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Key Egyptian politician slams ‘deceptive’ polls

Ex-presidential candidate Islamist Abul-Fotouh says he won’t run for president, accuses the interim govt of creating a ‘republic of fear’

Published: Updated:

Former presidential candidate Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh accused Egypt’s army-backed authorities on Sunday of creating a “republic of fear,” and said he will not run for president in the upcoming elections in press conference held Sunday.

Calling the elections a 'mockery,' Abul-Fotouh, who finished fourth in the 2012 presidential race as an independent, said "Our conscience does not let us participate in an operation to deceive the Egyptian people and act like there are elections when there are not."

The 62-year-old head of the Strong Egypt Party said “this is a republic of fear,” Reuters quoted him as saying.

Strong Egypt Party members were arrested for spreading posters calling for a “No” vote leading up to the constitutional vote earlier last month.

Abul-Fotouh said during his Sunday press conference that a hotel manager had turned down his request to host the event, not because of instructions from the authorities, but because of his own distress, backing his claim that there existed an atmosphere in fear in the country.

“Any Egyptian who wants to express his opinion is afraid that he will be harmed, detained, that his house will be stormed, or a case against him will be fabricated, or it will be said that ‘you are insulting the judiciary’,” he said.

He also cited the fact that 21,000 activists have been imprisoned.

Expressing defiance against the existing military backed regime, Abul-Foutouh said: “Egyptians will not live in this republic of fear after Jan. 25,” referring to the 2011 uprising that led to Hosni Mubarak’s downfall.

He added: “The nations that have broken the fear barrier will not again surrender (to it).”

The politician, who was a senior member of the now blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood movement, was expelled from the group in 2011, causing him to attempt an independent bid for the presidency.

He had previously been jailed under deposed President Hosni Mubarak and was a fierce opponent of toppled Islamist President Mohammad Mursi during his one-year presidency, calling for early presidential elections before the army's decision to remove him on July 3.

Islamists’ popularity waning down?

Some analysts argue Abul-Fotouh’s move to refrain from running for the presidency is a way to save face as Islamists continue to suffer from waning popularity.

Hassan Naf’a, a professor of political science in Cairo University, said that while the moderate Abul-Fotouh was seen as a popular “consensual” candidate as he bridged the divide between Islamists and others, his popularity has declined due to his past relations with the Muslim Brotherhood.

Amani al-Tawil, a political analyst from the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, also said while Abul-Fotouh ran in the previous elections as independent, “he is definitely not divorced ideologically from the Brotherhood.”

However, Jamal Arafa, a journalist and political analyst, rejected the notion that the dwindling popularity of Islamists has forced Abul-Fotouh to pull out from the elections.

“Suppressing Islamists and arresting them” is one of the main reasons the made Abul-Fotouh not to participate, Arafa analyst said.

“How could Islamists who have won 70 percent of the parliamentary seat [in 2012] vehemently lose popularity in such a fast way?”

"Private and public media institutions have worked to vilify the Islamists,” he added.

Sabahi steps up

Leftist politician Hamdeen Sabahi, who finished third in the 2012 elections, was the first to declare his participation in the elections on Saturday.

“Sabahi entering the race again was expected. He always had the ambition and dream to be Egypt’s president,” Naf’a said, adding that “the political situation in Egypt is changing and volatile. Sabahi needs to be courageous to go through the battle.”

While Abul-Fotouh officially announced he would abstain from the elections on Sunday, informal statements he had made in the past hinted at such a move.

Naf’a argues this indirectly emboldened Sabahi to run again.

Political analyst Tawil claims that Sabahi’s candidacy is genuine as he doesn’t intend to turn elections into a yes or no referendum poll over whether al-Sisi should be Egypt’s next president, but insists he wants “a real election.”

Cairo-based analyst Asharf Abdul-Hamid told Al Arabiya that he believes Sabahi “could be the alternative for the revolutionaries.”

Given the declining popularity of Muslim Brotherhood and their lack of candidates, Abdul-Hamid says that Sabahi could receive the Islamists votes.

Interim President Adly Mansour said the presidential polls are expected to take place before April 18.

Other former candidates have come out in support of military leader Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi, pending he runs for the position.

Al-Sisi has yet to announce his candidacy.

(With Reuters)