Ex-army chief to run in Egyptian presidential election

General Sami Anan will bid to unseat president Abdel Fattah El Sisi in March’s election

Former chief of staff of the Egyptian armed forces, Sami Anan, right, will stand against president Abdel Fattah El Sisi
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Former armed forces chief of staff General Sami Anan is to run in Egypt’s presidential election in March, his party said on Thursday.

“The party leaders took a decision for General Sami Anan’s candidacy and informed him of the decision and there was no problem at all and no objection,” from him, said Sami Balah, the secretary general of the Arabism Egypt Party.

Egyptian president Abdel Fattah El Sisi is expected to seek a second term, but has yet to announce his candidacy.

Meanwhile, more than 500 of Egypt’s 596 lawmakers have signed ‘recommendations’ supporting a re-election bid by Mr El Sisi, even before he has formally announced his candidacy, according to news reports published Thursday.

Mr El Sisi is considered virtually certain to run in the March 26-28 election and to win a second four-year term. With Mr Anan running there is a possibility that he will face a serious challenge, but few other contenders have emerged.

One prominent potential candidate announced last week he wouldn’t enter the race; two others have faced prosecution in the courts. Most opposition figures are either in jail, living abroad or staying on the sidelines after a general crackdown on dissent since the military’s 2013 ouster of an Islamist president.

Under the constitution, to qualify to run, any would-be candidate must gather formal recommendations from at least 20 elected members of parliament, or alternatively 25,000 recommendations from voters, with a minimum of 1,000 each in 15 of Egypt’s 29 provinces. Rather than waiting for El Sisi to seek recommendations, the lawmakers rushed to offer them first.

“Parliament achieves a record number in supporting El Sisi,” ran the top headline in the Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper. A photo showed smiling lawmakers standing in a half circle with copies of their recommendations in hand. The Egyptian parliament is packed with supporters of the president and has since its election acted more like a rubber-stamp chamber.

Hundreds of advertisements have been put up across Cairo imploring Mr El Sisi to run. ‘So you can build it’, is the catchphrase of one such campaigns, alluding to the president’s focus on overhauling Egypt’s infrastructure and his ambitious program to overhaul the battered economy and build mega projects.

The president has said he will announce his candidacy after receiving feedback on his track record since taking office. He did not elaborate, but his office this week invited Egyptians to submit questions online for him to answer on live television. That would be the third time that he has appeared in person on ‘Ask The President’, a televised Q&A session where he fields questions selected from among thousands of submissions.

Since 2013, the Egyptian regime has led a heavy crackdown that has jailed thousands of opponents, mainly Islamists but also a number of prominent secular activists, including many of those behind the 2011 uprising that toppled long-time autocrat Hosni Mubarak. Street protests are banned; human rights groups have been placed under draconian restrictions, and several rights campaigners have been banned from foreign travel or had their assets frozen. Many critics in the media have been silenced.

The absence so far of strong candidates to run against him makes turnout key for the credibility of his re-election. Critics have said the vote appears headed to something more akin to the one-candidate referendums that, for most of the past decades, confirmed the president, often by gigantic margins as high as 99 percent.

“We are back to the presidential elections that the president contests without having to campaign, announce an election program or address electoral rallies or even declare his intention to run and then win with a landslide,” commentator Ashraf el-Barbary wrote on the website of the Al-Shorouk newspaper.

Sarcastically, he added: “Egypt today is experiencing an ideal election climate that is the envy of the world because we have an election that has a respectable commission and potential candidates, but it has no competition, no programs and may also end up without voters.”