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Egypt's el-Sissi faces surprise challenger in March election

January 29, 2018

Moussa Mustafa Moussa, the head of Egypt's liberal Ghad party, is set challenge President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi in March's presidential election. Moussa's candidacy is not expected to dent el-Sissi's chances of victory.

Egypt President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/K. Elfiqi

Nominations for Egypt's presidential election closed on Monday, with Moussa Mustafa Moussa, the little-known head of the Ghad party, submitting his surprise candidacy at the last minute.

Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sissi is still expected to romp to victory and secure a second four-year term, however. Moussa is an ally of the president and his candidacy is widely seen as a token gesture to spare the government from embarrassment and ensure el-Sissi will not be the only name on the ballot.

Read more: Trump: US 'very much behind' Egypt's Sisi

The deadline for submitting candidacy documents was at 2 p.m. local time (1200 GMT). Moussa told the Reuters news agency he had 47,000 pledges and the backing of 36 parliamentarians. El-Sissi, by contrast, is said to have earned over 1 million pledges, with the backing of over 500 of parliament's 595 lawmakers. 

Egypt's presidential election is slated for March 26-28.

Moussa Mustafa Moussa facebook screenshot
Moussa Mustafa Moussa leads the the Ghad, or Tomorrow, partyImage: Facebook/Moussa M Moussa

Al-Sisi's iron fist

El-Sissi's firm grip on power since 2014 has prompted election boycott calls from several opposition leaders. The president has overseen what many believe to be the most sweeping crackdown on dissent in living memory.

With dozens of opposition lawmakers and thousands of their supporters detained, rights groups restricted and the critical media silenced, el-Sissi has found himself heading into March's election virtually unopposed.

Across the country, electoral posters only bear the president's face, while the government has also tightened its grip on radio and television media. Any coverage of the opposition is almost always pejorative.

Despite this, Egypt's electoral commission has insisted it will ensure March's vote is fair and transparent. 

El-Sissi, a former military commander, was elected in 2014, a year after leading the military to topple the divisive but freely-elected President Mohamed Morsi.

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Several candidates drop out

Since nominations opened for the upcoming elections, several prospective challengers to el-Sissi have either dropped out or been disqualified from running.

They include former military chief of staff Sami Anan, who last week was accused of illegally announcing his intention to run before getting the military's approval. He was arrested last Tuesday and his relatives say they have not heard from him since.

Anan's campaign aid, Hisham Genena, Egypt's former anti-corruption chief, was attacked and badly wounded outside of his home on Saturday. The attack prompted other lawmakers, including Anan's campaign allies, to halt their bids out of safety concerns.

Ahmed Shafiq, a prime minister under Egypt's former long-serving president Hosni Mubarak had vowed to stand but changed his mind after claiming the climate in the country was not right for free elections.

Leftist human rights lawyer Khaled Ali was viewed as the most serious candidate left standing against el-Sissi, before he pulled out on Wednesday for unspecified reasons.

dm/rt (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)