The briefing below by the Committee for Justice (CFJ) covers the fourth week of the Egyptian presidential election campaign, from November 5-9, 2023. The briefing is part of CFJ’s presidential election monitoring project, titled the Right to Free Elections, launched during the first phase of the presidential elections, as part of the approach to monitor and document violations in the human rights and political arena, aiming to ensure transparency, accountability, and empower citizens to exercise their civil and political rights.
On 7 November 2023, the names of the potential presidential candidate Ahmed Al-Tantawi and his campaign coordinator, Mohamed Abu Al-Diyar, surfaced in connection with case 16336/2023 Misdemeanours Al-Matareya. This case involved accusations against 21 individuals for the unauthorized printing and circulation of an electoral paper. Notably, Tantawi and Al-Diyar were among the accused, and powers of attorney were submitted on their behalf. Currently, all individuals involved remain in detention.
These developments occur within the context of Tantawi facing a ban on participating in elections. Additionally, 128 supporters of his campaign have been referred to the General Prosecutor on charges related to “terrorism.” Furthermore, there is an active pursuit of Tantawi’s supporters on various social media platforms.
These events evoke memories of the 2018 presidential election, during which security authorities prevented viable candidates from participating by imposing house arrest, imprisonment, and intimidation tactics against them and their supporters. This pattern raises concerns about the legality of the upcoming presidential election, mirroring the issues observed in 2018.
In the 2018 election, the withdrawals of candidate Ahmed Anwar Sadat and human rights defender Khaled Ali signaled their objection to the perceived illegality of the electoral process. In the current election, a notable shift in the form of repression has occurred. Previously, repression took the direct form of imprisoning serious candidates or opponents such as Ahmed Shafiq, Sami Annan, and Ahmed Qunswa. However, there is now a semblance of permissibility in allowing serious candidates, like Tantawi and Jamila Ismail, to run for elections. Despite this, both were ultimately banned from participating by the National Electoral Commission, whose members are seen as acting as ‘guards’ of the current political regime, following directions from the Ministry of Justice.
In a seminar organized by the Cairo Center for Human Rights “Rushd Salon,” opposition candidate Dr. Fareed Zahran discussed the electoral atmosphere, highlighting the incarceration of thousands of detainees, blocked sites, and opposition party members in prison. Zahran acknowledged that the current elections are considered an improvement from 2018, despite authorities refusing guarantees demanded by opposition forces. However, he warned that conducting elections in this atmosphere could fuel ongoing popular anger, posing a threat to Egypt with potentially catastrophic consequences.
Mohamed Anwar Sadat, the head of the Reform and Development Party, emphasized the impact of the war in Gaza on the elections. The military threats and risks posed by the conflict led to the unification of political elites and governing institutions around President Sisi. Dr. Amr Hashem Rabie noted the disappearance of conflicts within the political power circles benefiting from Sisi’s continued rule.
Addressing the situation, the Egyptian authorities are urged to pave the way for peaceful and democratic change. This change should encompass reforms from within and outside government circles, addressing unsuccessful policies in light of current economic challenges. There is a need to rearrange priorities in state projects that have exacerbated the economic and social situation, aligning them with economic realities and public budget priorities. President Sisi’s campaign should focus on demonstrating how the authorities plan to tackle ongoing issues in Egypt, moving beyond merely garnering support at campaign headquarters.