– in recent months the Al-Sisi regime has waged a persecution campaign against anyone who announced the intention of running in the upcoming elections. Candidates and potential candidates were exposed to threats, arrests, and lawsuits meant to pressure them to renege. For example, Egypt’s former chief-of-staff, Lieut. Gen. Sami Hafez ‘Anan, who announced that he would run against Al-Sisi, was arrested on charges of violating the military law which bans military officers from running for office if they did not officially end their service and seek permission to run. Former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, who also meant to run for president, succumbed to pressure to change his mind, and it appears that the steps taken against ‘Anan and Shafiq prompted additional members of the opposition, such as attorney Khaled ‘Ali and former MP Muhammad Anwar Al-Sadat, to change their minds about running. The regime’s repressive measures against the potential candidates and against oppositionists were supported by the Egyptian establishment media, which also criticized and slandered them, claiming that they have ties to the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and to hostile elements outside Egypt, and that their activities incite against Egypt and are a betrayal of the country.
The UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, addressed the topic in his latest annual report. On March 7, 2018, he expressed concern about the climate of fear in Egypt’s presidential cycle and about the pressure exerted on candidates in order to cause them to drop out of the race, including by means of arrests. The Egyptian Foreign Ministry responded with a condemnation, stating that Al-Hussein’s claims were based on false reports and that all the measures taken against the candidates were legal and transparent, and urging Al-Hussein to stop attacking Egypt.
When it emerged that Al-Sisi was the sole candidate, the Egyptian establishment media reportedly began pressuring heads of political parties to put forward their candidacy, so as to create the appearance of open and democratic elections. One day before the official deadline, Moussa Mustafa Moussa, chairman of the Al-Ghad (Tomorrow) Party, submitted his candidacy and was harshly criticized as a “puppet” candidate of the regime.
This report will review the steps taken by the Egyptian regime to dispose of the various potential candidates who considered running against Al-Sisi.
Ahmed Shafiq, 76, was prime minister under president Hosni Mubarak during the January 25, 2011 revolution, and ran as an independent candidate in the 2012 presidential elections. After losing to MB member Muhammad Morsi, Shafiq left Egypt for the UAE, where he served as advisor to the president. When the 2018 presidential elections in Egypt were announced, Shafiq was mentioned as a possible candidate. Shafiq apparently received wide public support and was seen as a strong candidate who would present a significant threat to Al-Sisi. Therefore, even before he officially announced his candidacy, and following his announcement, he encountered hostility from the establishment media and various obstructions from the Egyptian establishment media.
On November 29, 2017, apparently following some deliberation, Shafiq announced that he would return to Egypt to run in the elections. His announcement, originally reported by Reuters, was only briefly mentioned in the Egyptian establishment media daily Al-Ahram. On the day of the announcement, in a video aired on the Qatari Al-Jazeera channel, Shafiq said that the authorities in the UAE, which is seen as an ally of Al-Sisi, were preventing him from leaving the country to participate in the electoral race. The claim was denied by the UAE Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash. Shafiq’s appearance on Al-Jazeera led to concern in his National Movement Party that he would be accused of having connections to Qatar, and it hurried to deny the existence of any such connection and even claimed that the video had been leaked.
Egypt’s establishment and pro-regime media launched a smear campaign against Shafiq, with senior writers in establishment media dailies calling him was a candidate who served the MB. Acting editor of the Al-Yawm Al-Sabi’ daily, Dandarawi Al-Harawi, compared him to Ayatollah Khomeini, who planned Iran’s Islamic Revolution from France.
Shafiq returned to Egypt on December 2, 2017. According to reports on sites known for their opposition to the Al-Sisi regime and their closeness to Qatar, but also according to foreign news agencies and media, Shafiq was deported to Egypt by the UAE, and upon arriving in Egypt was taken in for interrogation by Egyptian intelligence.
For example, the Al-Khalij Al-Jadid website, identified with Qatari elements, reported that upon arriving in Egypt Shafiq was placed under “house arrest” under heavy security in a Cairo hotel, and that Egyptian General Intelligence pressured him to pull out of the presidential race and interrogated him for three hours about the video that had been aired on Al-Jazeera. According to the report, during the investigation Shafiq was accused of having contacts with members of the Egyptian opposition abroad who intended to donate one billion dollars to his campaign in exchange for ending the oppression of the MB in Egypt and admitting it into the country’s political arena, should he win the elections. Shafiq was also warned that charges would be leveled against him for treason and collaboration with an enemy channel, and threats were made against the lives of his sons and grandson, who are still in the UAE. The Qatari daily Al-Arabi Al-Jadid, which is published in London, also reported on steps taken against Shafiq upon his return to Egypt. According to the paper, he was not allowed to meet with his lawyer, who was accused in various media of having connections to the MB, and Shafiq was pressured not to run for president in exchange for a cessation of the media campaign against him and his party.
