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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Egypt's Sisi issues thinly veiled threat to those calling for election boycott

The president is expected to easily win the March presidential vote after all serious challengers either dropped out of the race or were excluded by the authorities

Egyptian president Abdel Fattah El Sisi (centre) speaks during a ceremony to inaugurate production of the Zohr gas field, in the city of Port Said on January 31, 2018. Egyptian Presidency Handout / EPA
Egyptian president Abdel Fattah El Sisi (centre) speaks during a ceremony to inaugurate production of the Zohr gas field, in the city of Port Said on January 31, 2018. Egyptian Presidency Handout / EPA

A furious Abdel Fattah El Sisi on Wednesday issued a thinly veiled threat to those calling for a boycott of Egypt's upcoming presidential election, saying he would act against anyone who tried to "mess" with the country's security.

At an opening ceremony in Port Said to inaugurate the giant Zohr gas field, the president declared, “The price of Egypt's security is my life and the life of the army."

"What happened seven or eight years ago will not happen again,” he added, referring to the upheaval that followed the toppling of former dictator Hosni Mubarak and sent the country's economy into a tailspin.

Mr El Sisi is expected to easily win the March presidential election after all serious challengers either dropped out of the race or were excluded by the authorities.

The National Elections Authority confirmed on Wednesday that only two names will appear on the ballot: those of Mr El Sisi and Mussa Mustapha Mussa, the chairman of Egypt's small Al Ghad Party who presented his candidacy documents in an eleventh-hour filing on Monday.

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Read more: Egyptians resigned to Sisi's re-election as another candidate falls

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Mr Moussa, a Sisi ally, has said he will mount a full challenge to the president. But critics have dismissed him as a dummy candidate.

Several leading opposition figures have now called for a boycott of the election, scheduled to take place between March 26 and 28. On Tuesday, the Civil Democratic Movement — a coalition of liberal and leftist parties and NGOs — announced it was backing the move, citing ‘'the lack of any positive signs from the regime to guarantee a free and fair electoral process”.

"Do you think creating real political forces in Egypt it is easy?," Mr El Sisi asked reporters in Port Said.

“These political forces will be responsible for this state in the future, must be prepared and learn quite correctly.”

The president, whose current term will end in June, won the 2014 presidential elections in a two-man race against author and politician Hamdeen Sabahi, securing 97 per cent of the vote.

Mr Sabahi, the leader of the Popular Current party, was jailed dozens of times by the authorities at the direction of former presidents Anwar Sadat and Mubarak.

The 63-year-old initiated the call for an elections boycott on Sunday, a day after the former head of the Central Auditing Agency, Hisham Genena, was attacked and badly wounded outside his home in what his lawyer described as an attempted kidnapping.

Mr Genena had been nominated as a running mate by former army chief of staff Sami Anan whose three-day presidential bid ended on Monday last week when he was arrested by the military, accused of failing to obtain the clearance required for an army officer to run for president.

The military also accused Mr Anan of blatant “incitement” against the military and of attempting to drive a wedge between the Egyptian people and security forces.

This theme was picked up by Mr El Sisi on Wednesday.

"If any evil force thinks of messing with Egypt’s security, I will ask for a second authorisation from the Egyptians,” said the president, referring to his 2013 call for citizens to take to the streets and show their support for the security forces' efforts to confront "terrorism" after the military — which was then led by Mr El Sisi — ousted the Muslim Brotherhood's Morsi.

The Egyptian authorities have particular reason to be concerned about participation in the March ballot amid signs that many disaffected youth voters will stay at home.

“The expected lower youth turnout means that the political situation is highly volatile, and the youth is not integrated in any of the formal channels of communications with the regime,” said Mohamed Soliman, 26, a student leader of the January 2011 uprising that toppled Mubarak and an Open Society Foundation graduate scholar at Georgetown University in Washington. “This will eventually lead to more young recruits for radical groups.”

That fear has led some Egyptian liberals to question the wisdom of the election boycott.

“A boycott of the regime’s actions and politics is a recipe for isolation that will only result in losses for the boycotters, “said Amr Abdel Rahman a researcher for the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, a Cairo-based rights group.

“Ultimately, boycotting the elections is akin to announcing to the government and its Islamist opponents that democratic forces are exiting the scene.”