Egyptian politician who vowed to run for president returns to Egypt, after relatives were detained

LONDON (AP) — An Egyptian politician vowing to run in the country’s presidential elections next year returned to Egypt Thursday, days after announcing that his relatives had been detained.

Ahmed Altantawy, who left the country for Lebanon last August, confirmed his arrival in Egypt on his official Facebook page late Thursday evening.

“I arrived today in my homeland, from which I have been away for nine months,” Altantawy wrote. “I ask your permission for five days to spend in the bosom of my family who need me and I need them.”

Next year's presidential election is widely anticipated to be a foregone conclusion in favor of the incumbent President Abdel Fatah el-Sissi, who has overseen a sharp crackdown on political opposition.

Since coming to power in 2013, el-Sissi's government has detained thousands of suspected supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood but also large numbers of secular activists. Human Rights Watch say the North African country has detained as many as 60,000 political prisoners, although el-Sissi and other Egyptian politicians have rejected this claim.

Altantawy, a former journalist who later served as a lawmaker in Egypt's predominately pro-government legislature until 2020, announced his presidential bid in a video in March. The politician said he wants to provide a democratic alternative to el-Sissi's government, describing its treatment of political opponents as unlawful and unjust.

The former lawmaker had promised to return to Egypt last Saturday. However, he postponed his return late Friday after announcing that two of his uncles, among other supporters, had been recently detained. The whereabouts and condition of the purported detainees remains unknown.

After spending time with his family Altantawy said that he will begin a series of consultations and meetings.

For years, rights groups and former prisoners have accused the Egyptian government of deploying brutal tactics to curb dissent, such as forced disappearances, torture and long-term detentions without trial.

The Egyptian government’s rights record came under intense scrutiny last year, during its hosting of the international climate summit in the Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh. One of the country’s most high-profile detainees, rights activist Alaa Abdel Fatah, went on an extended hunger strike that purposefully coincided with the duration of the conference to draw attention to his detention.

In recent years, Egypt has sought to rectify its image. El-Sissi's government has tried to launch what it called a “national dialogue” with well-known figures from society although few known dissenters participated.