Egypt ex-presidential candidate: Election a farce

CAIRO (AP) — A former Egyptian presidential candidate close to the country's youth movements said Sunday he would not take part in upcoming presidential elections, calling them a "farce" stacked in favor of Egypt's powerful military chief.

Khaled Ali, an active labor rights campaigner during the time of Hosni Mubarak, said the expected April election favors only one candidate. While not calling out by name powerful military chief Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who is widely expected to run and win easily, Ali's comments were aimed at the defense minister.

Ali also said state institutions and the media are all geared toward el-Sissi's expected candidacy — undermining the chances of a fair competition with any other candidate.

"Stop the puppet theater that you have opened," Ali told journalists. "We are not against the candidacy of any former military leader, the military which we respect. ... But stay away from the army for a year, and let the media and the people treat you as a human, one that acts like humans who can make mistakes and can do right and be criticized."

Ali rose to prominence among mostly leftist youth group that spearheaded the campaign against Mubarak. However, he came in seventh in the 2012 election, garnering only 0.6 percent of the 23 million votes cast.

The date for the elections has not been set, but is expected in April. It comes after el-Sissi led the military overthrow of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, the country's first freely elected leader, in July. Since then, authorities have cracked down on Morsi supporters, largely Islamists, who demand he be reinstated.

But the dragnet has widened to include many of the youth groups who first rose up against Mubarak and then Morsi, largely secularists now critical of the military-backed authorities.

Amid the polarized political atmosphere, violence has also picked up as militants increasingly target police officers and military forces. That's seen the military-backed interim government widen its campaign against terrorism and increased fear among the public of continued instability.

Only Saturday, gunmen stormed an army checkpoint outside of Cairo, killing six soldiers. In response, the government held an emergency meeting that lasted into early Sunday morning and later announced it would order military prosecutions for those who attack joint police and military checkpoints.

In his comments Sunday, Ali also criticized Egypt's current government for detaining opposition members and silencing dissenting views.

"Our demands are not against the military, they are against your personal greed for power and not against the military," Ali said.

Earlier this week, the military received criticism from deep within its establishment. Ahmed Shafiq, the former head of the air force and the last prime minister under Mubarak who came in second in the 2012 elections, criticized the army's support of el-Sissi and said he would not run for president, according to recordings of his private conversations leaked on the Internet.

"Is it an honest battle?" Shafiq asked in the recordings. "I know they will fix all the ballot boxes for (el-Sissi). ... It will be a farce."

Shafiq himself was believed to have presidential aspirations, but had said earlier he would not run if el-Sissi was nominated.

He also criticized the military's public support for el-Sissi, calling it unprofessional and saying it mires the armed forces in politics.

In a statement Thursday, Shafiq said he stood by the comments criticizing the army taking a role in Egyptian politics, which he said were posted on Brotherhood-linked websites.

"It is unimaginable and unacceptable because it contradicts with all rules and traditions that call for the armed forces to stay completely away from the election process," he said. Shafiq said the military has since fixed its mistakes and renewed his support for el-Sissi's candidacy.

Ali's and Shafiq's comments, coming from opposite sides of the political spectrum, cast doubt on the coming election. Egypt's military-backed government hopes the vote will shore up its legitimacy after the ouster of Egypt's first democratically elected president in July.

Former chief of staff of the Egyptian armed forces, Gen. Sami Anan, also declared this week that he would not run for president, as the public had anticipated. That leaves only one civilian candidate in the race, leftist politician Hamdeen Sabahi, who himself has sharply criticized the process.