Voters in Egypt will head to the polls next week in a presidential election that has been widely dismissed as a farce.
Half a dozen potential challengers to incumbent Abdel Fattah el-Sisi have ended up in jail or dropped out of the race citing intimidation and threats of violence.
One opponent remains, but critics allege he is a token candidate designed to give the election an appearance of legitimacy.
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“This is Putinesque: call an election (Egypt’s is scheduled for March 26-28) and then use the police and military to be sure no one can run against you,” says US think tank the Council on Foreign Relations.
Sisi, a former army general who won 96% of the vote in 2014 after taking power in a military coup, has rejected claims that this election will not be free and fair.
“The door is open to everyone,” his campaign said in response to criticism from international human rights organisations. “Sisi is not to blame for people refraining from running in the election.”
Who is running against Sisi?
Moussa Mostafa Moussa, the leader of a small nationalist party who had previously thrown his weight behind Sisi’s re-election campaign, announced his candidacy just minutes before the deadline in January, fuelling speculation that he was working in league with the government.
The Ghad Party leader insisted that “we are not puppets in this race” - but has done minimal campaigning and has said he hopes Sisi will win.
Opposition activists, journalists and analysts have dismissed Moussa “as a dummy candidate, standing only to give the impression of a full democratic contest”, Reuters reports.
The president’s last serious challenger, former army general Ahmed Shafik, dropped out of the election race earlier this year following claims by his family that he had been detained by security forces.
Separately, another potential presidential candidate, Colonel Ahmed Konsowa, was arrested in December after announcing plans to run. He was sentenced to six years in prison by a military court for “stating political opinions contrary to the requirements of military order”.
The government’s elimination of potential competitors has so far drawn no public rebukes from Egypt’s key Western ally, the US, nor from European nations, according to The Washington Post.
What are the issues?
The Arab world’s most populous nation is facing crippling economic instability, soaring poverty levels and an ongoing threat from Islamist militants in the northern Sinai Peninsula.
Sisi has promised to cut taxes and reduce bureaucracy in order to boost investment, Al Jazeera reports.
Last month, he launched a massive military offensive against the local Islamic State affiliate in the Sinai region, vowing to bring an end to a bloody conflict that has killed hundreds of people.
Michael Morgan, an Egyptian doctor living in the US, said he was inclined to re-elect Sisi because of his support for the country’s Christian minority.
“As a Coptic Christian, I think we finally have a president that wants to make the Christians feel that they are part of the country, treated as Egyptians,” Morgan told news broadcaster Voice of America.
But punishing austerity measures, rising prices and declining subsidies have triggered public frustration, and put Sisi’s popularity at risk, the Post says.
Who will win?
If neither candidate receives more than 50% of the vote in the first round, a run-off will be held in April. But the regime’s brutal crackdown on dissent has all but guaranteed victory for Sisi.
“This is a profoundly depressing but wholly expected turn of events in Egypt,” says The Guardian.
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