And Then There Was One: Last Challenger to Egypt’s Sisi Drops Out

And Then There Was One: Last Challenger to Egypt’s Sisi Drops Out

In December, a little-known army officer was court-martialed and sentenced to six years in prison for declaring his candidacy. Ahmed Shafik, a former prime minister who came in a close second in the 2012 election, was forced to return from exile in December, only to disappear into a Cairo hotel where he was held by security officials who pressed him to quit, according to his lawyer.

Another potential candidate, Mohamed Anwar Sadat, the nephew of former President Anwar Sadat, said the pressure was so bad that officials blocked him from hiring a hall in a five-star hotel for his news conferences.

With those candidates gone, Mr. Sisi’s greatest challenge in the first round of voting, scheduled for March 26 to 28, may be to muster a convincing turnout. His supporters claimed to have the signatures of 12 million Egyptians urging him to run. But already there are signs of deep voter cynicism.

“Just bring on the referendum,” Mina Mansy, a prominent government critic, wrote wearily on Facebook on Wednesday.

Nominations for the election close on Monday, but for now the only remaining candidate of note, aside Mr. Sisi, is Mortada Mansour, a flamboyant, publicity-loving lawmaker famous for swearing at government critics on television and running a major soccer team that has fallen from glory in recent years.

Mr. Ali, the lawyer, became a thorn in Mr. Sisi’s side last year after he won a court challenge that nullified Mr. Sisi’s decision to hand over two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia. The islands became an unexpectedly difficult issue for Mr. Sisi because they aroused a wave of rare public anger in a country where public protest is largely outlawed.

But last summer Mr. Sisi sidestepped the courts and pushed through his decision on the islands, while Mr. Ali was convicted of public indecency for making an obscene gesture outside a courthouse.

Even if he had continued as a candidate in the election, he faced the possibility of being disqualified from the race because of the conviction.

Mr. Ali’s announcement came on the eve of the seventh anniversary of the start of the 2011 uprising that led to the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak and, for a time, stoked hopes for democracy in Egypt, which has been led by strongmen for most of its modern history.

Now Mr. Mubarak is in peaceful retirement, having been released from custody last year, while many of the revolutionaries who helped topple him are in Mr. Sisi’s jails, their hopes for democracy apparently dashed for now.

“Compete with yourself,” Gamal Eid, a prominent Egyptian rights lawyer, said on Twitter, addressing Mr. Sisi. “The #January 25 revolution created the only presidential election in Egypt’s history. Everything before and after it is a joke.”

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