However, in an interview with Egyptian television host Wael Al-Abrashi the day after his return to Egypt, Shafiq denied the reports that he had been kidnapped by the Egyptian security apparatuses upon his arrival in Cairo, and said that senior Egyptian officials had in fact given him a warm welcome at the airport. He added that he had announced his intention to run for president based on information he had possessed at the time, but that now, upon his return to Egypt, he would examine the issue in depth. The Al-Arabi Al-Jadid daily claimed that Shafiq had been coerced into giving this interview and had been permitted to choose only the interviewer.
Several days later two Egyptian attorneys filed lawsuits against Shafiq for incitement, treason, and an attempt to sabotage relations between Egypt and the UAE.
Finally, on January 7, 2018, Shafiq announced that he was pulling out of the presidential race, but denied that his decision was the result of pressure. On February 8, Shafiq’s party announced its support of Al-Sisi for an additional term.
Lieut. Gen Sami Hafez ‘Anan, who was Egypt’s chief-of-staff from 2005 until August 2012, when then-President Mohamed Morsi dismissed him from his position, was considered another serious contender for the presidency in light of his impressive military record. Apparently for this reason, he too was the target of an aggressive political and media campaign. Reports that he was being pressured not to run began appearing as soon as he began to be mentioned as a candidate. Ragab Hilal Hamida, the secretary-general of his party, Misr Al-‘Uruba, stated in mid-December 2017 that ‘Anan and the party were being subjected to extensive political and media pressures because he was constituted the most serious challenge to Al-Sisi.
The media campaign against ‘Anan, which began as early as April 2017, was led by pro-regime media dailies such as Al-Dustour and Al-Yawm Al-Sabi’, which published aggressive articles against him. For example, in May 2017, Al-Dustour editor Muhammad Al-Baz claimed in a television interview that ‘Anan had received one billion dollars in financing for his campaign from sources both inside and outside of Egypt, including from Qatar.
In mid-December 2017, the Misr Al-‘Uruba party announced him as its official candidate in the upcoming elections. In a video aired one month later, on January 19, ‘Anan announced that he would run for president and even presented his intended vice presidents: Dr. Hazem Husni, a lecturer in economics, as his spokesman and his vice president for telecommunication and political and economic empowerment; and Hisham Geneina, former head of the Egyptian Central Auditing Organization, as his vice president for human rights affairs, transparency and constitutional affairs. In the announcement ‘Anan criticized Al-Sisi, without referring to him by name, blaming him for the increasing threat of terrorism in the country, the difficult economic situation and Egypt’s increasing difficulty in meeting various challenges.
Following this official announcement, the attack against ‘Anan intensified. Al-Yawm Al-Sabi’ joined the smear campaign against him and published a series of daily articles and reports attacking him and linking him to the MB. For example, the paper’s acting editor, Dandarawi Al-Harawi, claimed that ‘Anan’s announcement had included messages directed at elements outside the country, specifically at the U.S., Qatar, and Turkey, as part of a meticulous program planned outside Egypt. He wrote that “‘Anan is power-hungry and is prepared to make concessions and bad deals in order to attain any position [in establishment media].” He added: “The danger in Sami ‘Anan’s decision to run… [stems from] his disastrous connections and dealings with the MB… which will bring this terror organization back to life and return it to the political arena, thus exposing the state to the threat of violence.” In another article, published January 22, 2018, Al-Harawi claimed that “the MB and all the anarchist movements, as well as Qatar, Turkey, the U.S. and Israel, have announced, effectively and publically, that they give their blessing and full support to Sami ‘Anan, in whom they see a spark of hope that might… return the Egyptian regime to the bosom of the MB.”
Furthermore, on January 23, 2018, several days after he announced that he would run, Egyptian television broadcast an announcement from the Egyptian army according to which ‘Anan, as retired chief-of-staff, had not received the necessary authorization from the army before announcing his candidacy. The announcement also accused him of inciting against the military with the purpose of “driving a wedge between it and the Egyptian people”, of falsifying facts on official documents, and of falsely claiming that he ended his military service. It added that all appropriate legal measures would be taken against him in light of these offenses. And in fact, following this announcement, the National Elections Commission removed ‘Anan’s name from the list of candidates, on the grounds that he was still considered an officer in the Egyptian army and therefore legally barred from running.
Also on January 23, the Egyptian security forces arrested ‘Anan. There were conflicting reports about the manner of his arrest: Anan’s bureau chief, Mustafa Al-Shal, claimed that he had been apprehended while driving in his car, while Mahmoud Refaat, a senior member of ‘Anan’s campaign, tweeted that the security forces had burst into ‘Anan’s house and arrested him along with some of his relatives. ‘Anan’s attorney, Nasser Amin, claimed that ‘Anan is in a military jail in eastern Cairo.
