Egypt's elections commission rejects harassment claims by presidential hopefuls

The commission says allegations are lies and falsehoods, but promises to investigate complaints

Egyptians celebrating the birth of the Prophet Muhammad with banners supporting President Abdel Fattah El Sisi in the December presidential elections. AP
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Egypt's state elections commission has angrily rejected claims that opposition supporters are being harassed and sometimes prevented from obtaining certified statements of support for presidential hopefuls.

Opposition candidates require a minimum of 25,000 certified statements of support to enter the December race.

The allegations were made this week by presidential hopefuls Ahmed Tantawy and Gameela Ismail, who said their supporters were harassed by suspected security agents or government supporters at the state offices that issue the statements of support.

Employees at those offices, they claimed, procrastinated or rejected the applications on technicalities.

Supporters of Mr Tantawy, a former legislator and an outspoken critic of President Abdel Fattah El Sisi, appear to have been singled out for the worst harassment. He claimed in a video clip posted online that his supporters were able to secure only two certified statements of support in the 48 hours that followed the commission's Monday announcement of the the timeline for the vote.

In contrast, long lines of supporters have been forming across the country outside the government offices known as El Shahr El Aqary – which operate as certifying agencies for documents such as house deeds and contracts – to obtain documents in support of the incumbent's candidacy.

Presidential hopefuls are required to obtain certified statements of support from at least 25,000 eligible voters to enter the race. The 25,000 must be residents of at least 15 of the country’s 27 provinces. Alternatively, the written support of 20 sitting legislators is required.

"The National Elections Commission has established after a thorough review that no violation, nepotism or harassment of anyone has been committed by relevant bodies, including El Shahr El Aqary, implementing directives relevant to the presidential elections," the commission's statement said.

"Whatever has been alleged in this regard is no more than falsehoods bearing no relation to the truth or reality," the statement said. The commission will not tolerate the questioning of its decisions or undermining "popular confidence" in how it carries out its mandate, according to the statement.

"This undisciplined conduct or behaviour will not be met with leniency or tolerance; and legal measures will be decisively and swiftly taken," it said, alluding to the allegations. It promised to investigate complaints provided they contained firm evidence of wrongdoing.

Mr El Sisi, in office since 2014, has yet to say whether he will seek a third term in office, but he is widely expected to do so. If he does run, his victory is virtually a foregone conclusion.

Given that near-certainty, the president will be looking to a landslide win he could use as a popular mandate to take painful measures to revive the battered economy. Those measures, in turn, could silence his critics.

"Please hold on to hope despite all the pain; and struggle to obtain the most basic and simplest right to build our present and future," Mr Tantawy said in a statement addressed to his supporters after ending a 48-hour suspension of his campaign over the harassment allegations.

"I call on all state institutions, and hold them responsible to protect the political process and keep it open and real," he added.

Ms Ismail, the other prominent opposition hopeful, took issue with the commission's statement, saying its rejection of allegations of harassment did not bode well. She, however, welcomed the commission's readiness to look into complaints.

"We have our reservations on the commission's view that our statements are no more than claims and lies. Its position is suspicious and unjustified and, to say the least, hurried," she said.

Updated: September 29, 2023, 12:24 PM