CAIRO (AP) — A former Egyptian army chief of staff will contest the upcoming presidential elections in March, said a top aide on Friday, as other candidates have faced heavy pressure to drop out and pave the way for a sweeping re-election victory for the army-chief-turned-President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.
Ragab Helal Hemida, the head of the policies committee in the Egypt Arabism Democratic party, told the Associated Press on Friday that Lt. Gen. Sami Annan has accepted his party's candidacy nomination. He added Annan will hold a press conference at the party's headquarters soon to announce his decision. Elections are scheduled to take place March 26-28.
Hemida said el-Sissi's popularity has taken a blow after painful austerity measures saw a large sector of Egyptians falling into poverty or economic hardship. He added under el-Sissi Egypt's human rights record has sharply deteriorated.
"The bet is on the people who are suffering," and securing their votes, he said. Asked if Islamists may be among them, he said "all Egyptians not only Islamists."
Under the constitution, to qualify for the presidential race any would-be candidate must gather formal recommendations from at least 20 elected members of parliament, or alternatively 25,000 recommendations from voters, from at least 15 of Egypt's 29 provinces. Rather than waiting for el-Sissi to seek recommendations, the vast majority of lawmakers in Egypt's parliament — packed with el-Sissi loyalists — rushed to offer them first.
El-Sissi's re-election appears to be a forgone conclusion and he is expected to secure an easy victory for a second four-year term. Other candidates have faced immense pressure to drop out.
The most serious challenger to el-Sissi, former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, came under pressure to withdraw his candidacy after he was allegedly deported from the UAE — where he was self-exiled — shortly after he announced his presidential bid. Shafiq, an ex-air force general who finished a close second behind the Islamist Mohammed Morsi in the 2012 election, is believed to have been forced to issue a statement rescinding his intention to run and placed under house arrest.
Another hopeful, Army Col. Ahmed Konsowa, was court martialed and sentenced to six years in prison for breaching military regulations prohibiting political activism. Prominent rights campaigner Khaled Ali would not be eligible to run if he loses his appeal against a conviction last September on charges of making an obscene gesture in public.
Annan, Shafiq, and el-Sissi come from the ranks of military from which most of Egyptian presidents have hailed since 1950s. Annan and el-Sissi were members of the country's military council which led Egypt during a tumultuous transition after the ouster of the country's longtime autocratic president Hosni Mubarak in the country's 2011 uprising.
After the election of the country's first Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in 2012, Morsi fired both Annan and the head of the military council, Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, amid mistrust and fallouts between Islamists and the army. Annan and Tantawi — popularly referred to as "el-Sissi's godfather" — were known to be at odds. Since his forced retirement by Morsi, Annan has retreated from public life.