An Egyptian opposition coalition has harshly censured the incumbent military-backed president for his recent veiled but stern warning to the political opponents challenging his reelection bid amid calls for a boycott of the upcoming presidential election.
President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, a former army chief, threatened during a Friday speech that additional measures would be taken against anyone attempting to upset Egypt’s security, vowing that the uprising of seven years ago that led to the ouster of long-term dictator Hosni Mubarak back in 2011 would never resurface.
Sisi further asserted in his remarks that he might call on Egyptians to wage rallies to give him a “mandate” in the face of what he described as “villains,” in an apparent reference to his challengers.
The veiled threat followed opposition calls for a boycott of the March presidential election, which is widely considered to be a one-man race as all major opposition campaigns have withdrawn citing correction and threats.
“We affirm that states are not run by mandates and the mobilization of supporters in orchestrated gatherings, but rather by constitutions and respect for freedoms,” said a statement by the coalition called the Civil Democratic Movement, that includes several high-profile Egyptian politicians.
“Is this a mandate in order to uphold freedoms? Or to crush opposition? Or to violate the constitution?” added the rare public criticism of Sisi’s speech, slamming it as a bid “to spread fear among Egyptian voters” which “undermines … the integrity of the electoral competition.”
Among the coalition’s members is a former presidential candidate as well as Hesham Genena, a former anti-corruption watchdog head who had been campaigning for ex-chief of staff of the military Sami Anan – a top opponent of Sisi prior to his arrest on January 23.
Anan’s arrest came days after a visit to Egypt by US Vice President Mike Pence, who applauded Sisi as a valued ally in the fight against terrorism.
The statement added, “Clearing the political space of candidates in the name of preserving security is unconstitutional and does not promote security.”
Sisi became president of Egypt in the 2014 election, a year after he led the army to topple the country’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, in a coup.
He is expected to easily win the election slated for March 26-28 as he faces a single contender, who is himself a supporter of the military commander-turned-president.
Anan was the fourth potential Sisi opponent to face arrest or prosecution after announcing his election bid.
Observers say Sisi and his allies in the military and security services seem intent on ensuring that he faces no real challenge to his re-election or significant public criticism during his campaign.
Ahmed Shafik, a former prime minister, also announced his plans to run for president in December and returned to Egypt from several years in exile in the UAE. He was however, met with security agents upon arrival in Cairo and disappeared from public.
He re-emerged days later only to declare that he was no longer in the race.
Similarly, Anwar Sadat, the nephew of the assassinated former president, also refrained from announcing his candidacy last month, saying that a climate of fear and intimidation surrounds the vote in Egypt.
Moreover, a 45-year-old human rights lawyer, Khaled Ali, was charged with public indecency soon after announcing he was planning to run in the elections. He is so far staying in the race but will be disqualified if he is convicted.
An Egyptian army colonel was also sentenced to six years in prison for announcing his own plans to run while still serving in uniform.