‘No one better’: Egyptians rally in Cairo in support of third term for President al-Sisi

Four years later, he scored a 97 per cent victory against one of his own supporters, after more prominent candidates were sidelined or arrested.

This time, as Egyptians grow increasingly frustrated with an unrelenting economic crisis, presidential hopefuls have emerged from the woodwork of an opposition decimated by Sisi’s decade-long crackdown on dissent.

A handful of party leaders have said they had already gathered the necessary 20 nominations from parliament.

Another challenger, former parliamentarian Ahmed al-Tantawi, has been trying to rally popular support on the campaign trail.

Without parliamentary backing, the 44-year-old will need to collect 25,000 nominations from Egyptians across at least 15 governorates by October 14 to be eligible.

Sisi, 68, has not yet announced his intention to run for what would be his third term.

It would also Sisi’s last, according to a constitutional amendment he pushed through in 2019, which also extended presidential terms from four to six years.

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Crowds gathered on Monday to show their support, expecting an imminent campaign announcement.

Patriotic music blared from speakers and banners carrying the leader’s image appeared across the capital on Monday, Agence France-Presse correspondents said.

The sails of boats on the Nile river were emblazoned with Sisi’s photo and slogans including “yes to stability”, the correspondents added.

Sailing boats bearing posters of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on the River Nile in Cairo, Egypt on Monday. Photo: Reuters

Presidential hopeful Tantawi has repeatedly accused the regime of harassing his supporters, preventing them from filing nominations and tapping his phone.

Dozens of his supporters have been detained, according to rights groups.

Tantawi has branded himself the “rule of law” candidate, as his campaign posts videos of him accompanying supporters to registry offices across the country.

“In the end, they will not be able to say ‘sorry, you don’t have enough nominations’,” he told supporters on Sunday.

In a video shared by Tantawi’s campaign, dozens chanted “bread, freedom, social justice” – the popular rallying cry of the 2011 revolution that ousted long-time dictator Hosni Mubarak.

Supporters of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi gather in El Korba Square in Cairo on Monday. Photo: dpa

Under Sisi, a former army chief who has overseen a crackdown jailing tens of thousands of dissidents, protests have been banned.

Many have expected Sisi to announce his candidacy during a three-day conference set to close on Monday evening, titled “Story of a Nation”.

Remarks made by the president at the conference have ruffled feathers among Egyptians, buckling under the weight of record-breaking 39.7 per cent inflation.

“If construction, development and progress come at the cost of hunger and deprivation, never say ‘we would rather eat’,” Sisi said.

In an apparent reference to China, he cited an unnamed country that became a “great power” after “25 million people died of hunger”.

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Some reacted on social media, where formerly outspoken Egyptians have learned to self-censor after years of social media-related arrests.

“I’m in shock, usually we get electoral promises, even if they’re fake, but now he’s offering us a famine,” one user wrote.

On Sunday, Sisi sought to discredit critics’ demands and said they would harm Egypt.

He argued he could “destroy the country … by handing out cannabis, 1,000 Egyptian pounds (US$32) and Tramadol to 100,000 poor people.”

Even before the current crisis – the worst in Egypt’s history – a third of its 105-million-strong population had lived below the poverty line, with another third vulnerable to falling into poverty, according to the World Bank.

Supporters of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi gather in El Korba Square in Cairo on Monday. Photo: dpa

According to experts, Sisi is set on securing a third term before enacting a new currency devaluation that will further obliterate Egyptians’ purchasing power.

The coming election was initially expected in the spring of 2024.

The pound has lost half its value since March 2022, shooting prices upwards in the import-dependent economy.

Still, Sisi – echoed by the state’s sizeable media machine – applauded the defeat of “terrorism” and the administration’s prioritising of “development” at all cost.

Foreign debt has soared to a record high of US$165.4 billion this year, which experts say have been used to fund “vanity” mega-projects including roads, bridges and a US$58 billion new capital.

The Egyptian government is now the second most at risk of defaulting on its debt, after war-torn Ukraine, according to Bloomberg.

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