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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 June 2018

Egypt's Sisi to run for second term in March election

The former military commander is widely expected to win the vote, which will be held on March 26-28

The new administrative capital in Egypt is one of several mega-projects launched by Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi since he became president in 2014.  Handout via Reuters
The new administrative capital in Egypt is one of several mega-projects launched by Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi since he became president in 2014. Handout via Reuters

Egypt's President Abdel Fattah El Sisi said on Friday he will run for a second term in office in an election in March, which the former military commander is widely expected to win.

"Today ... I tell you frankly and transparently that I hope you would allow and accept my candidacy for the president's post," Mr Sisi told a cheering crowd.

The vote 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. Candidates will register from January 20 to 29.

In the televised announcement, President Sisi listed Egypt's achievements during his first term, including a nascent financial recovery after years of political turmoil and economic instability.

"Building the state takes 16 to 20 years, I am trying to finish it in 8 years, God willing," Mr Sisi said.

Mr Sisi came to prominence when he led the army's ouster of President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013, two years after the downfall of longtime ruler President Hosni Mubarak in the "Arab Spring" uprisings that swept the Middle East.

The former general became president himself in 2014, winning 96.91 per cent of the vote, although turnout was only about 47 per cent of the 54 million voters, after voting was extended for a day.

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Mr Sisi's rule has brought some stability to the country, but critics say his popularity has been eroded by tough economic reforms that have hit people's livelihood's hard and by a crackdown on dissidents.

His supporters on the other hand say measures are needed to keep the country stable as it faces security challenges including attacks by ISIL militants in the North Sinai region.

"I pledge that the upcoming presidential election will be free and transparent… and be characterised by equal opportunities between candidates," Mr Sisi said.

Those challenging Mr Sisi describe a sweeping effort to kill off their campaigns before they have begun, with media attacks on candidates, intimidation of supporters, and a nomination process stacked in favour of the former general.

"There are people I know who are corrupt, I will not allow them to come near this chair," Mr Sisi said earlier in the ceremony without elaborating.

Earlier this month, former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq backtracked on his announcement that he would run, saying he had realised he was "not the ideal candidate to lead the country's affairs in the coming period".

Another contender dropped out of the running on Monday with Mohammed Anwar Sadat, leader of the liberal Reform and Development Party, saying he saw no possibility of fair race against Mr Sisi.

Khaled Ali, a leftist lawyer and opponent of the handover of the Tiran and Sanafir Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, has said he will run but may be disqualified over his conviction for offending public decency by making a rude gesture while celebrating a court decision against the transfer.

The only remaining probable candidates are Mortada Mansour, an MP and chairman of Zamalek Sporting Club, one of Egypt's biggest football teams, and former army chief Sami Anan, whose candidacy was announced last week by the Arabism Egypt Party founded by him.

Thousands of Mr Sisi's supporters gathered at the Cairo stadium calling for the former military commander to run for a second term. Public figures, actors and parliamentarians were amongst the crowd.

"We want Mr President to continue with us," Medhat Al Adl, a famous scriptwriter and poet, said from the podium as people cheered and waved the Egyptian flag and Mr Sisi's portrait. "This is not his will, this is the will of all of us," he added.