President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has urged Egyptians to come out in force and vote in next week’s election to show they are in charge, a day after he denied any role in sidelining his political rivals.
The incumbent will stand in the March 26-28 vote against just one candidate whose half-hearted campaign poses little to no threat, after more heavyweight rivals were sidelined or detained.
“I need you because the journey is not over,” Sissi told a mostly female audience in a speech. “I need every lady and mother and sister, please, I need the entire world to see us in the street” voting.
“Even if they vote ‘no’. It’s still a big deal and a respectable thing which will be implemented… We should affirm to the world that this country is ruled by its people.”
The former army chief was first elected in 2014, a year after ousting his predecessor Muhammad Mursi following mass protests against the Islamist.
Critics accuse him of cracking down on dissent, and in the run up to the election a rival, former army chief of staff Sami Anan, was detained shortly after announcing his candidacy.
The army said the reserve general broke the law by illegally declaring his candidacy.
Another potential contender, former premier Ahmed Shafiq, was deported from his exile in the UAE after declaring his candidacy, then taken by government officials to a Cairo hotel where he stayed until he announced a change of heart.
In an Egyptian television interview on Tuesday, Sissi said he had nothing to do with either case, or two other candidates who withdrew from the race citing restrictions.
Another army officer, a colonel, has been sentenced to six years in prison for announcing his candidacy while still enlisted.
“You’re talking to me about something I cannot be blamed for at all. I swear, I wished there were one, or two, or three, or 10 candidates…and you choose whom you want,” he said.
The only candidate left in the race, Moussa Mostafa Moussa, had been a cheerleader for Sissi until the last day before the deadline for candidate registration expired.
His critics say he entered the race to spare Sissi the embarrassment of a one-man election, redolent of the referendums held by autocrats.
Meanwhile, an Egyptian court on Wednesday sentenced in absentia nine alleged Muslim Brotherhood members to life imprisonment for forming a “terrorist cell” to plot attacks on security forces and other institutions.
Life sentences in Egypt are equal to 25 years, and the suspects, who remain at large, can be re-tried once they are apprehended.
The Cairo Criminal Court also sentenced another 13 defendants to 10 years each on similar charges, including planning to kill public figures and security officials, and joining an outlawed group, a reference to the Brotherhood. Two minors were sentenced each to two years. Those 15 suspects are in custody and their sentences can be appealed.
Egypt designated the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization after the 2013’s removal from power of President Muhammad Morsi, a senior Brotherhood figure. Morsi has been jailed and sentenced to death.