Egypt to set election date, El-Sisi still needed

Egypt’s top election body is scheduled on Monday to set the date for a presidential election that so far has only one potential contender: incumbent Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi.

His most serious challenger so far, former premier and air force general Ahmed Shafiq, backed out of contention late Sunday, saying after a mysterious string of events that he had reconsidered. That’s left the field wide open to El-Sisi, who’s taken tough steps dictated by the International Monetary Fund to reform the economy and action against Islamists and critics that has been denounced internationally as an authoritarian crackdown. The president hasn’t yet officially tossed his hat into the race as Bloomberg  reported.

In a statement posted on his official Twitter account, Shafiq said he saw “that I’m not the best person to lead the affairs of the state in the coming period and, as a result, I decided not to nominate myself for the 2018 presidential election.”

Shafiq had announced his intention to compete in the race in a video recorded from the United Arab Emirates, where he had been living in self-imposed exile since narrowly losing the 2012 presidential election to Islamist Mohamed Mursi, whose ouster then-military chief El-Sisi led the following year.

 Shortly after his return from the U.A.E. early last month, Shafiq disappeared, and his family had feared he’d been kidnapped. Shafiq — Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister,later re-surfaced, saying he was fine, but was reconsidering his candidacy.

With that question resolved, he joined a growing list of potential nominees who either withdrew their bids or have seen them blocked.

Khaled Ali, a lawyer and former presidential candidate, is fighting a conviction for making a rude gesture outside a Cairo court earlier last year. Ali is best known for suing the government in 2016 to try to void Egypt’s handover of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia.

An army colonel, previously unknown before announcing his intention to run in the election, was arrested shortly after publicizing his candidacy in December and has been sentenced to six years in prison by a military court. The court ruled that Colonel Ahmed Konsowa breached military regulations barring active duty officers from running for public office.

El-Sisi is limited to two presidential terms of four years, though there have been calls by some in parliament to extend the term to six.

During his tenure, he’s secured tens of billions of dollars in aid and grants, including a $12 billion IMF loan, and lifted currency controls to ease a dollar shortage that crippled businesses.

But the weakening of the Egyptian pound following its flotation, plus deep cuts in energy subsidies, have propelled inflation to more than 30 percent, deepening hardship in the already impoverished nation. And critics and rights groups have accused El-Sisi of trampling civil and human rights. A crackdown on Islamists has left hundreds dead and thousands in prison, while an Islamist insurgency centered in the Sinai peninsula has not been quelled.