With main rivals out, Sisi can expect smooth ride to re-election

Anan’s election bid imploded after he was arrested regarding allegations of forging official documents.
Sunday 28/01/2018
Unexpected twist. People walk in front of the National Election Authority, which is in charge of supervising the 2018 presidential election, on January 24.(Reuters)
Unexpected twist. People walk in front of the National Election Authority, which is in charge of supervising the 2018 presidential election, on January 24.(Reuters)

CAIRO - The Egyptian presidential election campaign took another unexpected twist with former Chief of Staff Sami Anan and human rights lawyer Khalid Ali quitting the race, leaving President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi without a main rival in the March vote.

Anan, 69, was arrested by military police on January 23, a week after announcing his election bid. Ali, 45, pulled out of the election race a day later.

Anan and Ali were the latest presidential hopefuls to see their candidacies blow up ahead of the March 26-28 elections. Former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq and ex-MP Mohamed Anwar Sadat also ruled themselves out of the elections after initially indicating that they intended to run.

Registration to run in the presidential election is to end January 30, with candidates requiring either the endorsement of at least 20 MPs or 25,000 citizens from at least 15 governorates, with at least 1,000 endorsements from each governorate.

“This means that we will end up having an election with one candidate in it,” said Gamal Eid, director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, an NGO in Cairo. “This is actually an indication of the political regression we are having in our country.”

Anan’s election bid imploded after he was arrested regarding allegations of forging official documents, inciting the public against the army and announcing a presidential election bid without permission. As a retired general, Anan is a reservist who must obtain permission from Egypt’s Supreme Military Council before running for office.

Anan’s campaign announced it would suspend operations “until further notice” with few observers expecting the once-powerful Egyptian general to make a political comeback.

“It is now clear that what happened on July 3, 2013, was a full-fledged military coup, not against the Muslim Brotherhood but against democracy as an idea,” Hazem Abdel Azeem, spokesman of Anan’s presidential campaign, posted on Twitter.

Sisi led a coalition that removed Muhammad Morsi as president on July 3, 2013.

Ali, speaking January 24 at a news conference, said there was an “absence of any possibility for competition” in the election, citing the challenge his campaign faced in obtaining the required 25,000 endorsements from across the country.

He said some of his campaign volunteers had been arrested and charged a lack of cooperation from the National Election Authority.

Ali’s candidacy was in doubt before he withdrew because he was appealing a 3-month jail sentence handed down after he was found guilty of making an obscene hand gesture in January 2017. The appeal has been adjourned until March 7 — three weeks before the elections. He would not have been able to stand in the polls if the sentence was upheld.

“All this proves my view that we do not have real elections ahead,” Eid said. “I think a large number of those following these developments on the streets share the same view.”

Critics questioned Ali’s electability, even if he had obtained the required endorsements. He stood in the 2012 elections but took less than 1% of the vote.

Anan, the powerful chief of staff of the armed forces from 2005-12, would likely have been far stiffer competition for Sisi, who was elected president in 2014 with more than 96% of the vote.

“He [Anan] would have been a strong competitor to Sisi,” said Hassan Nafaa, a political science professor at Cairo University. “He has experience as a military commander and had support from a sizeable portion of the public.”

Anan had indicated that he would have been open to dialogue with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, which could have boosted his election chances.

“Apart from this, he would have received support from the Muslim Brotherhood, some of the Mubarak regime figures and the anti-Mubarak revolutionaries,” said Saad al-Zunt, head of the Political and Strategic Studies Centre. “Some of these forces view him [Anan] as the candidate most capable of defeating Sisi in the elections, especially after Shafiq’s withdrawal.”

Many in Egypt expressed concern about the possibility that two former chiefs of staff competing against each other at the ballot box could polarise state institutions, especially the military.

With Anan and Ali out of the race, Sisi should have a clear path to re-election unless another heavyweight candidate registers before January 30.

A series of lesser candidates, including outspoken Egyptian businessman Mortada Mansour, scrambled to obtain endorsements before the deadline. There was talk that Egyptian MPs who have not endorsed Sisi could back a dark horse candidate.

Sisi formally submitted his election bid on January 24, with 464 out of 596 MPs endorsing his nomination. A pro-Sisi In Order to Build It campaign had obtained more than 13 million endorsements from citizens calling for Sisi’s re-election.

According to Egyptian election law, victory in a presidential election with only one candidate — whether only one candidate is registered or candidates drop out before the election date — can be secured for the sole candidate with the vote of just 5% of eligible voters.

Anan’s campaign announced it would suspend operations “until further notice” with few observers expecting the once-powerful Egyptian general to make a political comeback.

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