Egyptian presidential election heats up

Egypt has experienced rapid political change throughout its tumultuous transition since the January 2011 revolution. Now, Egyptians prepare to participate in the upcoming presidential elections amid domestic and international concerns.  

Egypt’s National Election Authority announced on Jan. 8 voting will take place from March 16–18 for expatriates and between March 26–28 domestically. According to the Egyptian constitution, candidates must be officially endorsed by at least twenty elected members of the House of Representatives or at least 25,000 eligible voters from at least 15 of the country’s 27 governorates to be considered qualified to run.  

On Jan. 19, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi announced his intent to run for a second and final term. Sisi’s campaign reported he had received endorsements from 594 of 596 members of parliament and submitted 173,000 legally valid citizen endorsements.

As the incumbent, many considered Sisi the likely winner from the beginning. Still, since the NEA opened the door on Jan. 20 to receive applications for candidacy, a number of hopefuls have announced their intention to challenge Sisi for the presidential office.

Former head of the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights Khalid Ali, a lawyer and labor activist, announced his intention to run in November 2016. He previously ran in the 2012 election but received less than 0.6 percent of the vote.

Despite fears a September 2017 charge of offending public decency would affect his eligibility, Ali began his campaign with support from youth, human rights activists and some social media activists. However, he withdrew from the race  on Jan. 24, claiming in a press conference political conditions did not allow for a fair contest.  Some Sisi supporters have said the real reason for Ali’s withdraw was his failure to collect the required number of endorsements to be able to run for office.

Former Egyptian Armed Forces Chief of Staff Sami Anan announced his candidacy in a Facebook video in January 2018 but was arrested a few days later when the army accused him of forging his official release from military service. According to Egyptian law, it is illegal for active military personnel to participate in politics.

The EAF accused Anan of announcing his bid for office without first acquiring a permit from the military, aiming to incite a rift between the EAF and the public.The NEA has since confirmed Anan is still an officer in the EAF and is subject to all relevant laws. The official Facebook page for Anan’s campaign announced that the campaign was suspended until further notice.

Similarly, Colonel Ahmed Konsowa was sentenced to six years in prison in December 2017 after he announced his intention to run for president while wearing a military uniform.

Chairman of Ghad Party Moussa Mostafa Moussa now stands as Sisi’s only challenger. Although Moussa declared his intent to run only a day before the application deadline, he announced he had succeeded in obtaining the required numbers of endorsements from citizens and members of parliament.  

In the weeks before the election, Sisi has been praised for launching a major counter-terrorism operation in Northern Sinai. On the other hand, many have criticized his campaign and the election in general as undemocratic. On Jan. 30, the alliance of opposition parties known as the Civil Democratic Movement called for a boycott of the election, describing it in a press conference as “the electoral comic play.”

“The March vote will in no way confirm President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s popularity among the Egyptian people,” stated Sara Khorshid, writing for Foreign Policy. “This election campaign is merely an extension of the internal power struggle among the military and the regime’s security services, and it has nothing to do with democratic mechanisms worthy of the name.”