Veteran Egyptian opposition leader Gameela Ismail has declared her intention to run for president, becoming the first woman to seek the highest office in Egypt.
Ms Ismail, who leads the Constitution Party and is a critic of incumbent President Abdel Fattah El Sisi, said it had taken her weeks to decide whether to accept her party's nomination to contest the election.
“It was not an easy decision given the uncertainty shrouding the political scene and the insistence of the ruling regime to ignore demands by political forces and popular masses for a democratic election that's not tailor-made for a single person,” she said in a statement.
The date of the election is due to be officially announced on September 25 but unconfirmed media reports say the vote will take place in the first half of December.
Ms Ismail, 57, was a key figure in the 2011 uprising that forced long-time president Hosni Mubarak to step down. She started her career as a journalist, first as a reporter then a TV presenter. She is also a prominent defender of women's rights.
So far, the only other opposition leader to announce their candidacy is Ahmed Tantawy, an outspoken former politician who has been openly critical of Mr El Sisi's policies.
The others who have publicly announced their plans to contest the vote are supporters of the president, with their participation widely seen as an attempt to give the vote the appearance of a competitive race.
Mr El Sisi, who has been president since 2014, has yet to announce whether he will run for a third six-year term but he is widely expected to do so. He has already been addressing crowds of supporters in campaign-style rallies in which he defended his policies.
In the previous election, held in 2018, the only candidate to run against Mr El Sisi was an obscure politician who entered the race at the last minute and repeatedly declared his support for the Egyptian leader.
Ms Ismail's statement was scathingly critical of Mr El Sisi's government, which she accused of being undemocratic and lacking transparency.
“People want to end their exclusion from information and decisions and hold to account the officials responsible for the daily crisis,” she said. “We don't know why we borrow? Where the loans go? And why we have power cuts after we promised to export electricity?”
Egyptians will vote for their next president amid a crushing economic crisis.
The Egyptian pound has lost half of its value since March last year and a persistent dollar crunch is suppressing imports and hurting domestic industries. Inflation is at a record high, pushing millions into poverty.
Egypt is also saddled with more than $160 billion in foreign debt, which it is struggling to repay.
The government blames the dire state of the economy on the coronavirus pandemic and the war in Ukraine, and has rejected criticism of its multibillion-dollar megaprojects, including the new $60 billion capital city in the desert east of Cairo and a resort city on the Mediterranean coast used as the summer seat of the government.
Ms Ismail and others have criticised the government's spending priorities and also called for the gradual withdrawal of the military from economic activity to allow the private sector to assume a greater role. Mr El Sisi says the use of the military was meant to ensure the timely completion of development projects.
“We are enduring the destructive consequences of policies in which we did not participate,” said Ms Ismail.
Commission promises fair elections
Ms Ismail's statement came only hours after the State Election Commission sought to reassure voters of the integrity and transparency of the coming vote.
Ahmed El Bendary, the commission's executive director, said authorities would view all candidates equally.
He also appealed to the relevant state institutions and media to “abide by objectivity and neutrality and afford all candidates equal opportunities to present their programmes to the Egyptian people”.
He did not say what measures the commission would take to ensure the compliance of these institutions.
“We emphasise that the commission will not show any hesitance to take all the legal measures against anyone who casts doubt about the integrity and transparency of the commission's efforts,” he warned. “The law will be implemented against anyone who seeks to deface that feast of democracy [the election].”