Egypt looks ahead to presidential election but little doubt about outcome

A man signs the form of the “So You Can Build It” campaign in Cairo, last October

Cairo- Notaries in hundreds of offices in Egypt have started registering pow­ers of attorney filed by citizens for potential presidential candidates as Egypt prepares for the start of the 2018 presidential election campaign.
The vote will be March 26-28. In the event of an election run-off, the second round of the voting would be April 24. Many analysts predict that incumbent Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who has not formally announced his re-election bid, will easily win more than 50% of the vote, particu­larly given a dearth of challengers.
Approximately 58 million Egyp­tians are eligible to vote in the presi­dential election, the second since the downfall of the Muslim Brother­hood regime in 2013.
The announcement of the elec­tion timetable was welcomed by political observers, who expressed hope that the vote would energise Egypt’s moribund political partici­pation.
“This is a huge national event that will decide the future course of this country for the next four years,” said Alaa Abdel Azim, the deputy head of the liberal Egyptian Repub­lican Party. “It will show that Egypt is committed to a competitive po­litical process where everybody has an equal opportunity, regardless of who he is.”
National Election Authority Chairman Lasheen Ibrahim said it would treat all potential candidates equally and called on voters to make their presence felt at polling stations despite many Egyptians expressing indifference towards the upcoming campaign.
Presidential candidates must sub­mit credentials January 20-29. In ad­dition to identification documents, hopefuls must submit 25,000 pow­ers of attorney from eligible voters or endorsements from 20 members of parliament.
Sisi is expected to declare his bid to seek a second and final four-year term in office. Many citizens have filed powers of attorney on his be­half.
More than 12 million Egyptians signed a petition backing a Sisi sec­ond-term, part of a national cam­paign called “So We Can Build It,” which has offices in all Egyptian governorates and is expected to quickly morph into the main Sisi re-election campaign.
MPs have also rushed to back Sisi’s re-election, with media reports say­ing 464 MPs, including parliamen­tary Speaker Ali Abdel Aal, signed their support for the incumbent.
Few politicians seem willing to challenge Sisi, who is highly popular in Egypt.
General Sami Anan, 69, a for­mer armed forces chief of staff, an­nounced that he would compete in the elections as head of the Arabism Egypt Party, which he founded in 2014. Anan has not been a par­ticularly harsh critic of Sisi and is viewed as being in the same mould as the incumbent president.
Among others who want to run is human rights lawyer Khaled Ali, who won less than 13,000 votes in a 2012 bid. He is appealing a convic­tion for “making an obscene ges­ture” after winning a court order challenging the government’s deci­sion to hand over two Red Sea is­lands to Saudi Arabia. In September, he was given a 3-month suspended sentence. He could be disqualified from running in the election if the court rejects his appeal.
Another potential candidate is Anwar Esmat Sadat, the nephew of late President Anwar Sadat. A former MP and head of the liberal-leaning Reform and Development Misruna Party, he was expelled from parliament in February 2017 over comments criticising the Assem­bly he made to foreign media. His expulsion was supported by 468 of 596 members, with only eight MPs voting in his favour.
Perhaps the toughest challenge to Sisi would have been from Ahmed Shafiq, a Mubarak-era prime min­ister who narrowly lost the 2012 presidential election to Muhammad Morsi. Shafiq, who has been living in the United Arab Emirates for the past few years, initially indicated in­terest in running but has since said he will not stand.
“My absence of more than five years perhaps distanced me from being able to very closely follow what is going on in our nation… I have seen that I will not be the ideal person to lead the state’s affairs dur­ing the coming period,” Shafiq said in a statement.
Hamdeen Sabahi, a leftist politi­cian who suffered a humiliating de­feat against Sisi in 2014, also said he would not run in the 2018 election, claiming “there are no guarantees that the election will be fair.”
The absence of a credible chal­lenger could embarrass Sisi, who has sought to tout his democratic credentials.
“This will undermine the cred­ibility of the electoral process as a whole,” said Sakina Fouad, a former presidential adviser. “An election with one candidate in it is not an election at all.”
Amr Emam is a Cairo-based journalist. He has contributed to the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and the UN news site IRIN.
This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.