Egyptian opposition leaders have called for a boycott of the country’s elections after all real candidates trying to stand against President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi were arrested, prosecuted or intimidated out of the race.
In a joint statement, a coalition of opposition figures said that Egyptians should stay away from the polls in protest because the government had prevented “any fair competition in the upcoming elections”.
“We call on our great people to boycott these elections entirely, and to not recognise anything that results from it,” the statement said.
Mr Sisi, a former general who took first came to power in a 2013 coup, has clamped down on dissent in Egypt and looks certain to be re-elected. Several would-be opposition candidates have been arrested or frightened from the race in the last few weeks.
But Mr Sisi and his allies are also worried about a low turnout in the March elections and fear that a widespread boycott could lead to embarrassingly few votes being cast.
Mohammed Anwar Sadat, a former MP and nephew of the assassinated president Anwar Sadat, went further by calling for opposition groups to mount a peaceful protest march on the presidential palace.
“Sadat clarified that Egyptian politics has become void of all meaning and context. He added that the time for appeals and statements issued behind closed doors is over,” his office said in a statement.
A march would be a high-risk strategy as opposition protests are essentially banned in Egypt and the security forces would likely crack down heavily on any unsanctioned demonstration.
Mr Sadat, a liberal but also a member of Egypt’s political establishment, had planned to run against Mr Sisi but backed out of the race out of fear that his campaign staff and volunteers would be arrested if he tried to run.
In an interview with The Telegraph last week, he warned that Mr Sisi would likely use his second term to change the constitution and allow himself to stay in power indefinitely.
“What is happening is something we have never seen before in Egypt, even under Nasser, Sadat or even Mubarak, or even the Muslim Brotherhood. They are making sure that they control everything,” he said.
“There is no political life any more. It’s all dead. No one can dare to compete or even to speak out or challenge anything. It’s not allowed.”
With all opposition candidates pushed out of the race, Mr Sisi’s allies have gone through a series of hasty manoeuvres to try to make sure that there is at least one other name on the ballot and that the president has at least a token opponent.
The Wafd, a small party allied with Mr Sisi, made moves to put up a candidate last week even though it had already officially endorsed the president.
They backed down after infighting within the party and widespread public mockery on social media by Egyptians who saw the move as a nakedly transparent attempt to spare Mr Sisi’s embarrassment.
Now another small party has been apparently cast in the role of token opposition.
Moussa Mustafa Moussa, head of the Sisi-allied al-Ghad party, formally filed his candidacy on Monday, just minutes before the deadline.
Mr Moussa had already endorsed Mr Sisi and at the time of his announcement his Facebook page still had a picture expressing his support for the president. Last year, he formed a campaign called "Supporters of President el-Sisi’s nomination for a second term".
هتبقى منافسة شديدة pic.twitter.com/nPZ7Tfoj5b
— hossam bahgat (@hossambahgat) January 28, 2018
He also previously said he hoped that Mr Sisi’s share of the vote exceeds "80 or 90 per cent so he can achieve what he has started".
“There will be stiff competition,” joked one Twitter user.
The opposition statement slammed the government’s search for an token opponent, saying it was looking for “a candidate to play the role of the ‘extra’ in a process that is insulting to the deeply-rooted values of the Egyptian republic”.
Sami Anan, a former general, had planned to run against Mr Sisi but was arrested at gunpoint on Tuesday by the Egyptian security services.
His vice-presidential candidate, Hisham Genena, was attacked and badly injured on a Cairo street on Saturday.
His supporters accused the government of being behind the ambush. The ministry of interior said it was the result of a traffic dispute.
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