By John Ikani
Egypt’s leading liberal opposition movement announced on Sunday that it would abstain from nominating a presidential candidate in the upcoming election, slated for next year.
The decision comes in the wake of a six-month prison sentence handed to their prominent figure, Hisham Kassem.
Hisham Kassem, a well-known dissident, had been considered a potential presidential contender before his recent sentencing.
His Free Current political coalition conveyed that it “would not be nominating a candidate for the upcoming presidential elections” following Kassem’s conviction on charges of defamation against a former minister and contempt of officials.
“The Free Current” expressed, “Hisham Kassem was a potential presidential candidate, had the basic electoral guarantees been provided,” while also announcing a suspension of its operations.
The upcoming presidential election, expected next year, has already faced accusations of repression. The coalition contended that the prevailing political climate does not allow for free, fair, and impartial elections, given that the ruling regime plays the dual role of competitor and referee.
As of now, Ahmed al-Tantawi is the only candidate actively campaigning, but he has raised concerns about repeated harassment by security forces against his teams and supporters. Tantawi revealed that his phone had been subjected to surveillance, as reported by the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, although widely anticipated to announce his candidacy, has not done so yet. El-Sissi, the former army chief, was initially elected in 2014 after leading the removal of the elected Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi. He subsequently secured a landslide victory in the 2018 election against one of his own supporters.
Kassem’s Free Current coalition, which came together in June with the involvement of opposition parties, advocates for economic liberalization and calls for an end to the military’s dominance over Egypt’s economy.
According to coalition member Gameela Ismail, Kassem’s criticism of the military’s role in the economy has long made him a perceived threat, especially in light of Egypt’s economic struggles over the past year, which are expected to be a significant point of contention in the upcoming polls.
Kassem has been in custody since August 20, initially summoned over online articles that suggested embezzlement by a former minister. Subsequently, he faced “contempt” charges during police questioning.
Amnesty International, a rights group, has urged Egyptian authorities to “immediately release” Kassem, viewing his detention as a sign that the government’s efforts to stifle peaceful dissent and silence critics continue unabated.