By Tarek El-Tablawy
Egypt’s Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi has a last-minute challenger in March’s presidential race — a staunch backer.
Al-Ghad party chairman Mousa Moustafa Mousa, who founded a group that endorsed El-Sisi’s re-election bid, filed candidacy papers with the electoral commission just minutes before the 2 p.m. deadline on Monday, state-run Middle East News Agency reported.
Mousa entered the race after others either withdrew or were disqualified. But his challenge won’t allay critics who say El-Sisi’s reinstallation has been a foregone conclusion from the start. The president, a former career army officer, was first elected in 2014 after leading the military-backed popular uprising that ousted Islamist President Mohamed Mursi a year earlier
“It’s a half-hearted attempt that will not change much,” said Riccardo Fabiani, senior analyst for North Africa at the Eurasia Group in London. “It’s a sham election, but they still can’t let it happen without someone remotely plausible as a candidate.”
Mousa entered the race just days after activist lawyer Khaled Ali pulled out. Former armed forces chief of staff Lieutenant-General Sami Annan watched his candidacy evaporate after the military accused him of inciting against the armed forces. Ex-premier Ahmed Shafiq withdrew shortly after a brief but mysterious disappearance following his return from exile in the United Arab Emirates.
The absence of any challengers has led several opposition figures to call for an election boycott.
Analysts have said El-Sisi thinks his anti-terrorism stance has won him enough U.S. support to let him dispense with the pretense of a democratic election.
A low turnout, however, risks making El-Sisi “look effectively weaker,” Fabiani said. He predicted Egyptian officials would likely find ways to boost turnout to 40 percent to 50 percent if it doesn’t reach that level.