President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi urged Egyptians on Wednesday to vote in next week’s election to show they are in charge, a day after he denied any role in excluding his rivals.
The incumbent will stand in the March 26-28 vote against a sole candidate whose half-hearted campaign poses no threat, after more heavyweight rivals were sidelined or detained.
“I need you because the journey is not over,” Sisi told a mostly female audience in a speech. “I need every lady and mother and sister, please, I need the entire world to see us in the street” voting.
“Even if they vote ‘no’. It’s still a big deal and a respectable thing which will be implemented... We should affirm to the world that this country is ruled by its people.”
Critics accuse him of cracking down on dissent, and in the run up to the election a rival, former army chief of staff Sami Anan, was detained shortly after announcing his candidacy.
The army said the reserve general broke the law by illegally declaring his candidacy.
Another potential contender, former premier Ahmed Shafiq, was deported from his exile in the UAE after declaring his candidacy, then taken by government officials to a Cairo hotel where he stayed until he announced a change of heart.
In an Egyptian television interview on Tuesday, Sisi said he had nothing to do with either case, or two other candidates who withdrew from the race citing restrictions.
Another army officer, a colonel, has been sentenced to six years in prison for announcing his candidacy while still enlisted.
“You’re talking to me about something I cannot be blamed for at all. I swear, I wished there were one, or two, or three, or 10 candidates...and you choose whom you want,” he said.
The only candidate left in the race, Moussa Mostafa Moussa, had been a cheerleader for Sisi until the last day before the deadline for candidate registration expired.
His critics say he entered the race to spare Sisi the embarrassment of a one-man election, redolent of the referendums held by autocrats.
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