The same day, the Military Prosecutor General issued a gag order on Anan’s case until the conclusion of the investigation and even ordered to seize funds and property belonging to ‘Anan and his family.
Sami ‘Anan’s son Samir tweeted that he held President Al-Sisi responsible for the incarceration of his father. Hazem Husni, ‘Anan’s spokesman, also harshly attacked Al-Sisi on Twitter, comparing him to the mad Roman emperor Nero who burned down Rome. He also urged all Egyptians to take action to liberate their country from the Al-Sisi regime.
Even elements from ‘Anan’s own party joined the attack on him. On the day of his arrest, party secretary-general Ragab Hilal Hamida held a press conference in which he announced his resignation from the party, and accused ‘Anan of pushing aside senior party officials by recruiting deputies from outside the party and of effectively turning it into a one-man party. He too linked ‘Anan to the MB and warned that Qatar and Turkey intended to finance his campaign. A senior member of ‘Anan’s campaign said in response that Hamida was a servant of the Egyptian security apparatuses.
In a February 2, 2018 interview with the Arabic website of the Huffington Post, which is owned by Qatar, Hisham Geneina accused the Egyptian security apparatuses of trying to assassinate him, and threatened to expose documents in ‘Anan’s possession pertaining to events that took place following the 2011 revolution and which implicate officials of the current Egyptian regime. Following the interview, the Egyptian security apparatuses arrested Geneina along with the journalist who had conducted the interview, Mu’taz Wadnan.
It should be mentioned that, after his arrest, the Egyptian press continued to publish articles against ‘Anan, accusing him of contacts with the MB and of seeking revenge against Al-Sisi for personal reasons.
Oppositionist Khaled Ali – Withdrew After Being Arrested By The Regime
Another candidate was attorney and political activist Khaled ‘Ali, who was among the leaders of the protests over the Tiran and Sanafir islands deal and who ran in the 2012 presidential elections. ‘Ali announced his candidacy on November 6, 2017, at the headquarters of his Al-Dustour Party. In a January 11, 2018 press conference, he attacked the Al-Sisi regime, describing it as a “dictatorship,” and called to create an alternative that will end the state of tyranny, discrimination and poverty in Egypt and bring it into an era of freedom, social justice and human dignity for all. He called on the supporters of the 2011 revolution to endorse him. ‘Ali’s election platform comprised 14 articles, including a call to reexamine national projects such as the new administrative capital and the Al-Daba’a nuclear power plant; raise the minimum wage; grant health insurance for all; free administrative detainees (most of whom are MB members), and cancel the agreement ceding Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia.
‘Ali claimed on several occasions that the security apparatuses were persecuting him for his intention to run for president. According to him, immediately after he announced his candidacy, the police raided a printing press that was preparing materials for his press conference, a claim that was denied by an Egyptian security source. His campaign’s legal team complained to the Elections Commission that the authorities were using various technicalities to prevent citizens from endorsing him, and also complained of corruption in Al-Sisi’s campaign, such as bribing and coercing citizens to endorse him and forcing civil servants to forge signatures of support. The Elections Commission rejected the complaints.
‘Ali, considered a prominent and influential figure in the Egyptian opposition, managed to garner support from both Islamist and secularist opposition elements. The April 6 Youth Movement, which was a leading force in the 2011 revolution, endorsed him and called on Egyptians to support his candidacy, and Egyptian politicians identified with the MB, as well as former officials in Morsi’s administration currently residing in Turkey, likewise called to support him.
Like the other candidates, ‘Ali too was attacked by the establishment media, which called him “Ikhwani,” i.e., a supporter of the outlawed MB movement. Ahmad Moussa, a pro-regime media journalist, said that he was in favor of multiple presidential candidates as long as they did not belong to the MB. ‘Ali’s campaign spokesman denied all allegations of ties with this movement. Mahmoud Sa’d Al-Din, a columnist for the Al-Yawm Al-Sabi’ daily, mocked ‘Ali for claiming to represent the activists of the 2011 revolution, saying that these activists belonged to the past.
In the recent months, the Egyptian authorities also attempted to discourage ‘Ali from running by prosecuting him for his protests over the Tiran-Sanafir deal. In May 2017, he was arrested for 24 hours on charges of “public indecency” based on a photo that showed him celebrating the court’s decision to suspend the deal. He was also accused of promoting an unregistered party. The court sentenced him to a fine and three months in prison for these offenses. In response, three parties and 15 human rights organizations in Egypt issued a condemnation, saying that ‘Ali was being punished for his human rights activism and in order to keep him from seeking the presidency. Hala Foda, his campaign manager, called his trial a farce, and said that he had been prosecuted just in order to blacken his name and sabotage his electoral bid.
