Last week, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi announced his intention to seek a second term, but the current climate surrounding Egypt’s upcoming presidential elections makes it quite difficult for a political contender to challenge the incumbent.
The military arrested former head of the Egyptian armed forces on Tuesday. Sami Anan is accused of violations that ”warrant official investigation” by the Supreme Committee of the Armed Forces (SCAF).
The army says he failed to secure an approval in order to run for president, accusing him of trying to divide the armed forces and citizens of Egypt.
The polls are set for a March 26-28 date, presidential hopefuls will have to submit 25.000 signatures from constituents in all 15 governorates before a January 29th deadline. Collecting signatures from some 20 MPs are also part of the prerequisite for a candidate to be eligible to run for president. The vote can proceed to a run-off should any candidate fall short of the 50% needed to win outrightly.
While launching his second term bid for Cairo, addressing Egyptians in a recorded clip, President Sisi called on the people to ”preserve the democratic experience that begun four years ago”, referencing his 2014 victory lapse which brought him to power with a 97% support. A year after then army chief-of-staff led a coup to oust democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi from the banned Muslim Brotherhood movement.
Since the start of the year and race of the presidential elections intensify, news outlets have reported opposition candidates have come under pressure to pull out of the running.
Soon after Sisi has officially launched his rerun, Anan did the same thing barely hours afterward saying ”I call on civilian and military institutions to maintain neutrality towards everyone who had announced their intention to run or not take unconstitutional sides of a president who will leave his post in a few months”. Naming former head of the anti-corruption panel Hisham Genina as part of his campaign team.
Ever since the 2013 coup, the country has seen an unprecedented clampdown on human rights activists, media crackdown and a restriction of the work done by non-governmental organizations. The political atmosphere makes it hard to nurture a strong opposition and activists have been thrown in jail or prevented from flying out of Egypt.
Amnesty International describes the NGO law as ”a catastrophic blow to human rights groups working in Egypt” that only gives ”the government extraordinary powers to control NGOs and imposes harsh punishments and fines for any violations of its draconian provisions.”
The Committee to Protect Journalist (CPJ), has reported that some 20 journalists are currently in Egyptian jails in relation to their work. Egypt ranks in third place in the list of world’s worst countries to be a journalist for 2017. The government has either blocked websites or restricted access to domestic news content.
Over the last few weeks, emerging presidential hopefuls have bowed out of the race or pressured to drop out; former PM Ahmed Shafik. In a Twitter statement, ”I saw that I would not be the ideal person to lead the state during this coming period”. Khaled Ali, an opposition figure who took part in the 2012 race, pulled out of the running due to a suspended sentence. Mohamed Anwar el-Sadat, nephew to assassinated former president Anwar Sadat only recently bailed out.
When credible contenders and candidates who command respect within the military are pushed out of the race, it could only be interpreted that Sisi will rather face a challenger without much support to be able to challenge him. But for the many Egyptians who are rooting for President Sisi, they are not worried by the legitimacy of his presidency but see his mandate as a continuation of the work he’s already started.
BaretaNews Foreign Correspondent/Analyst