CAIRO (AP) — A little known Egyptian politician submitted his candidacy documents to the election commission on Monday, becoming a last-minute challenger to President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.
Sissi is virtually certain of winning a second, four-year term in the March 26-28 vote. But after a string of would-be challengers were arrested, forced out or quit the race, the prospect of a one-candidate election has proven embarrassing for the government.
Pro-government media and public figures loyal to Sissi had pressured one of Egypt’s oldest political parties, the Wafd, to field a candidate. But after two days of marathon deliberations, the party decided Saturday not to field a candidate and instead to renew its support for a second term for the president.
Moussa Osman Moussa of the Ghad, or Tomorrow, party, was the subject of intense speculation over the weekend, with many predicting he would step forward as a face-saving candidate. On Monday, one of his top aides submitted documents to the election commission on his behalf.
Monday at 2 p.m. (1200 GMT) was the deadline for submitting candidacy documents.
Would-be challengers who are no longer in the race include a former prime minister, a former military chief of staff, a prominent rights lawyer and a former lawmaker. They were unlikely to win the race, but their participation would have attracted protest votes against Sissi, including from Egyptians hit hard by the president’s austerity measures and other economic reforms.
Sissi led the 2013 ouster of a freely elected but divisive president, the Islamist Mohammed Morsi, and has since overseen what is perhaps the largest crackdown on dissent in the country’s living memory. Thousands of Morsi supporters have been jailed, along with secular activists. Most critics in the media have been silenced, human rights groups have been heavily restricted and scores of online news sites have been blocked.
Five opposition figures, including a 2012 presidential candidate and two top campaign aides for now-arrested presidential hopeful Sami Annan, called for a boycott of the vote, saying it has lost all credibility.
In a statement Sunday, they also called on Egyptians not to recognize the presidential vote’s outcome if it goes ahead.
The statement was a bold move that could be perceived as an attempt to derail the electoral process by authorities that have shown little tolerance for dissent. It is also likely to encourage more expressions of discontent over what critics see as the president’s increasingly authoritarian traits.
Earlier on Monday, prosecutors said they have detained three men over the assault on the country’s former top auditor, Hesham Genena. Genena, who was sacked by Sissi after alleging widespread corruption, had come out in support of Anan, a former military chief of staff who was seen as a potentially strong challenger before his arrest. The prosecutors said the suspects were ordered detained for four days, pending investigation. They face charges of armed robbery.
Annan was arrested by the military last Tuesday on several charges, including incitement against the armed forces and forgery.