The nephew of the assassinated Egyptian president Anwar al-Sadat has dramatically announced he will not run in March’s presidential election, blaming an environment of fear surrounding the vote.
After releasing campaign materials over the weekend Mohamed Anwar al-Sadat called a press conference for Monday morning at which it was widely expected that he would announce his candidacy.
Standing in a room in Cairo packed with journalists and adorned with banners bearing his name, he spoke of how he had been preparing for the election since he was expelled from Egypt’s parliament a year ago.
“However, it seems that all of this was not enough,” Sadat said. “My decision not to run primarily has to do with the climate in which you don’t feel there will be a genuine competition or equal opportunities.”
Sadat said he had taken the decision in part to protect his campaign workers from intimidation or arrest. He cited emergency laws in force since last April and a 2013 ban on unauthorised demonstrations as further reasons for his decision.
To his supporters, Sadat is the prodigal son of a prestigious family who has used his status to criticise a draconian regime. To the regime, he has become a rogue outsider.
In an interview with the Guardian on Monday, Sadat indicated that his aborted attempt this year could lay the groundwork for a full campaign in 2022, when Egypt’s incumbent president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, if re-elected this year, would be ineligible to stand again.
“It’s like committing suicide running against someone like this,” he said. “He’s still supported and he has all the ways and means that no one else has. Better to lose a round and stand by and be ready for a second round than bashing your head against a wall.”
“We dream of … an election where the winner is not known until the last moment,” he said.
Sadat was thrown out of parliament last year amid allegations he had leaked official documents to foreign diplomats. He is the second presidential hopeful to pull out of the election, which is virtually certain to be won by Sisi, who has yet to formally announce his candidacy.
Last week Ahmed Shafiq, a former prime minister with ties to Egypt’s military, announced he was dropping out after reportedly being deported from the UAE and held incommunicado for 24 hours on his return home.
Prior to Monday’s announcement, Sadat had faced accusations of legitimising a draconian regime and an undemocratic election with his candidacy.
Speaking to the Guardian, he denied reports that he was approached by Egypt’s military to encourage his candidacy and give the election a veneer of democracy. “It’s not true,” he said, adding that members of the country’s sprawling security infrastructure had not approached him either. “They consider me a devil,” he said.
Sadat has transformed his political profile from a gentle critic of the former regime of Hosni Mubarak to outright dissenter against Sisi. He founded the liberal Reform and Development party in 2009.
His short-lived campaign, run under the heading “The people rule”, was light on policy but heavy on rhetoric, including rare criticism of Sisi’s four-year term. In recent weeks he provided almost singular criticism of the election itself – which is being held under Egypt’s emergency law – and of a petition demanding that Sisi run for a second term, which Sadat said violated campaign rules.
Sisi swept to power in 2013 after a military coup, buoyed by a cult of personality that lasted through the 2014 election where he obtained 97% of the vote. His rule has been marked by a brutal crackdown on freedom of expression and civil liberties, economic turbulence and increasing attacks by jihadi groups.
He has jailed thousands of opponents, mainly Islamists but also secular activists, including many of those involved in the 2011 uprising that toppled Mubarak. Street protests have been effectively banned, human rights groups have been placed under severe restrictions and many critics in the media have been silenced.
True opposition in the election is likely to be thin on the ground. Another potential candidate, Colonel Ahmed Konsawa, was sentenced to six years in prison for releasing a video declaring his intention to run while in military uniform. Khaled Ali, a leftist human rights lawyer, last week reiterated his intention to run despite an ongoing trial in which he stands accused of making an obscene gesture. The trial is due to finish three weeks before the election on 28 March.
Under the constitution, any would-be candidate must have formal “recommendations” from at least 20 politicians or 25,000 support signatures from voters, with a minimum of 1,000 each from 15 of Egypt’s 29 provinces. More than 500 of Egypt’s 596 MPs have already endorsed Sisi.
Others who have voiced their intention to run represent a rare schism within the ruling order. They include the former military chief-of-staff Sami Anan, who rose to the highest ranks of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Armed Forces under Mubarak’s 30-year regime, and Mortada Mansour, an MP considered more rightwing than even Sisi. Mansour announced that his first act as president would be to ban access to Facebook.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010