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Cairo cracks down on rivals ahead of presidential vote

As the Egyptian presidential elections approach in June 2018, members of political parties are arrested, including lawyer and former presidential candidate Khaled Ali, who may run for president again.
Egyptian lawyer and ex-Presidential candidate Khaled Ali, speaks during an interview with Reuters at his office in Cairo, Egypt, June 7, 2017. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany - RTX39HJT

CAIRO — As Egypt’s presidential election scheduled for June 2018 approaches, Egyptian authorities arrested between mid-April and June 1 at least 44 people belonging to various political parties and movements in 17 governorates, according to statistics published June 2 by the Freedom for the Good Guys campaign. The campaign, launched in January 2014, works to defend political prisoners.

In an official statement May 19, the Interior Ministry said security services “shut down five social media accounts where the sites' administrators had created posts inciting sabotage acts against institutions and citizens.”

The apprehensions targeted members of the Constitution Party, the Strong Egypt Party and the April 6 Youth Movement. Also, seven members of the Bread and Freedom Party (BFP) — which is under establishment — were arrested May 18. The BFP was founded by Khaled Ali, a human rights lawyer and former candidate in the 2012 presidential elections.

Suzanne Nada, a representative of the BFP founding members, said in a May 23 press conference that the real reason behind the arrests is authorities' attempts to clamp down on political parties now that civil society and popular movements have been blocked. She indicated that the BFP is holding consultations with civil forces to organize a number of events in order to triumph over “repression.”

On May 18, Ali posted on Facebook, “The accusations lobbed at the detainees are based on Facebook posts, claiming that they are against the regime. Indeed, the campaign targets parties that have been active this year, and pursues their members and offices in the governorates; they are disseminating fear and aborting all attempts designed to reactivate political action and take back the public sphere.”

Hafez Abu Saada, a member of the National Council for Human Rights, told Al-Monitor that none of the political parties have lodged complaints before the council to inquire about the incident, and expressed his objection to citizens' being arrested for expressing their opinions.

Ali himself was apprehended May 23 on charges of offending public decency, only five days after he announced the arrest of activists and members of political parties. Ali was accused of making an offending hand gesture outside the court after Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court issued its ruling in the Tiran and Sanafir islands case Jan. 16. Ali was a member of the defense in the case. Back then, the court rejected the Egyptian government’s plan to transfer the two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia and confirmed Egyptian sovereignty over Tiran and Sanafir.

On May 31, Ali listed the charges he faces in a Facebook post: “Leveling sharp criticism at the state and state institutions, accusing the regime of treason to cause tension among Egypt’s different sects by undermining the state and state institutions, willing to take advantage of [the Red Sea islands case] to distort the image of the regime and turn the public opinion against the state institutions, and seeking to promote himself in a way that serves his political aspirations.”

Ali was released May 25 on bail of 1,000 Egyptian pounds ($55). In case Ali is convicted, he may be imprisoned for a year or sentenced to pay a fine, and would not be allowed to run in the elections.

In February, Ali told the Associated Press that he is considering running in the 2018 presidential elections, after he secured about 134,000 votes in the 2012 elections that brought Mohammed Morsi to the presidency. 

In another interview with CNN on May 27, Ali said, “This [running for elections] is being discussed with colleagues within and outside the party. I am also examining the needed guarantees. I am consulting with some political forces, since I previously ran in the presidential elections, and I am expected to join the race one more time. It is an important battle to take back the public sphere.”

Gamal Zahran, the dean of the department of political science at Suez Canal University, told Al-Monitor that targeting Ali is a regime message to “reduce [his] chances of winning in the next presidential elections. In fact, he does not have a chance, for he lacks a direct influence on the street.”

Zahran said the regime should not target figures willing to run for president to prevent them from gaining citizens’ sympathy; he said authorities failed to assess the situation in Ali’s case.

Zahran called for competition in the next presidential race instead of trying to limit the potential candidates’ chances of winning. He argued that the presence of more than one candidate would promote the next president’s legitimacy in the eyes of the world. He noted that in the 2014 presidential election, “Had it not been for the candidacy of former candidate Hamdeen Sabahi, who was competing against [Abdel Fattah al-] Sisi to become president, the latter would not have gained such a legitimacy.”

Nine political parties and movements as well as 115 public figures announced in a May 29 statement their solidarity with Ali in the face of what they called “attempts to push him away from the electoral race by fabricating false charges and referring him to trial.” The statement stressed the right of Ali and other potential candidates to run in the elections.

The statement was signed by the following parties: the Socialist People's Alliance Party, the Dignity Party, the Constitution Party, the Justice Party, the Strong Egypt Party, the April 6 Youth Movement and the Revolutionary Socialist Party. In addition, Sabahi, former Al-Ahram newspaper Chairman Ahmed El-Sayed Al-Naggar and human rights activist Negad El Borai also signed the statement.

Campaigns in support of Ali’s candidacy started to be unleashed with his supporters creating a Facebook page May 24 favoring his candidacy for the 2018 presidential elections, and offering opportunities to volunteer for his campaign.

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