(Bloomberg) -- Egypt’s army said it would investigate a powerful former military chief who’s challenged incumbent Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi for the presidency, a move likely to end his aspirations before formal papers have even been filed.
Following Sami Annan’s announcement of his candidacy last week, “the armed forces will not turn a blind eye to the clear legal violations that he has committed,” the military said in a statement read out on state television. It accused the Annan of violating policy by nominating himself without permission from the military, and of “clear incitement against the armed forces with the intention of creating a rift” within the Egyptian public.
The Associated Press, citing a top aide to Annan, said the former military chief had been arrested. Annan’s spokesman, Hazem Hosni, could not be reached by phone.
Annan had emerged as the most serious challenger to El-Sisi, who plans to seek a second term in the March elections. So far, all of his main potential rivals have been barred from running or have withdrawn their bids. Though they would probably like an opponent, the president and his officials are unlikely to fear criticism over lack of transparency or true democracy, said Crispin Hawes, managing director of Teneo Intelligence.
“They’re unworried about the credibility factor,” Hawes said. “This is a regime that feels much more secure than it did two years ago, or four years ago.”
Annan’s likely disqualification from the race -- official registration ends Jan. 29 -- leaves the path open for El-Sisi,. The president was elected in 2014 after leading the removal of Islamist Mohamed Mursi amid a popular revolt against his policies.
The early euphoria surrounding El-Sisi, however, has been dented by economic reforms introduced in 2016 to boost growth and tackle a currency shortage -- including floating the pound -- that helped drive inflation above 30 percent. It has since eased, with officials promoting that as a sign the measures are working.
Annan, who served as a member of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces that ran Egypt immediately after the 2011 uprising that removed President Hosni Mubarak from office and again after Mursi’s departure, sought to cast himself as a candidate of moderation.
Though El-Sisi is expected to win, Annan may have appealed to others in the armed forces, from whose ranks El-Sisi also rose, and to voters smarting from economic hardships.
But Annan was widely labeled the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate after a senior leader of the group wrote an open letter outlining its conditions for supporting him. The government has outlawed the Brotherhood, which backed Mursi’s presidency, as a terrorist organization.
El-Sisi’s other key rival, former premier and air force general Ahmed Shafiq, withdrew after a mysterious series of events that included his brief disappearance upon returning to Egypt from exile in the United Arab Emirates.
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