Egypt's Al Sisi announces run for third term to 'complete the dream'
AFP | Cairo
The Daily Tribune – www.newsofbahrain.com
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announced Monday his candidacy for a third term in office, ahead of December elections he is widely expected to win.
"As I have responded to the people's call before, I heed the call now and announce my intention to run and complete the dream in a new presidential term," Sisi, 68, told a cheering crowd in Egypt's new capital -- the crowning jewel of a megaproject in the desert east of Cairo.
State-aligned television showed thousands of people celebrating the announcement in ready-built stages across the country.
Earlier on Monday, rallies were held in Cairo calling for Sisi to declare his candidacy.
"There is no one better for the future," said Hassan Afifi, a teacher who escorted a bus full of his students to a rally in western Cairo.
Sisi urged Egyptians to head to the polls on December 10-12 "even if not to vote for me".
The president, whose security forces have been accused of harassing and detaining opponents, applauded other candidates and hailed "a real beginning to vibrant political life full of pluralism."
A year after deposing Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, Sisi won 96 percent of the vote in 2014.
Four years later, he scored a 97-percent victory against one of his own supporters, after more prominent candidates were sidelined or arrested.
This time, as Egyptians grow increasingly frustrated with an unrelenting economic crisis, presidential hopefuls have emerged from the woodwork of an opposition decimated by Sisi's decade-long crackdown on dissent.
A handful of party leaders have said they had already gathered the necessary 20 nominations from parliament.
Another challenger, former parliamentarian Ahmed al-Tantawi, has been trying to rally popular support on the campaign trail.
Without parliamentary backing, the 44-year-old will need to collect 25,000 nominations from Egyptians across at least 15 governorates by October 14 to be eligible.
- 'Stability' -
If elected, Sisi's third term would be his last, according to a constitutional amendment he pushed through in 2019.
It also lengthened presidential terms from four to six years.
In the hours leading up to Sisi's announcement, patriotic music blared from speakers across the capital, where convoys of buses shrink-wrapped with campaign slogans blocked major streets, AFP correspondents said.
The sails of boats on the Nile river were emblazoned with Sisi's photo and slogans including "yes to stability", the correspondents added.
Presidential hopeful Tantawi has repeatedly accused the regime of harassing and detaining his supporters, preventing them from filing nominations and tapping his phone.
Tantawi has branded himself the "rule of law" candidate, as his campaign posts videos of him accompanying supporters to registry offices.
"In the end, they will not be able to say 'sorry, you don't have enough nominations'," he told supporters Sunday.
In a video shared by Tantawi's campaign, dozens chanted "bread, freedom, social justice" -- the popular rallying cry of the 2011 revolution that ousted longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak.
Under Sisi, a former army chief who has overseen a crackdown jailing tens of thousands of dissidents, protests have been banned.
- 'Progress at cost of hunger' -
Sisi announced his candidacy at the end of a three-day conference entitled "Story of a Nation", where remarks he made earlier ruffled feathers among Egyptians, buckling under the weight of record-breaking 39.7-percent inflation.
"If construction, development and progress come at the cost of hunger and deprivation, never say 'we would rather eat'," Sisi said Sunday.
In an apparent veiled reference to China, he cited a country that became a "great power" after "25 million people died of hunger".
Some reacted on social media, where formerly outspoken Egyptians have learned to self-censor after years of arrests related to online content.
"I'm in shock, usually we get electoral promises, even if they're fake, but now he's offering us a famine," one user wrote.
On Sunday, Sisi sought to discredit the opposition, arguing he could "destroy the country... by handing out cannabis, 1,000 Egyptian pounds ($32) and Tramadol to 100,000 poor people".
Even before the current crisis, a third of Egypt's 105-million-strong populaton had lived below the poverty line, with another third vulnerable to falling into poverty, according to the World Bank.
Experts say Sisi is set on securing a third term before enacting a new currency devaluation that would further obliterate Egyptians' purchasing power.
The upcoming election was initially expected in the spring of 2024.
The pound has lost half its value since March 2022, shooting prices upward in the import-dependent economy.
Foreign debt has soared to a record high of $165.4 billion this year, which experts say have been used to fund "vanity" megaprojects including roads, bridges and the new $58-billion capital.
The Egyptian government is now the second most at risk of defaulting on its debt, after war-torn Ukraine, according to Bloomberg.