Egyptian forces have arrested a former presidential candidate who has called for a boycott of the upcoming presidential elections as Cairo speeds up its repression campaign against those challenging President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s reelection bid.
Egypt’s state security prosecution ordered the arrest of Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh and several leaders of his Strong Egypt party on Wednesday, state news agency MENA reported.
Officials suggested that Abul Fotouh, a candidate in the 2012 presidential election, had contacts with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood movement.
Several Egyptian media outlets reported that the prominent opposition figure will be charged with communicating with Egypt’s banned Muslim Brotherhood movement and inciting to topple the government.
Abol Fotouh, who has called for a boycott of the presidential elections in March, was one of the top presidential candidates in the country’s first elections after the 2011 uprising, taking about 18 percent of the first round vote.
Last week, his deputy in the Strong Egypt Party, Mohamed al-Qassas, was detained and is being held pending an investigation, according to the party’s Facebook page.
The party denounced the arrest and criticized what it called “the systematic targeting of the opposition politicians” in a post earlier this week.
In January 2017, Abol Fotouh called on Sisi to step down, condemning his policies and the state the country was in.
After forcing his opponents out of the race, President Sisi is facing an easy task of winning a second term in office this March.
In an interview with the Turkish Anadolu news agency, the opposition figure said that Sisi has created a “republic of panic,” which has failed to bring about any significant developments in Egypt.
Government supporters had called for the arrest of Abol Fotouh after he appeared on Al Jazeera TV network from London on Sunday, where he blasted Sisi for preventing potential competitors from running against him.
The arrest comes several weeks before a presidential election in which the incumbent general-turned-president is seeking a second term in a race against his only challenger, Ghad Party chairman Moussa Mostafa Moussa, who is an obscure politician and one of his most ardent supporters.
Over a dozen rights groups says that next month’s presidential election in Egypt does not meet the “minimum requirements” for a fair and free vote.
Sisi is expected to easily win the race as almost all presidential hopefuls quit at some point under mysterious circumstances, with some citing coercion and threats.
He became president in 2014, a year after he led a military coup to overthrow Egypt’s first democratically-elected president, Mohamed Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood leader whose one-year rule proved to be divisive.
On Tuesday, over a dozen regional and international rights groups condemned Egypt’s March presidential election, saying the race would neither be free nor fair.
“The repression in advance of Egypt’s presidential election is a substantial escalation in a political environment that denies people’s rights to political participation and to freedom of expression,” the groups said in a joint statement.