Eventually, in a January 24, 2018 press conference, ‘Ali announced that he was withdrawing from the race, due to the arrest of some of his campaign members and since he was still being prosecuted for his opposition to the Tiran-Sanafir deal. He also claimed that the Elections Commission had denied him the basic right to know how many citizens had endorsed his candidacy, and from which governorates.
Former MP Muhammad Anwar Al-Sadat
Another possible Egyptian presidential candidate was Muhammad Anwar Al-Sadat, Reform and Development Party chairman, former Egyptian MP, and nephew of the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. In July 2017, he said in an interview with the Al-Masri Al-Yawm daily that several political forces had asked him to run, and that he was considering it. In December 2017, he complained to Egypt’s National Elections Commission that security elements were preventing him from announcing his candidacy and that due to interference by the authorities, he had been unable to rent a hall in a hotel where he could make the announcement.
Like other candidates, Al-Sadat was criticized in the Egyptian establishment media. Dandarawi Al-Harawi, acting editor of Al-Yawm Al-Sabi’, excoriated him in an August 2017 article, stating that he had made a grave mistake by participating in conferences on human rights that were anti-Egypt, and that he had been accused by the Egyptian parliament of leaking a draft law about NGOs in Egypt to foreign embassies. Al-Harawi also called Al-Sadat’s party a “paper party” that had no presence on the Egyptian street.
On January 2, 2018, Al-Sadat called on President Al-Sisi to allow, in advance of the elections, free political discourse, to be promoted with the same effort and enthusiasm as he was promoting a new religious discourse in the country. In a communique that included a message to the president, he asked: “What [will Egypt be like] after [all these regime measures] restricting freedom of opinion and expression, imposing another opinion, atrophying political life, uprooting the civil society organizations, and nationalizing the media? How will Egypt recover when the law and the Constitution state one thing while in reality something else is implemented? How can we create a good political atmosphere when the true opposition voices disappear?”
Finally, on January 15, 2018, Al-Sadat too announced that after reexamining the situation and the election arena, he had decided not to run, and would continue to engage in citizens’ issues, problem, and rights.
Officer Ahmad Konsowa – Sentenced To Six Years’ Imprisonment For Declaring His Intent To Run For President
In late November 2017, Egyptian army officer Ahmad Konsowa posted a video on his Facebook page in which he announced his presidential candidacy while wearing his Egyptian army uniform. Also in the video, he launched his campaign slogan “There Is Hope.” After posting the video, he was arrested and sentenced by a military court to six years in prison with hard labor for violating the military law that bans soldiers on active duty from running for office.
MP Murtada Mansour – Withdrew And Declared His Support For Al-Sisi
Attorney and MP Murtada Mansour, chairman of Egypt’s Al-Zamalek soccer club, announced on January 13, 2018 that he would run for president and that he was beginning to collect endorsements. Mansour also submitted his candidacy for the 2012 presidential elections on behalf of the Egypt National Party, but was rejected in favor of a different party nominee. He announced an intention to run in 2014 as well, but eventually withdrew “out of his love for President Al-Sisi.”
Ahead of the upcoming elections Mansour received little media attention (in a January 23 interview he declined to comment on this fact). In a January 26 interview with the Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat he expressed support for Al-Sisi’s candidacy, saying: “The President needs another term. Four years is not enough.” In a press conference one day later, he announced officially that he had decided not to compete.”
Moussa Mustafa Moussa – Al-Sisi’s Sole Remaining Rival, Widely Dismissed As A “Regime Puppet”
As stated, Al-Ghad Party head Moussa Ahmad Moussa submitted his candidacy 24 hours before the deadline, thus becoming Al-Sisi’s sole remaining rival. Until then, he was not mentioned as a possible candidate, and in had campaigned for Al-Sisi’s reelection. His candidacy sparked ridicule, with writers calling him “the last minute candidate,” “the fridge-to-microwave candidate,” and the “pro-Al-Sisi candidate.” The Qatari London-based daily Al-Arabi Al-Jadid, known for its opposition to the Al-Sisi regime, claimed that his candidacy had been arranged by the security apparatuses, which had pressured several party heads to join the race in order to give the elections a semblance of democracy.
Moussa rejected the claims that he was a “puppet” candidate, and told the establishment media daily Al-Ahram that his decision to run had not been made on the spur of the moment, as so many claimed. He stressed that he did not mean to be a mere “ornament,” but to do his best to garner votes. Moussa, who is the head of the Arabs Tribes Council, added that his support base was the Egyptian Arab tribes. In an interview with the Al-Wafd daily, he said: “I am not an extra [on the scene], and anyone who knows me well realizes that I cannot be bought and sold. I do not succumb to pressures from anyone.” After all the other candidates withdrew, he said, his party deemed it appropriate to join the race. Asked about his former endorsement of Al-Sisi, he said that it had been right at the time, when there were additional contenders, but that afterward his party changed its mind.