Sisi’s campaign, dodged questions as to how a candidate who was previously collecting endorsements for Sisi suddenly became his opponent.

“It’s not a referendum – it is an election,” he said. “Should I justify for those inside or outside Egypt why there are no other candidates? The candidate is not responsible for politicians refraining to take an active part in political life.”

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