All of Egypt's main challengers to President Sisi, who is seeking a second term in the March 26-28 vote, have pulled out of the race citing intimidation of their supporters and other tactics designed to give the incumbent an easy win.

A poster of Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi reads
A poster of Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi reads "We've chosen you for a second term". Egypt says the 2018 presidential election will be free and fair. February 11, 2018 ( Reuters )

Egypt's former anti-graft chief was arrested on Tuesday, his lawyer said, the latest development in an upheaval that has roiled the country ahead of next month's presidential election.

The lawyer, Ali Taha, said Hesham Genena was arrested by police at his home in a Cairo suburb and was later handed over to military prosecutors for questioning.

The arrest came a day after the military said it would take action to safeguard its "honour and dignity" following incendiary comments by Genena in which he claimed in a television interview that former military chief of staff Sami Annan was in possession of documents incriminating the country's "leadership."

In 2016, Hisham Genena was sacked by Sisi as head of the Central Auditing Authority after being accused of exaggerating the cost of corruption in Egypt.
In 2016, Hisham Genena was sacked by Sisi as head of the Central Auditing Authority after being accused of exaggerating the cost of corruption in Egypt. ( AP Archive )

An assault on dissent

Genena, who was to be one of Annan's two top campaign aides, led Egypt's top watchdog agency until Abdel Fattah el Sisi fired him in 2016. He is the latest election-related casualty in what appears to be an intensifying campaign against dissent ahead of the vote.

On January 27, Genena was assaulted by three men near his home, sustaining serious eye and knee injuries. He told the AP in an interview last week that he suspected the attack was related to an appeal he planned to file the same day contesting the removal of Annan's name from the list of presidential hopefuls. Authorities said at the time that he was injured in a brawl following a car accident he was involved in.

In the TV interview, Genena had said the alleged documents are kept abroad and would be released if any harm came to Annan.

Annan himself was arrested by the military last month, days after he declared his intention to run for president. The military said he faced charges of incitement against the military and forgery. Genena said he feared for Annan's life in detention.

Annan was among a string of potentially serious challengers to the incumbent, general-turned-president Abdel Fattah el Sisi, to be arrested or forced out of the race.

Annan's son, Samir, distanced himself from Genena's comments. Speaking on a political talk show on Monday night, he said he trusted the armed forces and claimed that his father was being treated well at the military prison where he is kept.

The Egyptian election will be held on March 26-28, with a run-off vote on April 24-26 if no candidate wins more than 50 percent in the first round. February 8, 2018.
The Egyptian election will be held on March 26-28, with a run-off vote on April 24-26 if no candidate wins more than 50 percent in the first round. February 8, 2018. ( Reuters )

"A mockery of the basic rights for which protesters fought"

Sisi is virtually certain to win the March vote, with his only challenger an obscure politician and one of his most ardent supporters.

Moussa Mustafa Moussa entered the race in the eleventh hour, sparing Sisi and his government the deeper embarrassment of a one-candidate election.

But the pre-election turmoil is not confined to would-be candidates.

Leaders of opposition parties who called for a boycott of the vote are being investigated on allegations they are seeking to destabilise the country.

Over a dozen international and regional rights groups issued a joint statement on Tuesday, saying that the upcoming election does not meet the "minimum requirements" for a fair and free vote and called on Cairo's Western allies to denounce the "farcical" election.

The 14 groups, which include Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists, said Sisi's government has "suppressed freedoms, arrested potential candidates and rounded up their supporters."

Sisi has since 2013 overseen a wide crackdown on dissent, jailing thousands of Muslim Brotherhood supporters and also scores of activists behind the 2011 uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak. The crackdown followed the July 2013 ouster by the military, then led by Sisi, of Egypt's first democratically elected president Mohammed Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood member whose one-year rule proved to be divisive.

Elected to office the following year, Sisi has since silenced most critics in the media, rolled back freedoms won by the 2011 uprising and placed draconian restrictions on demonstrations and the work of rights groups.

"The Egyptian government has trampled over even the minimum requirements for free and fair elections for the planned March 26-28 vote," the 14 groups said in a statement. Sisi's government "has relentlessly stifled basic freedoms and arrested potential candidates and rounded up their supporters."

"Seven years after Egypt's 2011 uprising, the government has made a mockery of the basic rights for which protesters fought," it added.

Source: AP