Egypt's presidential candidates race against a ticking clock

Hadeer El-Mahdawy , Sunday 14 Jan 2018

National Elections Authority chief Lasheen Ibrahim (C) sits among members of the Election Authority as he speaks during a press conference in Cairo on January 8, 2018 AFP

Egypt's presidential elections are less than two months away. With voting set to take place on 26, 27 and 28 March, presidential candidates are required to submit all necessary papers to Egypt’s National Elections Authority (NEA) between 20 and 29th of January.

Leftist human rights lawyer Khaled Ali announced on Thursday he will run for elections, calling "the sons of January 25th to make 25 thousand recommendations and submit them by the upcoming 25 January [the seventh anniversary of 2011 Egyptian revolution]."

Two other possible candidates announced they will run for elections - Zamalek club chairman and parliament member Mortada Mansour, who is also a high-profile lawyer, and former Army Chief of Staff Sami Anan..

A fourth possible candidate may yet join the list. Former MP Mohamed Anwar El-Sadat has expressed interest and is expected to announce his intentions on Monday.

According to the law organizing presidential elections, each candidate must collect either 25,000 recommendations from eligible voters in 15 different Egyptian governorates -- with a minimum of 1,000 recommendation per governorate -- or he should get 20 recommendations from sitting Egyptian MPs.

According to the NEA schedule, this must be accomplished within two weeks -- a mission that is not easy for any candidate who wants to run against current president Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, who has not yet officially declared his position on the coming elections.

In a Sunday statement, the NEA said that the number of endorsements for different presidential hopefuls have reached around 250,000 as of Sunday afternoon. According to the authority, the signatures of support were made for 21 names.

Khaled Ali said in his press conference announcement that his campaign will exert all efforts to make the elections "a real battle, even if they make it a play."

On the other side, several campaigns have been announced in the past few months to support El-Sisi for a second term, the largest called "To Build It," which announced thousands of public recommendations for El-Sisi. On Tuesday and Wednesday, nearly 500 MPs signed their official recommendations for El-Sisi.

Ali's campaign claims it faces stiff challenges.

"There are an attempt to kill the elections, however we trust in people, and we bet on them to get the needed recommendations. The campaign extends in 20 governorates, and people started to submit recommendations even before our final announcement. It is not impossible to get the mission done," journalist and spokesperson of Ali's campaign Khaled El-Balshy told Ahram Online.

Ali may not even be able to run for the presidency, as he is awaiting a final verdict on 7 March on a sentence of offending public decency. The case goes back to the events of a January 2017 demonstration outside the State Council headquarters. Ali received a three-month sentence in the case.

If the guilty verdict is upheld, he could be disqualified from the presidential race in accordance with elections law.

Some critics argue that the tight timeframe announced by the NEA makes it difficult for any candidate to appear on the scene, yet lawmaker Tarek El-Kholy told Ahram Online that the tight schedule is dictated by the constitution itself.

Article 140 of Egypt's 2014 constitution says that "the procedures for electing the President of the Republic begin at least 120 days before the end of the presidential term".

“Any candidate with popular support and a real campaign can fulfill the requirements in such a short time, and those who cannot meet the requirements are not strong rivals,” El-Kholy said.

"The tight schedule has been set for determining who the real candidates with real capabilities are, and to make sure the candidates have seriousness and power."

El-Kholy has signed a recommendation for El-Sisi. He is among many who believe that despite the last three years' tough economic measures and security challenges, El-Sisi remains the most eligible candidate.

Some experts disagree.

“This environment will not allow the presence of equal candidates, or in fact any candidates, as it seems there is a policy to exclude them," Amr Hashem Rabie, a researcher at the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, told Ahram Online.

"Political parties are excluded from political life, even if they are partially responsible. There are no political blocs, and there is no parliament, while political life has been restricted over the past three years," Rabie explained.

Many political parties founded following the 2011 uprising have been hit by internal differences or mass resignations, including the liberal Free Egyptians Party (FEP), founded by business and media tycoon Naguib Sawiris; the Constitution Party, founded by Nobel laureate and former Vice President Mohamed El-Baradei; and the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, whose former head Mohamed Abul-Ghar resigned after internal dissention.

The two largest parties with the majority of the seats in the parliament, the FEP and Mostaqbal Watan (Future of the Homeland) have announced their support of El-Sisi.

Most of the opposition parties have not yet announced their support for a candidate, with the exception of the Constitution Party, which said it is backing Khaled Ali.

"For a candidate to be able to run, supporters must raise awareness. This is not easy, as the media is dominated by one voice that is totally supportive of the current president," media professor at Cairo University Safwat El-Alem told Ahram Online.

Ali said in his statement that he too was subject to attacks in the media, while his campaign's spokesman El-Balshy believes that their way to reach people will be through social media, or political parties, and very few media outlets. "Media that is under the control of the security is distorting the campaign," he said.

Media professor El-Alem also believes that there has been a professional mistake by the Supreme Council for Media Regulation, as they have not yet formed a committee to monitor media performance in the elections.

If no one manages to run against El-Sisi, Article 26 of the law regulating the presidential elections says that elections will be held anyway, and he can win the elections with only 5 percent of the voters.

The upcoming presidential elections are Egypt's third since the January 25 revolution.

The latest were held in 2014, resulting in Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi assuming office in June after securing 96 percent of the vote over his sole competitor, leftist politician and leader of the Egyptian Popular Current, Hamdeen Sabahi.

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