It looked as if Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi would run for re-election unopposed, but a competing candidate managed to qualify for the March presidential election just minutes before the registration deadline.
It probably still will not be much of a race, as newly minted presidential candidate Mousa Mostafa Mousa leads a party that has endorsed Sisi for re-election and organized political events on the incumbent’s behalf within the last few days.
“At the time of Mousa’s registration, his personal Facebook page included a cover photo with Sisi’s face and ‘we support you as president of Egypt’ written beneath it,” Reuters notes.
Nevertheless, Mousa’s Ghad party promised it has a “respectable program that we are offering to the Egyptian people” and said it would vigorously compete against Sisi.
Reuters handicaps the race by noting that Egypt’s candidate registration process requires collecting either a certain number of nominations from members of parliament or a much larger number of pledges from citizens. Mousa registered with 27 lawmaker nominations and 47,000 citizen pledges. Sisi qualified with nominations from 500 lawmakers (out of 595 total members) and over a million citizen pledges. Many of those citizen pledges for Sisi were collected by Mousa’s party.
Both opposition politicians and international observers, including the United Nations, have registered complaints that serious competing candidates were intimidated out of running through thuggery and police oppression, adding skulduggery to a system already heavily stacked in favor of re-electing the incumbent. For example, competing candidate Sami Anan was abruptly arrested last week on charges of “running for office without military permission,” and one of his top supporters was seriously injured in an attack near his home on Sunday.
Egypt Independent explains that Anan, as former chief of staff for the Egyptian army, was required to submit certain special documents to clear his run for the presidency. The Egyptian Armed Forces accused him of forging some of these documents. His lawyer said on Sunday that he is being held in a military prison.
The Egyptian military issued a statement after his detention accusing Anan of “blatantly inciting” public sentiment against the Egyptian armed forces to “drive a wedge between the armed forces and the great Egyptian people.” This charge appears to stem from Anan announcing his intention to run on Facebook before filing the necessary paperwork to obtain permission from the military.
A spokesman for Anan said this was an “inaccurate reading” of his announcement, and accused the Sisi government of abusing its authority to scuttle Anan’s candidacy because “the state doesn’t want to hold elections.”
The incumbent president is also a veteran of the Egyptian armed forces who held the titles of defense minister and commander-in-chief when he came to power in a 2013 military coup. Sisi supporters have been pushing the idea that running against him is tantamount to insulting the military. Anan supporters call this an absurd charge because their man is one of the longest-serving military chiefs of staff in Egypt’s history.
Hesham Genena, formerly Egypt’s top auditor and a top aide to Anan’s campaign, was attacked by knife-wielding men in an apparent kidnapping attempt near his Cairo home on Saturday. Photos circulated online showing the 63-year-old with one eye swollen shut and one of his knees wrapped in bloody bandages after the assault, which turned into a street brawl when several passersby intervened. One of the alleged kidnappers responded by suing Genena for assaulting him.
The attack occurred as Genena was en route to a court hearing to appeal his removal from office as the top auditor by President Sisi in 2016. Critics say he was forced out of office for complaining too loudly about corruption; the official reason is that he described $67.6 billion in corruption in a single year when he really meant a four-year period. Genena claimed the incident was a misquote rather than a mistake on his part or a deliberate misrepresentation. Pro-Sisi media also made much of his alleged ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Anan effectively shut down his campaign after his arrest, becoming the last of several serious contenders to pull out under dubious circumstances. One of these candidates, Anwar Sadat’s nephew Mohammed Anwar Sadat, openly stated he quit because he was worried his supporters would be arrested or harassed by the authorities.
Another former prime minister, Ahmed Shafik, withdrew his bid because he suddenly decided he was “out of touch with Egyptian politics” after living abroad for years. “The announcement came amid media criticism and speculation that he was being held by authorities in a Cairo hotel,” Reuters observes.
The L.A. Times speculated before the registration deadline that Sisi and his supporters would be embarrassed by winning a landslide victory in a race without even a “symbolic opponent,” a role Mousa would seem to fill nicely. Before his last-minute qualification, the Times thought Wafd Party leader Sayed Badawi would step forward as the symbolic opponent from a party that officially supported Sisi’s re-election.
“We are not puppets in this race,” Mousa insisted in an interview, claiming he was urged into the race at the eleventh hour by “old friends and acquaintances.”
Several opposition leaders have called for a boycott of the March election, accusing the Sisi government of “removing any opportunity for the peaceful transfer of power.” One of them was Mohammed Anwar Sadat, who added a call for a peaceful march to the presidential palace to open a dialogue about “democratic transition” with Sisi.