(Bloomberg) -- Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi finally declared his candidacy for re-election in March and pledged a “transparent” election process.
The widely-anticipated announcement came at the end of a three-day conference that focused on the president’s record since he was elected in a 2014 landslide. With no formidable challenger on the horizon, and given the support he enjoys among many Egyptians as well as from the country’s security institutions, another victory for the former military chief seems all but assured.
“If you think that I gave my maximum energy with you and want to return the favor to me, all I wish from you and regardless of your choice is to show the world your participation in the vote and choose whoever you want,” El-Sisi said in a speech aired live on TV.
El-Sisi, 63, has spent his first four years in power adopting tough steps backed by the International Monetary Fund to reform the economy, while cracking down on Islamists as well as political opponents and other critics of his policies.
He secured tens of billions of dollars in aid and grants, including a $12 billion IMF loan, and lifted currency controls to ease a dollar shortage that crippled businesses. But the weakening of the Egyptian pound after it was floated, along with deep cuts in energy subsidies, propelled inflation to more than 30 percent, deepening hardship in the already impoverished nation.
On Friday, the former military chief of staff, Sami Anan, announced his intention to run for the presidency. Rights lawyer Khaled Ali also plans to join the race, but it’s unclear if both will be able to collect the 25,000 voter endorsements needed for the candidacy application before a Jan. 29 deadline. The final candidates list will be released on Feb. 24 and polls in Egypt will be open for three days starting March 26.
El-Sisi came into the limelight in 2013 after leading the army’s ouster of his Islamist predecessor Mohamed Mursi amid mass protests. While couching it as a war on terrorism, he oversaw a sweeping crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood that left hundreds of Islamists dead and thousands more imprisoned. As the crackdown expanded to activists and other dissenters, critics argued El-Sisi was creating a police state.
The president has also sought to restore Egypt’s traditional role as a regional power broker, with his administration mediating reconciliation talks between Palestinian factions, supporting the cause of a military strongman in neighboring, conflict-torn Libya, and joining a Saudi Arabia-led boycott of Qatar, partly on the grounds of its alleged support for Islamist groups.
He had delayed announcing that he would contest March’s election, saying instead that he would leave the decision up to Egyptians. The president is currently limited to two stints of four years, although there have been calls by some in parliament to extend the term to six years.
In his hour-long conference speech on Wednesday, El-Sisi said the reform process was “beginning to show results,” and reiterated his commitment to seeing the economic plan to its end. He also extolled his expansion of the Suez Canal, and claimed his government had provided treatment for almost all Egyptians suffering from hepatitis C.
The fight against Islamist militancy has suffered repeated setbacks. In November, El-Sisi authorized the use of “brute force” to restore security in the restive province of Sinai following an attack on a mosque by an Islamic State affiliate that left more than 300 people dead.
While the violence didn’t threaten the stability of El-Sisi’s government, it was the latest blow to Egypt’s tourism industry, a vital pillar of its economy, from militant attacks.
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