Members of the Democratic Civil Movement have called on Egyptians to boycott the March presidential elections.
The appeal was made during a press conference on Tuesday at the headquarters of the Nasserist Karama Party.
Comprised of seven leftist and liberal parties and 150 political figures, the Democratic Civil Movement was founded in December of last year to define a unified stance regarding the presidential polls.
President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, who has been in office since 2014, announced on 19 January his intention to run for a second four-year term. Al-Sisi’s sole rival is Moussa Mustafa Moussa, chairman of the little known Ghad Party.
“Our slogan is ‘Stay Home’,” said Hamdeen Sabahi, a prominent member of the movement. Sabahi, who ran against Al-Sisi in 2014, blamed the regime for the current “critical situation”.
The last few weeks have witnessed a series of events, viewed by opposition figures as “threatening the credibility of the polls”. The withdrawal of three potential candidates, the jail and detention of two others and the sudden appearance of a last-minute candidate stood as the main reasons behind the movement’s boycott decision.
Former prime minister during the Mubarak era, Ahmed Shafik, backed away from his candidacy plans earlier in January. On 15 January Mohamed Anwar Al-Sadat, chairman of the liberal Reform and Development Party, announced his withdrawal from the electoral race, saying the political climate will not allow opposition candidates to continue unimpeded.
Army Colonel Ahmed Qonsowa, who had decided to run, was sentenced in December to a six-year jail term on charges of violating military rules.
Former Armed Forces chief of staff Sami Anan, who announced on 20 January his intention to run, is now detained at a military prison. Anan faces charges of violating the law, forging official documents and inciting against the military apparatus.
On 24 January, rights lawyer Khaled Ali withdrew from the polls citing the arrest of some of his campaign members, the tight electoral timetable and electoral violations as the reasons behind his decision. Ali’s withdrawal left Al-Sisi as the sole candidate.
The Wafd Chairman Al-Sayed Al-Badawi intended to run, but the party’s higher committee refused and adhered to its previous stance backing Al-Sisi. Several political parties had previously announced their support of Al-Sisi.
The Egypt Support Party, Homeland Future Party, Conservatives Party and Conference Party topped the list.
The Salafist Nour Party followed the example of the Wafd, holding a press conference on Sunday to refute any intention of fielding a candidate. Its chairman Younis Makhioun stressed that the party backs Al-Sisi’s nomination for a second presidential term.
Moussa submitted his candidacy to the National Electoral Commission (NEC) on 29 January, just minutes before the deadline.
“The deliberate exclusion of all opposition candidates from the electoral scene turned the elections into a meaningless measure,” said Medhat Al-Zahed, chairman of the Socialist Popular Alliance Party. “It is unprecedented in the history of elections to search for a rival of the main candidate among his supporters,” Al-Zahed said, adding that this will not change the fact that Al-Sisi will run unopposed. In August, Moussa launched a so-called “Supporters” campaign backing Al-Sisi in Egypt’s cities.
“The last-minute candidate will not in any way improve the picture of the poll. On the contrary, it will make the scene uglier,” Maasoum Marzouk, a leading member of the movement, said.
In a statement issued on Sunday, the movement expressed its resentment at “the successive absurdities that took place to vacate the electoral race for the current president and the pressure and persecution that serious candidates, their supporters and campaign members are facing.”
Another petition signed by five leading opposition figures calling for boycotting polls was issued on Sunday. The petition demanded that the NEC halt the current electoral process and be dismantled, accusing the body of condoning security and administrative interference in the presidential polls. The signatories called for not recognising the election results for lacking the minimum limit of legitimacy. It considered the last-minute search for a candidate “an insult to Egypt”.
The petition was signed by Al-Sadat, Islamist Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh, chairman of the Strong Egypt Party, Essam Heggi a NASA space scientist and former advisor to interim president Adli Mansour, Hazem Hosni, a political science professor, and Hisham Geneina, former chairman of the Central Auditing Authority. Both Hosni and Geneina were part of Anan’s electoral campaign, now suspended.
Signatories of the petition said a “tight timetable did not give competitors a real chance to present themselves and their programmes”.
In a separate statement Al-Sadat called on political leaders to hold a peaceful march to the presidential palace and discuss their demands regarding freedom of political activity and the media’s performance with President Al-Sisi. Al-Sadat said that political forces should take action towards reviving the political climate.
Marzouk said Al-Sadat’s call does not reflect the stance of the Civil Democratic Movement. “Such dialogues usually lead to a loss of rights,” he said.
* This story was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly