Sisi faces supporter as sole challenger in Egypt polls

Cairo (AFP)


As a supporter of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and yet his sole challenger, Moussa Mostafa Moussa is seen by critics as a token candidate to try to legitimise the Egyptian leader's re-election.

The 65-year-old businessman had already started campaigning for Sisi when he himself was declared a candidate on January 29, the final day for applications to run in this month's presidential election.

A Facebook page in Moussa's name at the time featured a photograph in support of the president, but the post has since been deleted.

"No to taking part in this charade," Hamdeen Sabbahi, who was a candidate in 2012 and 2014 presidential elections, told a press conference held by opposition parties the next day.

Before Moussa's inclusion in the race, all serious presidential hopefuls had dropped out one after the other.

Two, including General Sami Anan, a former armed forces chief, were arrested, while others including rights lawyer and 2012 presidential candidate Khaled Ali said their campaigns faced harassment from the state and withdrew.

To avoid Sisi running alone, supporters tried to push one of their own to throw his hat into the ring: Sayed al-Badawi. But the liberal Al-Wafd party which he leads refused.

Finally, Moussa, who since 2011 has headed Al-Ghad (tomorrow), another liberal party, emerged as the candidate to oppose Sisi in the March 26-28 polls.

It was necessary to "balance" the vote, Moussa told AFP. Now, the elections are "very clear, very democratic" because Sisi "is no longer the only candidate".

However, he remains loyal to the president. "This is nothing new. We have the same political ideals," said Moussa.

Ever since then army chief Sisi led the July 2013 ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi amid mass protests against his rule, Moussa has remained in the camp of Sisi, who was voted into office in 2014.

Moussa admits that his campaign, financed by his own funds, "isn't comparable to that of the president".

-'Rhetorical competition'-

Questioned on international criticism of Egypt's human rights record, Moussa declined to answer. "I do not wish to judge things that I do not know," he said.

But the challenger insists he is his own man.

"I have ideas and concepts, and I see things from another angle," said the candidate who has received the support of Arab tribal groups.

"I'm going into this election with the intention of winning," Moussa said, despite all the cards being stacked in Sisi's favour.

The goal of boosting exports is at the core of his "well-established" economic programme, the challenger said, although details were still being finalised.

He will "work on bridging the gap that allowed the Muslim Brotherhood to rise" to power in 2012 before they were ousted by Sisi, said Adel Esmat, Moussa's spokesman.

Morsi, who hailed from the Muslim Brotherhood, was Egypt's first democratically-elected civilian president, but his year in power proved deeply divisive.

Moussa's smiling face has appeared on banners in Cairo, vastly outnumbered by Sisi's ubiquitous posters.

The challenger was "a relatively unknown politician" prior to his candidacy, said H.A. Hellyer, a non-resident researcher at the Atlantic Council in Washington.

With limited financial means, little known by the public, and facing an incumbent who remains popular, Moussa does not pose any threat to Sisi.

But his "participation will be able to provide the Sisi administration with the appearance of some kind of competition, if only in terms of rhetoric", said Hellyer.